…Written by Pookabazooka… I was again on the roof, above lots of other buildings, including a garage next to my building, across a narrow drainage ditch. The camera crew was below in the shade of this garage. The stage director kid was up on the roof with me, valiantly trying to explain what the hell (he hoped) was going to happen. The Good Guys meanwhile were in the shade with the crew below – the lucky bastards.
Up on tarmac Hell, I was instructed to look at the garage then scan to the left, and back to the right, where I would spot the Good Guys, sneaking then suddenly running toward my building. Just as I raised my Uzi to shoot at them I would get shot in the back and die dramatically, collapsing onto the hot tar roof. We did a trial run. “Test! Action!” Scan, scan, scan, “Hey, you there!” and BANG! Down I go. I didn’t actually voice the words “Hey, you there!” but I said it with body language. Acting, baby!
The issue here was timing, but we just didn’t have it. And I say “we” because I will not accept full blame for this. As I turned my gaze slowly from my spot, the Good Guys ran out on cue, but the distance between us was quite short. I didn’t really have time to turn around naturally and spot them before I was supposed to get shot, largely because the tarmac roof at this point was beginning to melt into more of a tar swamp, and was sticking to my boots. I must have made an infuriatingly comedic-looking Bad Guy, attempting to stomp around (then dramatically die) on what now resembled a giant sheet of fly-paper.
I tried explaining this to the stage manager, who thought I just didn’t know my cue. Helpfully, he set a walkie-talkie at my feet over which the director, sitting nearby in the shade, would yell “BANG!” when he wanted me to drop. I tried explaining again in broken Korean, and again failed. The realization that you’re the only one (foreigner) having communication issues is not a pleasant one – the Russians, Ukrainians and others tended to switch effortlessly between their home tongues, Korean and English. Anyway, you’d think the stage director would have guessed the problem when his walkie-talkie sank into the tar. He picked it up and thoughtfully inspected the glob of sticky black goo that came with it. The Good Guys were simply moving too fast for me to find my mark.
Somehow I managed to get my dramatic death done in only two takes! I felt like a natural, especially when one of the Kyrgyzstani actors told me when they killed him, it had taken fifteen takes, and hurt like hell because they had had him throw his body back into a pile of scrap metal. He had asked for a softer landing position, like maybe some empty cardboard boxes (like the ones that always seem to be in alleyways during car chases) but the director insisted on the scrap metal for dramatic effect. Anyway, I’d apparently done well.
The other actors heard I had died well and decided to talk to me. They were suddenly quite nice. We exchanged standard pleasantries. One guy called Ahmad tried to teach me how to pronounce his name correctly, and all was good amongst the Bad Guys. Even the American came over and told me he was from Baltimore. I’m from Pittsburgh, so I said, “Oh, great! A Ravens fan!” and he smiled and said, “Yep!” The Koreans understood this meant some kind of rivalry, so we shot at each other with our fake guns. He was a good guy – a former English teacher with a Korean wife and no plans to ever return permanently to the states (a story becoming seemingly more common these days). The Kyrgyzstanis said they have always been actors here, which I guess meant they had not previously worked as English teachers.
