The Common Good
November-December 1998

Quiet on the Set…

by Ed Spivey Jr. | November-December 1998

Film stardom is an elusive dream for most, including even yours truly, whom many have
credited with talents well-suited for the big screen.

Film stardom is an elusive dream for most, including even yours truly, whom many have credited with talents well-suited for the big screen. My home town is still talking about my performance as the "Voice From Offstage" in our high school production of Pillow Talk. (The words "Delivery, ma’am!" have, if I may say so, never been spoken with so much emotional authority.) So it was not a complete surprise to me recently when I was singled out by a major Hollywood director during the making of a major Hollywood film.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

BEING THE ONLY person in my house who works near a shopping area, I’m often tasked with purchasing various personal products that the other members of my family can’t buy during the day. Almost weekly the women of the house give me a list of products to pick up at the nearby CVS drugstore. Suffice it to say, these are not "manly" items, products that would, in the process of purchasing them, remind one of the innate strength of his masculinity, or convey to other patrons that "here’s a gent to be reckoned with." In fact, I’ll even admit to some embarrassment at approaching the check-out counter with a basket full of said products, at times feeling it necessary to quickly choose other items to balance out the gender deficiencies therein. (The latest copy of Guns ‘n Ammo magazine or a bottle of Old Spice usually does the trick.)

I was on such an errand when I literally stepped into the path of stardom (and, quite frankly, was rather rudely asked to get out of the way).

Inside the drugstore the cashier had thoughtfully jammed my purchases into a single plastic bag which, stretched tightly over the packages, revealed to just about anybody that I had "confidence, both day and night," on account of the "extra absorbency."

Unable to conceal the purchases under my shirtûI take a medium-small, so there’s not much fabric left for surreptitiousnessûI hastily crossed the street. About halfway across it occurred to me that my usually bustling inner-city neighborhood was quiet, the block practically devoid of cars. I was beginning to wonder about this transformation (Was it a holiday? Had Washington, D.C., finally become a tranquil and civil place to live? Okay, was it a holiday?) when a voice from a loudspeaker called out, "Guy with the CVS bag!"

It took a second for me to realize I was the subject of this announcement. If someone had shouted, "Guy with the extra absorbency bag!" it would have registered immediately, and I would’ve whirled around in a powerful display of virile athleticism and shouted back, "IT’S NOT FOR ME! SEE, I LIVE WITH THESE THREE WOMEN AND...."

"Guy with the CVS bag! GET OFF THE STREET!" the amplified voice rang out again. I stopped and looked to my left and saw, a half block away, a man in a director’s chair sitting in the middle of the street. Next to him was a big movie camera pointed directly at me, and next to that was a guy shouting through a bullhorn. Behind him were about 50 people with walkie-talkies and clipboards and they were all looking expectantly at me, as if they wanted something. Something from my CVS bag, perhaps.

It finally occurred to me that I was being filmed, so I immediately began to turn my indecisiveness into deeply dramatic indecisiveness until a large man with a walkie-talkie and clipboard appeared from behind a nearby tree. Apparently under the impression that I could not walk, he dragged me quite forcefully back behind said tree. He seemed in a hurry.

For which I should be grateful, as it turned out, since about five seconds later there appeared, at the very spot where I had been standing, two helicopters flying very fast and very low and very loudly. One of them turned in a tight arc directly above me before it roared away into the sky.

"Oh," I said. And I meant it.

"Cut!" said the bullhorn voice, and then, "Okay people, let’s do it again. Don’t anybody move."

By "anybody" he apparently meant me. At least the man holding me thought so, and he pressed my shoulders even more forcefully into the tree. I was beginning to feel like we should be introduced or perhaps plan a lunch together-nothing too formal, of course-when those same two helicopters came whooshing down right next to us again, this time followed along the street by a line of cars which sped a few yards and then intentionally crashed into each other. At which point the bullhorn voice yelled "Cut!" again, and then "Lunch!" and the drivers got out of their cars and left without exchanging insurance information.

My captor relaxed his grip and walked off without so much as a word, not even a poignant backward glance, despite the fact that we had been through so much together. Such is the jaded nature of film-making, I was discovering, where strong personal bonds are formed only to be broken, willy-nilly, without thought for the wounded hearts left behind. Hollywood can be a brutal mistress, even to those of us too wise to be seduced by her charms.

THE FILM IS called Enemy of the State, starring Will Somebody, and from what I could see it breaks new cinematic ground. I don’t see many movies so I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me the practice of using automobile crashes and dramatic helicopter chases is very innovative and could set new standards in the film industry. (One wonders how much better A Room With a View could have been, for example, had a helicopter dramatically passed overhead during the final scene.)

The above notwithstanding, this film will also be a success because of the powerful acting of its cast, not the least of which was a lone thespian whose evocative work off-camera produced a palpable dramatic effect.

It’s just a pity that few-okay, nobody-in this office wants to hear about it.

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