The A List
I was nodding off when I noticed a strand of my blonde hair had dipped into my cup of coffee. I wiped at my face and tried to force myself back to reality. Shaking my head vigorously, the black liquid sprayed in all directions.
I stared down into the drudge that craft services had scrounged up for the cast. I scrunched up my nose and braced for impact. Pressing the styrofoam cup to my lips, I poured the dark elixir down my gullet. The coffee tasted like dirt pressed through a filter, but it was a lifesaver on these long days on set. The world began to fade away again as I stood there, hoping the caffeine would kick in.
It had been an exhausting day of getting shots of me and the kid: walking to basketball tryouts, sitting in his driveway as he gave his monologue, and unsurprisingly, the scene where I knock over a paint can and havoc ensues. Take after take, the kid kept messing up that shot and I had to get cleaned up each time we reset. It took for freakin’ ever, the kid was not a professional.
I was surveying the food table, trying to decide between a plate of fruit and perhaps my second donut, when I heard Gene walk up beside me. I had worked with him on many other projects, and he was one of the few people on set that didn’t set my teeth on edge. Gene was the Boom Operator and a top notch handler, always on time and on cue. “He had so many stories they were fallin’ out his ass,” as he loved to put it, which helped pass the time on these killer days.
“Eyeing up another donut, eh Bud?” asked Gene as he took a spot next to me, reaching for a donut of his own. “Boss man won’t like it if you put on more pounds. Won’t be able to make those jump shots anymore.”
I reached for the second donut and took a huge bite, “Boss man can bite me, I need the energy.”
“I can’t wait to get on home after today. These low budget flicks make you shoot all day and wrap the project as fast as possible,” said Gene as he poured himself a bit of the black elixir, “But they are going to make so much money on this it ain’t even funny. These B flick kid’s movies can be pretty lucrative.”
Gene took a bite of his donut and wiped the grease from his hands on his untucked shirt, rubbing his protruding belly like a life sized Buddha statue. I envied these crew members, they could eat or drink whatever they wanted and no one barked at them for doing so. What did the director care what I ate? As long as I could get into character what did it matter?
From the distance a voice shouted out, “Brad Henley to the set. Brad Henley to the set please.”
Through half a mouthful of donut Gene murmured out, “That’s you. Make your shot and we can all get outta here.”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll have this thing wrapped up in less than two shakes of a tail.”
I passed several of the crew as I made my way to the stage. It was a little driveway with a basketball hoop at one end of the pavement, the fake exterior of a decent two story home stood erect on the other. Underneath the hoop was the kid, standing with his arms crossed and tapping his foot incessantly.
The director was attempting to calm the kid down as he knelt down to his level. I could hear frenzied whispers between the two of them, but not much else. The kid was a primadonna. I would bet ya any amount of money that this was his last flick, the way he had been carrying on. You don’t crap where you eat, that was my number one rule. That’s why I got along with guys like Gene and had been able to scrounge up work for years.
I shook my head and strolled just offset to a small area with a tri-panel screen that was designated my “Green Room”. Some buffoon had haphazardly painted the panels army green for me. It was either a joke or someone had actually tried to make a Green Room. Bless them for trying but it looked like crap. He even painted a little gold star on it for me which read “Bud”. But none of that bothered me, I was more irked that the kid had an actual trailer while I had this crap shack.
I guess if you grumble and moan long enough they give you anything to shut you up. Freakin’ primadonnas.
I stepped behind the cheap plywood paneling, took my clothes off and hung them up on my one hanger in the “room”. When I got down to my birthday suit, I closed my eyes and blocked out everything on set. The sounds of cameraman blabbing with each other, and the “click-clack” of the costume mistresses’ heels as they frantically ran back and forth faded away.
When the world disappeared, I was left with only the sound of my own heartbeat and the cool sensation of my breath as it filled my lungs. With each beat of my heart, I fed into its rhythm and let the energy flow into my veins. The only way I could describe the transformation is like holding your breath, keeping the air bottled up and compacted until you feel like bursting. And then you let it go, and a wave of relief fills you with every breath.