By 1:00 I figured I was done, given I was dead and all. I removed the bulkier bits of my commando uniform. A prop guy even came over and took my Uzi away. I removed my protective chest gear and knee pads, and unzipped my camo jacket. I sat in the shade, relaxing and watching the show around me. The Kyrgyzstani actors, including my new pal Ahmad (who studied engineering in the U.S.A but apparently can’t return for a holiday because his name is on a No-Fly List) went back over to the building under the iron staircase tower where, I could only assume, the beautiful Korean Hostage was still being held. From that direction, there suddenly came a VERY loud barrage of gunfire. And then another, and another. The Good Guys appeared from behind a brick wall on the upper roof and rained hell on whatever was below, flames spraying from the muzzles of their rifles. Then the stage director approached me. “Clothes!” he barked, so I assumed I could go back into the decrepit old book depository and change back into my civilian garb. I picked up my chest protection (I had given the knee pads to Ahmad for the final few hundred takes of his scrap metal death) and started up the hill to get changed. “Where are you going?” the stage director yelled in Korean. I stopped. He started dressing me again and ordered me back up to Hot Tar Hill to reshoot my dramatic death scene. I really should have seen this coming. The helicopter-cam would be there again and they also wanted an extreme close-up of my face; they wanted to capture the agony of Biff’s final moment (I’d given my character a name: Biff LeGuerre). “Okay, but they took my gun away! No Uzi!” I said, and pantomimed using an Uzi. The stage director said, “OK, OK” and went to find me a gun. He came back with a rifle with a scope on it. This was in fact a more believable weapon for a rooftop guard than an Uzi (as far as I know) but I also know a thing or two about continuity. This would look funny. I tried to explain but he just said “Kaja! Baliwa!” (Let’s go! Hurry!), so up I went. This time my rifle was a toy – even the orange paint was showing through from under the black spray paint, and the electrical tape holding the butt of the rifle on was loose. I broke the thing trying to fix the tape, and marched back downstairs to explain again that this piece of shit would not work. I needed my Uzi, damn it! The stage director went to the locked suitcase where they stash the formerly real weapons, but someone had locked it. He got on the walkie-talkie and we all waited a few minutes for the specific person with the fake-uzi-suitcase-code to arrive and unlock it. Must be a union thing.
Back on the roof, trusted Uzi in hand, and this time a whole film crew was up there with me, sitting comfortably in the nearby shade, from which could be seen the deadly paper mache missile. I explained by gesturing to the stage director that I had been wearing knee pads before… another continuity issue. He explained in broken English that it didn’t matter; the helicopter cam would be too far away to notice such details, and the extreme close-up camera was to be focused on my face. This camera was under an umbrella, and crewmembers were setting my mark – a tough job when they say “a little bit to the left…” and my boots pick up the fucking roof when I try to move. It was REALLY melted at this point. I could feel my scalp was also really burning, so whenever I could, I snuck back into the shade with the rest of the crew, only to be dragged back out a moment later. We did this for about twenty minutes until finally I heard the helicopter cam buzzing and it was time to roll. I tried to re-create my earlier success of turning slowly, then back to spot the Good Guys running from the garage, and then BANG! my dramatic death. I threw myself forward, head back in agony, landing on the hot tar roof and the hard, metal Uzi full-force – this time with no knee pads. It hurt a little. The second time my chaffed knees screamed. The third time was agony. The fourth time, my boots were stuck so firmly to the tar that I actually fell backwards. Slowly and carefully they explained “No, forward!” as if to a slow-witted six-year-old, to which I said something like, “Yeah, I know, man, but it’s not so easy when my feet are glued to the fucking roof!” Again, and again, and again. I could feel the frustration rising up from the Good Guy team below, running back and forth in their black commando gear as I fucked up shot after shot after shot. But my knees were screaming pain; I could feel the blood running down my legs. And I had a gash on my elbow from landing on part of the Uzi once or twice. But again and again and again, I tried to throw myself forward as hard as possible – I did it for the art. I did it for the movie. I did it for ACTING!!!! But seriously, when your mind knows how much it’s going to hurt, as dedicated as you are in thought, your ass will just not accept those orders. Eventually, I was just going down slowly, and resting on my hands. Finally it was, “Cut! OK, good!” and we were done. The crew gathered up their shit and began moving back downstairs. The stage director came over to me and said, “OK, good! You are good actor!” I didn’t feel like a good actor. I almost wanted to try it again, but I knew it was pointless; my knees were done for and my elbow was stinging from the sweat running into the wound. And my left hip/butt cheek was sore; I guess I landed pretty hard on it a couple of times.
