Yesterday we hosted a film crew at Church. They were filming a funeral scene and wanted to use the front of Holy Nativity Church as a backdrop, with people coming out of the Church. The film company gave the Church a generous donation for the right to film for half a day, so I agreed. However, matters turned out more complicated than everyone expected, and it turned into an all-day affair with six main actors stationed for the day in the nave of the Church and twenty-six extras stationed in the hall (and thirty or forty crew members who spent the whole day out in the 5º drizzle). The actors and extras were coming in and out being filmed from various angles caring an empty casket and pretending to be sad or angry or loving or supportive–depending on what character they were playing or what scene was being shot.
It had been a long time since I worked with actors and a crew on set. The stress is intense. Every detail takes on huge importance. Everyone’s job and prospect for future work, is on the line. Film industry work pays very well, but there is not much of it, so only the best, the hardest working, the least complaining, the most driven keep getting work. Everyone is en pointe for sixteen hours a day for as many days as it takes to complete the filming (usually two to three weeks).
Thank God, I was able to stay relatively peaceful through the whole thing. Most of the crew and actors were respectful of the Church–indeed, many of them, actors and crew, thanked me for letting them film there. Most recognized it as a sacred space, one extra even venerated the icons. Only three times did I have to stop an unthinking crew member or actor from opening the Royal Doors–I was stationed most of the day on the Solea just for that purpose. They didn’t know; and when I told them that they were not allowed to enter, but that I would be happy to help them with whatever they needed, they apologized and asked me to turn on or off a light, or whether or not they could pass through to the other side. I had locked the door at the back of the Holy Place, so everyone had to walk around outside to the fellowship hall.
For the last couple of hours of the day, the main actors were moved out to their next scene (at Porters Coffee Shop around the corner), but the extras were still in the Church Hall, being shuttled back and forth from Porters as the filming required. The makeup and hairdos of the extras were at this point suffering from the long day in and out of the drizzle. Everyone looked much older. The stress of the day was taking its toll. Some were in small groups kvetching about something or someone. Others were ceaselessly talking–bragging or giving unasked for advice–to whomever was nearby. No one was listening much. Some had fallen asleep in their plastic folding chair with their heads on a plastic folding table. Plastic everywhere.
Finally, the extras were let go for the day. Fake hugs and kisses all around. “I love you, man,” one man said to me with the full sincerity of a barely employed actor who had never met me before.
And then it was just me and Beverly, the Location Assistant’s assistant who had been the first one to arrive that morning (she was waiting for me when I arrived) and who made sure that everything was absolutely clean and set right before she left. Bonnie came to pick me up as Beverly was mopping the floor of the fellowship hall. I was so happy to see her. Bonnie is real…my real wife, my real friend, my real lover. No pretending, no boasting, no stress, just mellow love.
This may sound strange, but as we were driving home, I thought that the comfort I felt with Bonnie reminded me of cheese: mellowed, aged cheese. Young love is sweet, like fresh milk, nothing like the Coffee Mate and warm water that the actors were putting on for show. But even the sweetest and freshest milk does not stay sweet. It must change–if it is real milk, if it is alive at all. Real milk changes. The trick is to love the change, to go with the change, to care for it tenderly, to enjoy the cheese of love.
I don’t know where all of the actors and crew members are today. Some are in my heart. May God help them today, may God help them to find the Real, the Real One and their real selves–and may God have mercy on all of us.