Sunday, March 23, 2014
EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!
If you have a Bucket List, maybe one item on it is to be a movie star. The closest I will ever come occurred on Friday, March 14, 2014 when I was part of Alex's team, a volunteer extra on the movie "Boychoir." Filmed at Fairfield University, Greenwich, New Haven at Yale University and at various sites all over Connecticut, it is the story of a troubled teen who seeks music as solace for his soul.
Written by Ben Ripley, "Boychoir" is based on the American Boychoir School, originally established in 1937 in Columbus, Ohio and, since 1950, in Princeton, New Jersey. The students, from fourth to eighth grade, are all gifted with superb soprano voices that are angelic in nature. Since they quickly lose that heavenly sound when they reach puberty, capturing their voices in that specific window of time is vital.
Several weeks ago at the Quick Center on the Fairfield University campus, Dustin Hoffman, the star of "Boychoir," and Francois Girard, the director, spoke about the project. A call went out for "extras," seat fillers if you will: hence, my movie career began and ended that day. The commitment, unpaid, began at 9:30 a.m. at Woolsey Hall in New Haven, with filming of a crowd walking in to a concert, in 19 degree weather, again and again and again. I'm the one in the bright red coat freezing.
The next scenes were filmed nearby at Yale's Sprague Memorial Hall on College Street where Mr. Hoffman, with a girl to carry his jacket, comb his hair, hand him Kleenex, provide a water bottle and powder his nose were all available (each with one specific task). His double stood at the podium as lights and camera angles were adjusted. When he took his spot, he practiced conducting the choir, getting instruction from Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, the music director from the American Boychoir School and the music director in the movie.
Hand gestures were copied and perfected until the 31 member real boys choir, in red sweater vests, appeared. The song was pre-recorded and only the principal boys actually sang: Dante Soriano who plays a student who befriends the angry youth and Garrett Wareing who plays Stet, the eleven year old orphan from Texas whose single mom has just died.
The boys who are in Connecticut for two weeks came with a tutor and school books and were quite enjoying the experience. Extremely polite, these pre-adolescents, strive to be one of the best choirs in the world. They have sung on stage with Beyonce and Paul McCartney as well as with Yo Yo Ma, the cellist, to name drop a few. They serve as American ambassadors of song, having sung for every president since JFK. From May 24 to June 4, they will perform in France.
The dozens of crew members, dressed informally in shirts and jeans, with ear sets and microphones, relayed orders until a chorus of "rolling" was heard, indicating cameras are ready to record. As an audience member, we were expected to listen attentively and applaud enthusiastically. Dressed in a fushia cocktail dress, I hope I will be visible for at least a few seconds of air time.
Lunch was a disappointing hot dog and chips while the union paid cast had fish, roast beef, string beans, clam chowder, ice cream and cake. A little discrimination between the classes was felt by the unpaid underlings, though Hoffman ordered pizza for everyone.
After conducting, Hoffman wiggled his fingers behind him to encourage our applause to increase it exponentially. Why not, he was the real deal star of the day. Others in the cast are Alfred Molina, Debra Winger, and Kathy Bates. Dustin Hoffman plays a demanding choir master who pushes Stet to develop his voice and his creativity.
Unfortunately the governor's decision to end the 30% tax credits in the state for movie making will discourage big-budget movies from filming here...and just when my movie career was on a roll.