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My Day In Treme

Never having been an extra in a television production before, I was sort of curious what happened. But after watching several movie and TV production filming outside of my Frenchmen Street window over the past 13 years, I knew it was going to be a slow process.

Joseph and I were asked by the Treme production people to show up at 2 p.m. at the House of Blues. They were shooting a scene from the Best of The Beat (supposedly set in 2009). I think this was the last year we had the event at HOB (we’ve moved it since to Generations Hall).

I was supposed to dress in glitzy Best of The Beat attire, so I put together a plastic bag with a shiny black jacket and some rhinestone-y jewelry; Joseph wore exactly what he wore to the Best of The Beat that year.

At 2 p.m., we arrived, went upstairs to the set, and waited for the rest of the extras to arrive.

The production member, Kent, told us to be ready to go to the mock-VIP section of the upstairs. It was set up with real food for mock-VIP grazing. The extras started arriving, and almost all of them had half-full beer bottles in their hands. Turns out it wasn’t real beer; they were supposed to be drinking at the mock-BoB (goes to show you that the Treme peeps do their homework on making the event look authentic).

The director of the segment, Anthony Hemingway, came around to introduce himself to me, Joseph, and Mark Samuels, the president of Basin Street Records, who was also in the scene.

"Annie Tee" and "Marvin" (Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

It was explained that we all were supposed to be mingling with musicians who had won a Best of The Beat award in the VIP area. But the scene didn’t belong to us (remember, we were just extras). The actors, Michael Cerveris (who plays Marvin, Annie Tee’s manager) and Lucia Micarelli (who plays Annie Tee). Lucia wasn’t hanging with the peon extras, but Michael mingled. Both of them are far from obscure actors; they are both incredibly talented musicians and performers. Yes, “Marvin” is a Tony Award-winning dramatic actor and singer who’s performing as Juan Peron in the current Broadway production of Evita,as performed in Tommy on Broadway, in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (he took over for John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the musical and originally starred in it), and in Sweeney Todd among others.

Micarelli is an accomplished, classically-trained violinist, who has toured with Jethro Tull (!).

These guys had the lines, which I can’t reveal here, of course, but let’s suffice it to say that Marvin wants Annie to do something she’s not really happy to do. By the time the scene shoot was over (almost three hours later), I could recite the lines by heart.

Here’s what we had to do during those three hours: stand and pretend like we were talking to each other and enjoying ourselves (boisterously) every time they shot the dialogue between Marvin and Annie Tee. The same scene was shot maybe five times each from three different angles while the actors spoke their lines. Sometimes Hemingway asked Michael and Lucia to pick up lines from a certain point and we’d have to shoot it again. And again. And again. All the while, we extras had to act very animated, but not say an audible word to each other. It was incredibly weird, and after about an hour, it got be really exhausting. I can’t imagine how movie and TV actors can repeat the same lines over and over again. I asked Michael about that and he said, “It’s a challenge, making it sound different, and hopefully better each time you do it. But it’s not that different from saying the same lines in a Broadway play night after night. When you and your fellow actors finally get something to work well, you may have a problem with something else, and then you work on getting that right. It’s just a different kind of challenge when you have to work on short scenes for TV.” God bless him. It’s a lot harder work than most people realize.

No reveals here on the plot (I would be killed), but suffice it to say that Treme gives a great shout-out to Best of The Beat. Thank you, Treme writers and crew! You are cordially invited to this year’s 2012 Best of The Beat Awards at Generations Hall on Friday, January 18, to experience the real thing. And so are you!