The magical energy drained from my core, into my heart, and rushed out to every cell of my body. I could feel my bones begin to contort and twist upon themselves. My skin grew thinner but sprouted a long shaggy mane of blonde hair. It didn’t hurt, but it was always a weird sensation to feel your face scrunch up and your nose pop out like Pinocchio.
When the transformation was complete, I shook myself off in order to puff up my mane. It’s what the director wanted, a fluffy and kid friendly dog. I walked out and around to the other side of my “Green Room” and looked into the mirror that had been propped up against the shack. Staring back at me was an average sized golden retriever with a bit of a white patch on its chest.
I think Gene was right about that donut. I was getting a little heavier around the midsection. Or was that just weight that comes with age? Whatever, the diet is starting first thing on Monday after I get this scene done.
“Oh great, the ‘star’ has finally decided to show up,” said the director as I approached the fake driveway. “Alright, so we only have one more scene for the day and then we can go home. Places everyone!”
The director knelt down beside me, shoving his large glasses up his nose and attempting to smooth over his mess of hair. “Bud, let’s get this over with. The kid is killin’ me here. Make this and we can wrap. Can you do that for me?”
I barked in reply and took my spot next to the kid in the driveway, the stunt coordinator off to the side with his equipment. The director took his seat beside the camera, and the crew jumped to their places. The light popped on and instantly made the set fifteen degrees hotter, which was agony in the long fur coat I had adorned for the scene. The crew were all set when I heard the whisper of the kid beside me.
“Don’t mess this up, like you did the rest of today.”
I let out a long sigh and flapped my lips at him, it was the most he was gonna get out of me. For now that is, maybe I’d have time to make a “pit stop” in his trailer after we wrapped.
But I was quickly cut off from that happy thought when the director yelled, “Ready. Set. Action!”
At least the kid knew his lines, and he performed them well. “I’ll never make the basketball team, I suck!”
The kid threw his basketball behind his back, bouncing it hard against the concrete. From out of frame the stunt coordinator tossed his ball against the concrete, setting me up with a perfect arc.
I ran at a steady pace towards the hoop, timing the shot and how much lift I would need. As the ball reached its apex on the second bounce, I jumped up and snapped my jaws, barely hitting the ball. I came down pretty hard on the concrete which was difficult on my old knees, but I waited and prayed that the ball would go in. When the ball swished passed the mesh net I yipped and danced about.
“Whoa! That was amazing Buddy,” said the kid as he grabbed me around the neck, faking a warm hug. “How did you do that? Let’s keep practicing!”
“Cut!” yelled the director from behind his monitor, “That was perfect Bud. I think we can call it a wrap.”
“Thank God,” I thought to myself and booked it offset. I was not stable enough to hear one more critique from the kid that was doing this “since he was in diapers”. I made it back to the “Green Room” and changed back into my normal human features, donning my clothes as quickly as possible. The kid had been doing it since he was in diapers, big whoop. I’ve been doing this for twenty plus years. I’m a professional and on the “A List”, a card carrying member and proud of it.
I passed the rest of the crew as I made my way off set, heading towards the lot where I had parked my car. Waving goodbye, I avoided most of the crew so that I could make my way home. These shoots were good for my career, but I hated the other actors that treated me like, well… a dog.
The guy who was the spokes-dog for that massive retailer had a sweet gig. Make a few appearances, play with a few of the toys they give you, let them paint a stupid bullseye over one side of your face. And boom, he got a ton of money. That would be a good gig to have. Wonder who’s leg he humped to get that role?
But I did enjoy acting, being able to step in front of a camera and portray a character. Yeah, it was always a shaggy golden retriever, but people love dogs. The way a movie unfolds and makes you feel, it was the reason I got into the business in the first place. Good movies connect with the audience. Movies make ya feel better than when you had come in; they make you feel something you didn’t know was there.
I took my keys out of my pocket and jammed them into the rusty lock of my ‘85 Chrysler Lebaron. After a few attempts to get the engine started, she turned over and purred for me. I looked at my business card strapped to my sun-visor and gave it a tap with my finger.
Brad Henley - Specialty: Dog, Golden Retriever.
The A List Agency, Hollywood’s Premier Animal-Actor Scout
The script was hogwash, and the kid was a royal pain the in butt. But there was just something I loved about the movies. I guess that’s the magic of Hollywood.