Helicopters and the Actor

I am an actor.

Helicopters, choppers, copters, whatever you want to call them, can be a problem.

When I do my weekly web series with no budget and no paycheck, we often have to hold taping for helicopters passing by overhead. You see, if you pick up the sound of a chopper in the audio recording, you can’t cut around it. It ruins the take. We often joke, “Hey, who was supposed to call the Van Nuys airport and have them hold all flights during our shoot?” Of course, none of us can really do that. It’s a low budget show.

Then again, nobody can do that on big budget television series either. An episode of Hawaii 5-0 that I did a guest stint on aired a couple weeks ago, and since it’s out there, I feel like it’s okay to tell some stories about the shoot. I won’t spoil much with this story, but if you haven’t seen it and want completely virgin eyes for it, you might want to skip this thing. If you already have, or you really don’t care…read on, good person!

In one of my scenes, I had to be quite emotional. I stood by my father’s death bed while being questioned by a couple of detectives about the murder of my half-sister (who I didn’t even know existed until my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.) That’s a lot of information right there, and quite a bit to be emotional about. I of course have luckily never had to deal with such things in reality, but in order to sell the scene and the character (to serve the story, as they say) I had to be in a very real emotional place.

It isn’t easy being in such a vulnerable state in front of a cast and crew of virtual strangers. That’s the job, though, so I got myself there. The director and star of the show were very respectful of what I was doing, and told me that when I was doing off camera lines I should use half the normal energy to preserve the performance for when I was on camera. Of course, as it turned out, I was never off camera. Even when the cameras were turned around on the cops, they were catching enough of me that I had to “come in hot” as the director called it (a phrase I quite like and will be using for the rest of my life now) on every single take.

They turned around on me at the end of the shoot, so after a break while the crew reset everything, I revved it up again. Maintaining such a state is quite exhausting, as you can imagine if you’ve ever been in actual mourning yourself. But these takes were the precious ones as far as my performance was concerned, so I dug deep. They rolled the cameras. The director was about to call action.

That’s when a chopper starting circling over the house where we were shooting. The director called “hold” and the cameras kept rolling as we waited for the helicopter to leave. It didn’t. I must have maintained my emotional state for fifteen or twenty minutes while we waited for the goddamn thing to be done with whatever it was doing. If I was in any other kind of emotional state, I would have laughed at the absurdity of it.

But I wasn’t.

And now I wonder if the helicopter pilot was messing with me. Even if he wasn’t…what a dick.

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