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Friday, February 27, 2004

Adventures in Hollywoodland...

Hey look everyone! I just learned how to post pictures!

From left to right, top row: The beautiful and lovely Mary and the Amazing Averie. Talented Taryn and Charming Caris.
Bottom row: My "TOM" Girls; Celindarella, