|Austin-Bergstrom International Airport|
Jesus Has Left the Building
by Dan Eggleston
In mid July 2001 my friend Johnny Bartee (from "Miss Congeniality") asked if I could work as an extra on a short film on which he was the assistant director. "The Late Show" started shooting late July at the Capitol City Comedy Club. I arrived at 8 a.m. to find the crew setting up its first shot and two extras (Mindy Raymond & Hal Jennings) already waiting in a chilly room. The lead actress (Griselda Mendoza) arrived a bit later and rehearsed her scene in the even chillier main stage area. At 8:20 we signed the release forms (since this was the first day of the shoot, everyone needed to sign them, not just the extras; Johnny noted that he'd worked on some productions that ignored release forms, which was inadvisable). The first scene was shot in the club's office thirty minutes later, with Griselda and Anna (a very young girl). A temporary curtain had been draped over the club entrance, partially blocking the sun. (see pictures of this film.)
Willie Barcena, the star of the film, introduced himself to us; Willie is a stand up comedian from Los Angeles (his film role too).
Shortly after 9:00 two maids arrived to clean the club and were asked to start in the main room to reduce the interruption. Sandra Williams arrived and we chatted; her interest in films was partly due to her husband's involvement. She preferred the technical side and was very interested in the types of lighting being used. At 9:40 Sandra Metcalf put some makeup on me. Her sister Cindy was also helping with makeup. Shortly before 10:00 Griselda and Anna finished their scene and left.
Michael spoke of his experience at the mystery theater at Buster & Dave's. The actors there walk around the tables in the midst of the audience and he was told he had to speak up. It took a while before he learned how loudly he needed to speak.
For my first scene, Mindy and I sat at one table with Hal and Sandra W at the next one. Sandra M., Cindy, and a couple of others entered from the main room where Willie ("Frankie Villa") had just finished his act. They complimented him on a great performance. Johnny told him he was off to a great start, but that he needed a gimmick like Carrot Top. Willie quietly ad libbed several sarcastic comments, such as "Stick a carrot up your ass."
While waiting I asked Mindy if she knew of my casting list. She didn't but told me of the Dallas list she belonged to and mentioned it was run by Tricia Connell and Dan Eggleston. After identifying myself, we laughed about it. Mindy worked as a cocktail waitress downtown but moved back to Dallas a couple of weeks later.
The scene began with the camera moving toward Willie and past our two tables as Beth Billeck (the waitress) served us. Rey Maldonado (the director) wanted someone to smoke a cigarette and blow smoke as the camera approached Willie; Mindy volunteered. By the time the shot was finished she'd smoked about seven or eight cigarettes After several rehearsals, Mindy and I were asked to switch seats, placing her with her back to the camera.
On one take Beth accidentally dropped a glass. Before this year Beth had never previously acted (even in school plays); she took an acting class in the spring and totally fell in love with the process. She'd worked on two short films so far.
We finished this shot at 11:40 and thirty minutes later started the next shot, the same scene from a different angle. On one take Willie bent Sandra W over and kissed her and then when Johnny walked up kissed him as well.
After this scene we took a lunch break. Maira, the producer, brought fixings for sandwiches and we all made our own. It was a great way to save money and the food was delicious.
At 1:20 we resumed with a shot of Willie walking to the bar (immediately following the previous scene). Mindy and I crossed in front of the camera after Willie passed our table and then we moved to the end of the bar. This shot made the final cut of the film. One actor walked in front of the camera at the beginning of the shot; however, his head was the same height as the camera, the director had him walk on top of a box in front of the camera making him appear taller.
A dialogue scene at the bar followed (at 3:20). Mindy and I once again crossed, but this time walked directly behind Willie (visible in the film) as he stood at the bar and she got a line of dialogue ("great job"). During the dialogue the extras (about 10 of us) walked across the room in the background. Somewhere inside the bar a cricket made noise causing minor sound problems. Several times the bartender bumped into bottles messing up shots. I noticed later that it was very easy to do so with many bottles lined up on his side of the bar.
One actor missed his cue during this scene and everyone wondered what had happened to him. They thought he might have stepped out for a smoke, but he was finally discovered to be sitting on the toilet. This scene was about finished when I left at 4:15.
