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  • My shot at stardom

  • There's a voice mail from the movie people. Probably looking for a Brad Pitt type, but younger and better looking.
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  • There's a voice mail from the movie people. Probably looking for a Brad Pitt type, but younger and better looking.
    The part is extra big, or extra great, or extraordinary, something like that. The connection isn't good, but I can hear the word "extra." I don't want to seem too eager — you think Johnny Depp calls you right back? — so I wait almost a full minute.
    It's Peter Alzado, who ran Actors Theatre in Talent and Oregon Stage Works in Ashland. He's making a movie with Medford-based filmmaker Russell Johnson and Johnson's Laughingtown Productions.
    The working title is "Buttercup." It's a crime drama about a female serial killer who targets rapists. Like Showtime's Dexter, she doesn't kill anybody who doesn't need killing.
    My role is not a starring part, exactly. It's not even a speaking part. I'd seen myself as Kramer on "Seinfeld" falling into that Woody Allen picture in which he had the immortal line, "These pretzels are making me thirsty." But you know, silent worked out pretty well for Chaplin. And Harpo Marx and Marcel Marceau. Jason. Maggie Simpson. Dumbo.
    The shots I'm in take place in a neighborhood bar played by Johnny B's in downtown Medford. Most of the crew are 20-somethings, not one of whom is wearing an article of clothing that isn't black.
    A woman in jeans and flip-flops is brushing makeup on a guy's shiny shaved head. My role is to sit in a booth with another extra, Donna Boehm of Talent, the woman who created the preposterous coat in Camelot Theatre's recent "45 Seconds From Broadway."
    "Quiet on the set," Johnson calls.
    Ananda Coniff, a tall, blonde actress playing an FBI agent named Meghan Johnson, enters and looks around the joint. Johnny B's is just right — a jukebox, pool table, cigarette machine, old hub caps and license plates on the walls, some neon, Elvis stuff, a portrait of a squinting Clint Eastwood as the man with no name (whose name, as everybody knows, was Joe).
    "Go back, Ananda."
    "Pause and give it three beats."
    "One more time."
    And so on. I've been on a few movie sets over the years, and they're pretty much the same: hours of long tedium broken by moments of brief tedium. Eventually it all gets pieced together into a two-hour story.
    Principal photography on "Buttercup" should wrap by mid-August, post-production by September. Then the producers will target the film festival circuit and hope for a distribution deal.
    Shayna Marie of Ashland plays the comely killer, whose name is Samantha. Some will remember Shayna as the title character in Oregon Stage Works' production of "My Name is Rachel Corrie" a few years back.
    These days she's usually a 27-year-old mom, but today she's a noirish siren in a low-cut red dress, spike heels and fishnets. The character was raped as a young girl and is driven by revenge.
    How does she like playing a serial murderer?
    "I don't know," she says with a twinkle. "I've only played one scene, so I've only killed one guy. I'll have to let you know after I've killed more guys."
    A woman's voice comes from around the corner at the bar, and she sounds worried.
    "Did anyone see where this guy went?" A few minutes later, same voice, same question. Then again.
    "I think he LEFT," I call back.
    Oops. The voice was Coniff's, in character as Meghan, and it was a take. My bad.
    Somebody tells me to sit at a table in the bar until somebody else says I'm in the shot of Coniff/Meghan coming in the door. You don't want the same guy in another shot in a different place seconds later.
    "Don't worry," Alzado tells me as I see my shot at stardom slipping away.
    "You'll get another chance."
    They keep changing lights and cameras as Coniff/Meghan enters, finds her mark and says her lines, over and over.
    "Oh (expletive deleted)! Has anyone seen where this guy went? (speaking to her cellphone) I lost Luke. He's gone. (pause) I'm not sure. Something went wrong. He wouldn't leave his badge and jacket."
    I ask Coniff, who has worked in L.A. and Seattle but hasn't acted locally until now, about her character. She says her shaven-headed partner, Luke, is a special agent, and Meghan is just an agent, and Meghan hates that. But she likes family guy Luke, and in fact spends much of the film hitting on him. She's also a little conflicted about the case, maybe.
    "She's kind of rooting for the killer," Coniff says. "In a sick way, she's kind of excited." Meanwhile, back on the set, Luke walks into Johnny B's bar and orders a 7-Up with a splash of cranberry.
    "Ya want a nipple on that too buddy?" the bartender asks with a grin.
    How many ways can you say a line like that? A good many, as it's shot again and again.
    Then the woman who was dusting the FBI dude's head is motioning me over and telling me to take off my shirt — since it still may show up in that other shot — and be in a scene in my T-shirt. My big chance. The T-shirt thing worked for Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire."
    The shot calls for the killer to sashay into the bar and take a seat next to FBI Luke. Then the young guy who's been doing the clapperboard thing each time Johnson calls "Action!" crosses behind her and sits across the table from me. The camera is on the killer and her intended prey as we chatter idly in the background.
    "I could hear you guys," the boom operator says.
    We whisper during the next shot. And the next and the next. The guy says there's supposed to be a song whose lyrics you can recite that'll make it look on camera as if you're talking normally.
    To keep our mock conversation going, I point out that the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" is the exact rhythm at which you're supposed to do CPR. He gives me a blank look.
    More takes of the same shot. More pretending to talk. You might think air chatter is easy. It's not. It's not easy.
    That's how it goes with us movie actors. I'm pretty sure George Clooney started just like this. If you want to know more, have your people call my people. We'll do lunch.
    Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com. To read previous Viewpoints by Varble and Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin, head over to www.mailtribune.com/rogueviewpoint
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