Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Musician Acting in Film ~ Filming 'Glee'

A Musician Acting in Film 

Filming Glee at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, CA

Logan as 'sweater vest kid' ~ Paramount Pictures 1/24/15

My son recently had a novel experience, as a "musician acting in film," in the popular television show, Glee.  He was recruited through a friend, a fellow student at the USC Thornton School of Music, where they are studying Jazz.  The audition required the playing of a very simple tune, with a band.  He was hired because "he looked natural playing the double bass" and they liked his look, admired his shirt.  They were firm that he wear the same glasses he had worn during the audition.  This was managed by a casting director who is apparently the person in Los Angeles who does this kind of work, finding musicians to act in film.

Paramount Pictures is the last major film studio still headquartered in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles.  It is spread over 65 acres beyond the famous gate on Melrose Avenue.  Arriving on set the first of two full days of filming, Logan was informed by the casting director that although he was 10 minutes early, he was in fact late, and he "should have been 30 minutes early because it shows you respect me."  This was surprising.  Having made many, many call times over many years, to all different types of venues, we had never heard this.  For musicians, there is typically a very early call time used for sound check.  It is purposely very early to ensure that any issues that arise, considered inevitable, can be solved in time.  Being very early is not always welcomed, as there is usually stage preparation to complete before the arrival of performers.  There was another musician who was 20 minutes late (for the stated time) because he had to change a flat tire on the freeway.  He was told he would never be called again, though they still needed him that day.  The first call time was 9:00am [8:30am WCRT (west coast respect time)*] on a Saturday in January 2015; the shoot was completed in 8 hours.  

Paramount Pictures ~ Melrose Avenue Gate

The next call time was 6:30am [6:00am WCRT] on the following Monday.  After each person arrived, the first stop was wardrobe.  Inside, he was greeted by a friendly, emotive stylist, who gushed, hand on chest, when Logan put on the aforementioned glasses, "you....are....adorable!"  They were putting together two bands, a "nerdy band" and a "cool band."  Logan was recruited for the nerdy band; the glasses now made sense.  Looking at him thoughtfully, the stylist excitedly continued, "I can already tell, you're 'sweater vest kid'....yes, YES!"   [Apparently, there is always one.]  And, he was promptly fitted with a cardigan.  Usually, make-up is next, but he was spared this new experience, to his satisfaction.

The group of musicians were given an Elvis-themed trailer to use during down-time (union-defined & enforced one-hour breaks after every 6 hours of filming).  At this point, Craft Services arrived with a tray of Eggs Benedict, hash browns and other breakfast items.  Logan was sorry he'd eaten.  I'd heard about the luxurious craft services tables, the bane of actresses trying to stay at fighting weight, but this was more than expected.  At break-time, Tortilla soup was served with large bowls of fresh avocado, cilantro, sour cream...  Later, they were confused, as a second lunch, a full Thanksgiving-themed meal was also served: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, etc.  This is in addition to the always-available table of snacks and drinks.  He said it was all fresh and delicious, there was every kind of meal-replacement bar imaginable, and everyone was eating.  For all the camera crews, it is a very physical job.  Not to mention the kids acting in the series, who were singing, dancing and doing gymnastics the entire time.

The actual process of filming, however, was tedious.  Over the eight hours he was there, they filmed the sequence, a party in a high school gym set (Stage 12 at Paramount Studios), over and over, filming from every angle until the director was satisfied with each take.  This footage would ultimately comprise about 3 minutes of show time, when edited.  Ultimately, he realized that for the musicians, on such a day, there was substantial down-time to do homework, etc.  In this way, it became the perfect job: getting paid to play and allowed to work personally in between takes, with meals...and residual checks.

Before he was hired, the casting director had made him aware of many rules, all ending in "or you will be fired."  Like "you may not play your instrument [unless filming]"..."or you will be fired."  He was told an instrument would be provided and not to bring his own, though they did want him to bring his bass bow.  Seeing these instruments, they were obviously chosen for their look; many were classic instruments (iconic 1960's organs, Fender guitars and Marshall amps), some quite high-end and beautiful, looking like they had never been played.  Logan played a double bass and a Hoehner "Violin Bass" Guitar, made famous by Paul McCartney.  The performance scenes in Glee are carefully designed for visual impact, coordinating the music with sets, costumes and instruments too.