Call time the next day was 1:00 p.m.; I arrived just after Amanda and Karina. They worked at K-EYE-42-TV and used to be college roommates . Amanda is from Cotulla and was later surprised that three people on the set knew of her hometown (between San Antonio and Laredo). Amanda had just graduated from Sul Ross State in Alpine where she was a drama and communications major; Karina graduated from Angelo State University with a B.A. in drama and communications. Karina had to be finished in time to attend an improv class which Amanda did not wish to attend. They'd learned of the film from a posting on austinactors.net.
None of the crew was there yet, having worked very late the night before and that morning had shot a scene in Pflugerville until about noon. The owner of the club (Dana) and its manager (Bob) were working, and had to keep letting people in as they arrived, preferring to leave the door locked. At one point one of them weighed the liquor bottles, a daily procedure at most bars.
Ray arrived, having heard Willie talk about the film on the Bob & Dudley show that morning on KLBJ. Ray had been laid off earlier that week by a cable company that had gone from 80 to 20 employees in the economic downturn
Gradually the crew drifted in. Willie arrived and after visiting with three women, left to change clothes at his hotel room. Maira brought some pizza for everyone, but by the time the drinks arrived the pizza was lukewarm.
At 3:00 we finally moved into the main room; some of us were placed at two tables near the front, and some at seats in front of the stage. There were about twelve of us, and we were positioned to make it appear as if the club were actually full. Willie was late arriving and we finally started shooting at 4:00. Willie did his act and we reacted as if he was very funny. (He actually earned the laughter.) Before he started he told us that he hadn't written the script; but he was excusing himself in case we didn't think he was funny.
He kept referring to himself in the act as "Willie" instead of the character he was playing, Frankie and we had to do some re-takes as a result. Finally I placed a reminder on his monitor with his stage name on it. I sat next to Lee, a doctor, who had "dragged" two of her employees with her and who picked up her 15-year-old daughter, who joined the group.
After a few takes, we shifted the audience to the left and placed a different group in the front seats. I sat near the stage; after a few takes, they shifted the camera to a dolly behind Willie for shots which showed some of us watching his act (I was also visible during at least one of these shots). During the wait Willie got change for a twenty dollar bill and played a trivia game, first with songs and later with dialogue from movies. The first one with the right answer got a dollar (and later two dollars). I ended up with $4 and many people got at least one question right. Eventually Willie ran out of money, but the questions continued among the audience.
Willie kept referring to me as "Jesus" and when I started to leave, about 5:15 asked, "Jesus, where are you going?" to which I replied, "Jesus has left the building." That evening Willie did his act after The Cable Guy's regular performance and about 200 remained to see his show and be part of the film audience.
A few days later I got an email from Johnny: "We've wrapped as of last night. Thanks for participating in our project. We really appreciate your fine efforts. I watched the dailies and you're in several scenes, very prominent in one. Editing starts next week and should be finished by September 1st. I'll keep you posted. Willie is booked for the Comedy Club Sat. Aug. 18th. I'll see about getting you on the guest list." It was a short but very fun project.
After posting the pictures on line, Johnny transferred some to the film's website and gave me credit as still photographer posting several of the photos I took.
In mid January 2002 I attended the premiere of the film at Cap City Comedy Club. There was a bigger crowd than I expected (about 100). I said hi to Joey, the director and took his photo (I added 22 more pictures to the website from the premiere). I sat with the Metcalf sisters.
Willie wasn't present because he had a meeting with someone from CBS. He had recently appeared on the Jay Leno Show, so his career seems to be doing well.
The film started on time and ran 20 minutes. I noticed myself in three scenes in the film. My name was indeed listed in credits as "still photographer." Ironically it accidentally got omitted from the list of extras. I spoke to Joey who referred me to Dave Thompson, the editor, about adding it. He wasn't sure if it would be added or not. After a letter to the director from Johnny, I was told that my name had been added to the list of extras and that I'd get a copy of the film. Maira asked me for prints of the photos I'd taken for publicity and picked up my copy of the ones I had from the shoot. The ones from the screening were digital and I didn't have any prints to give her.
The film's budget was under $1500 and the lighting and sound were excellent. The story was well written and I enjoyed it; the ending surprised me. It was submitted to S by SW, but it was unknown at this time whether it would make the cut.