Downstairs, the sniper actor walked by smiling, and said something in Korean. The crew laughed. I was feeling pretty self-conscious about my weak-ass performance, but Crystal told me, “He is happy that he got to shoot Bruce Willis!” I had to smile. I get that a lot here. Apparently, to Koreans, I look like Bruce Willis. The other actors were very supportive of me now. When the first-aid girl arrived and began applying ointment to my bloodied elbow and knees, one of them stormed over to the stage director and yelled at him in Korean, demanding to know why I wasn’t given knee pads. Most of these guys had already been on site filming for the last three days. I was given knee pads and sent back to the roof, but this time they only wanted me to fall forward so they could get some better angles to splice together. After that, it was all over for old Biff. His death (and life) was now a matter for the cutting room floor. Will he actually be in the film? We’ll see.
I spent the rest of the shoot in a t-shirt and my camo pants and boots. Biff reappeared from the dead and renounced his formerly evil ways, opting instead for the life of a photographer. Sneaking around the set I snapped clandestine pictures of the action. I even got some video of a scene where the Good Guys try to defuse the rocket, but instead sprayed a bunch of hydrogen out of the boosters and they all fell over, which may or may not have been the plan. I heard the explosion of gun fire again from the building by the iron staircase tower. That was where we evil doers had taken the sexy hostage, but I never did see her again. I did see Ahmad coming back later around 4:00 p.m. in shirtsleeves and camo pants. Apparently, he was the guy dying dramatically in the hail of gunfire from the Good Guys that popped up on the rooftop. They had wired him with squibs, so his death was apparently to be the big finale. The poor guy must have been in a lot more pain than me, having spent his day throwing himself into a pile of scrap metal. Later, two SWAT vans arrived, along with three unmarked police cars with red lights flashing, two truckloads of Korean military personnel, and a helicopter – a real one. It appeared our work was done. We were told to stay inside and out of the shot, so I stood in the missile room, chatting with one of the other actors. I pegged him as a Maori by his accent, hair and skin tones. Nice fellow. Too bad I am terrible with names. He told me he was a chef, but had became an actor after realizing that being a chef in one of Korea’s twelve-gazillion restaurants was not as fulfilling as he had expected. After experiencing a number of less than encouraging situations he had become fed up with the restaurant game (so to speak) and now he was a killer like me. Our chat was interrupted when a SWAT team burst into the missile room in full body armor, guns drawn. It probably would not do to have two dead guys casually chatting in the shot, so we scrambled to hide behind the machinery. If you ever see this film, and you notice the Ghost of Biff LeGuerre hiding in the background, you’ll know why. They were going to reshoot the arrival of the cavalry (perhaps because of my friend and I), so we extras were told to gather our shit and get off the set. We hiked back up into the old empty book building to change back into our civilian clothes and returned our commando crap to wardrobe. Mine was covered in tar from the roof, but they said it didn’t matter; the costumes were expendable. We walked back up the stairs toward our respective vehicles. The Maori former chef called out, “You should ride with us!” so I traveled back in a different car than the one I arrived in. We pulled out around 5:30 p.m. and arrived in Seoul four hours later. Crystal rode in the car with us, sitting behind me as I was riding shotgun again. She slept the whole way. She snores. When we were dropped off at Sinsa station, everyone began heading down into the subway. I had to ask now: “So, when do we get paid?” My Maori friend explained, “Rashad has your number. He’ll call you tomorrow to get your bank number and he’ll deposit the money.” What? I wanted my extra weekend beer money now! The money in my pocket would have to go toward a few thousand litres of water (I was so dehydrated) and a bus ticket home. Oh well. I said goodbye to my new friends, bought some water and hopped on the bus. Twenty-three hours after leaving home to make some weekend beer money, I arrived home once more, sore as hell, and pretty much broke. Still, all things considered, it was an interesting experience. I checked the location and apparently we had been in some place called Taebaek. Lovely scenery down there.
Incidentally, the working title of the film in English was “Inception Deception” but the director doesn’t like that the two words rhyme, so they are considering “Mr. K” or simply “Spy.” If it actually ends up in theaters or on DVD, check it out. Watch for the uncomfortable bald guy pacing angrily on a roof. That’s Biff. Biff’s a dead man. If you ever want to try your hand at being an extra in a film, it’s actually easy to do. Check Craig’s List in Seoul, Korea, or send an email with your information to email@example.com. I’ll let you know if I ever actually get paid.