Next, he described the many tools of the trade, from an amazing camera, seemingly counterweighted on a gyro, that appeared to float in the air with the camera-operator, along pre-determined arcs, defined by the director, and guided with help from another operator.  There were all types of cranes and trucks for quickly moving different set components like stages and bleachers.  There were also the hair dryer-type machines, that caused the actors' hair to lift, appearing full and floating, operated by staff constantly-moving in sync with the performers, but out of the frame.  After each take, a make-up artist, designated for each actor, rushed up, freshening, perfecting.  The hair stylists, working around the make-up artists, were quickly reviving, jooging** up the style, a little wilted after exercise, finishing by applying copious amounts of hairspray.

Jane Lynch was on set on Monday.  Already, there was a buzz in the air.  After wardrobe, it was clear this day would be different, as they were all directed to make-up.  Indeed, on this day of filming, there would be close-ups.  It turned out that this day would be far preferable, as the band on set was joined only by Jane Lynch and another veteran comedienne, a well-known red-head, and very special guest star for one episode.  Carol Burnett would play Jane Lynch's mother on Glee's final Season 6, Episode 10.  The band watched the two professionals complete their scene at which point, Lynch's character calls the band on-stage to accompany her & her mother in a duet of  The Trolley Song (The song lyrics: "clang, clang, clang went the trolley...ding, ding, ding went the bell...zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings, for the moment I saw him I fell..." are from the 1944 film classic, Meet Me in St. Louis.)  Lynch was kind and talkative with the musicians.  After filming, Burnett graciously posed for pictures and talked to the performers.  At age 81, she looks & sounds amazing.  This day wrapped at noon, after 6 hours.

Carol Burnett & Jane Lynch in Glee, Season 6, Episode 10
(Logan Kane on double bass, far left)

Logan Kane, far left, on Glee set with special guest, Carol Burnett, 2/7/15

One of the interesting things about this experience is the fact that when you are booked, it is for certain days, and you should be available the entire day, which means 12 hours and possible overtime.  The call times are often not given until late the night before (we found out about the first 9:00am call-time [8:30am WCRT] at 10:40pm the previous night) and a "wrap" is called when the director has what he needs, as long as that takes.  It is not unusual for an actor to be notified of an audition within the hour.  In Los Angeles, things are happening, fast.  If you don't pick up the phone, you may miss the opportunity.  Musicians are paid and are subject to the same treatment as actors, meaning a specific hourly wage and a residual payment each time the episode is aired.

About talent, the music provided for the audition was simple sight-reading for these college music students.  On set, it was difficult to tell whether their performance was being recorded for airing or whether they were play[-act]ing along to a pre-recorded track.  It seems, after watching the finished episodes, some of both.  One time just before arriving, he was sent an audio track that had no bass line, and was asked to learn his part on the tune, so it was clear that they weren't always recording, or even matching the instrumentation to the audio track.  Though he was silent, his on-the-spot, bass line invention that suited the tune, was likely easy due to his 3 years in the SFJAZZ Jazz Combo, directed by the amazing Dann Zinn (an audition-only high-school ensemble focused on student-written charts).  I can't imagine this is a skill set that is sought, but one has to ask themselves what they would have done in such a situation.  The aforementioned classic "Trolley" tune with 2 vocalists and many close-up shots, seems to be a live recording.

Soon after, Logan was booked for another two days of filming.  Glee is in its last season and he was fortunate to be able to appear in the finale: Season 6, Episode 13.

* WCRT (West Coast Respect Time): please pardon this author-invented, sarcastic acronym

** Jooge: In the fashion world, this means detailing - rubbing the hair between fingers for texture, rubbing product into the roots for extra lift.


Acciardo, Kelli.  "Snip-tionary: A Dictionary of Hair Terms."  Seventeen.com.  January 26, 2015 <http://www.seventeen.com/beauty/tips/hair-dictionary>.

Kane, Shamera.  TheLeadSheetSF.blogspot.com.  September 29, 2013.  May 19, 2015

"Paramount Pictures."  Wikipedia.org.  January 23, 2015.  January 26, 2015 <http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paramount_Studios>.

"The Trolley Song."  Wikipedia.org.  March 13, 2015.  May 13, 2015

"SFJAZZ High School All-Stars."  SFJAZZ.org.  May 19, 2015.  May 19, 2015