Do Our Jobs for Us… Never Mind, Don’t

By September 14, 2010Not Bloody Likely

When you book an acting job (or really, I should say when you book a commercial, as those are the only “acting jobs” I’m familiar with (painfully, teeth-pullingly familiar with)), you end up getting a lot of phone calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Now, unlike back in the day when you got a call from a blocked number and assumed it was credit card companies or police stations or funeral homes (I was high and paranoid a lot in college), these calls are of a more positive nature. They make you feel cool and successful, because they are calls actively involving you in the soon to be creative process. Calls from a P.A. telling you directions to the shoot, calls from your agent telling you not to shave or get a haircut, things like that. Nowadays, I actually look forward to getting unknown or blocked calls. It makes me feel ever so slightly closer to the secretive, stealthy innards of the business . But there is still one of these calls that I invariably get that I still loathe, because the same authoritarian inanity resonates out of my earpiece every single fucking time I get this particular call.

Wardrobe.

Now, first let me say, I am in no way dogging wardrobe workers in the industry. In a business entirely dependent on superficial appearances and the necessity these appearances be fucking flawless, wardrobe folks and costumers have some of the most important and high-stakes jobs. Since I like to make sports references to my business, I consider the wardrobe and makeup departments to be the pitcher-catcher battery of a project. These people are on call even after the actor leaves their domain and goes to set, because you never know what indecisive director is going to demand a different shirt or scarf after a couple takes. And they’re always around to re-fluff a collar or re-roll a sleeve because they’re aware of the continuity issues that arise from unruly clothes. No, I am not in any way trivializing the input a costume or wardrobe department makes to a production; these people have their own category in the Oscars, for God’s sake. But there’s one request they always make when they place their blocked call in the days leading up to a shoot date that I’ve only recently learned I should just disregard completely every time.

Invariably, someone from the wardrobe department will call you and ask that you bring in any number of assorted clothing items, dictated by whatever basic costume they have in mind for you. One time I had to portray a particular MLB baseball team fan and was told to bring whatever blue clothes I had. One time I was told to bring all of my “nice” things because I would be a guest at a wedding. About 90% of the time, they’ll tell you to bring any of your “hip” clothing. Here’s the problem with all of that, at least as far as my clothes collection is concerned:

I think very few people would have shirts and pants and what not of ANY color just lying around without some sort of words or logos or pictures on them. These items of clothing are immediately eliminated from consideration because they are essentially advertising something else, even if it is the harmless office of Female Body Inspector.

And while I may not be a tremendous slob, my “nice clothes” are somewhat limited to a couple collared shirts and one suit, all of them at least three years old and fraying at the edges and not likely to withstand the painfully overcritical eye of everyone on set committed to making you look absolutely perfect.

And “hip” clothes? Well, doesn’t everyone think their clothes look at least presentable, if not “hip” or cool? And when I am showed something that is supposed to be hip, I think it looks stupid and uncool. When you tell someone to bring clothes based on a generally subjective concept, that person – me – is going to bring half of their closet with them. That’s at the worst. At the best, you’re still traipsing around the lot or the studio building or the wardrobe office on your wardrobe day or shoot day with bulky hangers and several pairs of pants slung over your shoulder. The whole process diminishes the thrill of being involved in a real production: “Hey, why does that guy have two winter coats with him in the middle of July?” ” Because Wardrobe told him to. “

But here’s the thing. You could bring everything you possibly own, and the odds that it will be adequate to use in the spot are infinitely small. Because wardrobe doesn’t have a “basic idea” of what they want, they already know the look they want for you, if not the actual precise items of clothing, even down to useless flair bracelets that won’t even show up on camera, even in NASA grade HD x infinity. Nevermind the other obvious fact that I am told to bring all of this shit to a wardrobe department. As in, a vast studio warehouse filled with clothes from every fashionable era from at least the last one hundred years. I can’t tell why they ask you to bring what it is they do aside from maybe, just maaaaaaybe you own that one item they couldn’t find at all of the costume warehouses all over town they’ve been looking in since before you were cast (you don’t). It’s the same thing with never being quite in good enough shape for showbiz: your nice clothes aren’t new, your cool clothes are lame and your blue clothes aren’t even blue enough .

So it finally took me four or five of these instances to realize I need to portray myself as having just returned from a missionary trip overseas involving a vow of poverty if I want to avoid this annoyance. Recently I rolled into a fitting for a shoot where I would be playing someone two years before my actual birth. I felt pretty confident rolling in there empty-armed, until the wardrobe lady started giving me guff for not bringing what I wore to the initial audition. Well lady, I didn’t bring it because I wasn’t told to, when your lackey called me three days ago and told me to bring as much brown formal wear (?!) as possible to this farce. Trust me, had I brought the original shirt, it would have been scoffed at and tossed aside in favor of something more hip, nice and blue.

So while the desire to impress and aide in the wardrobing process might lead some up and comers to haul their luggage to every meaningless clothes fitting, this grizzled lifer has come to a conclusion that even after you’ve booked a job, and the work and money are inevitable, you’re still pretty inconsequential and meaningless to most of the production. Just memorize your lines and keep yourself healthy. And don’t even attempt to help someone else do their job. You’ll just fuck it up anyway.

But what the fuck would I know, I’m just an actor.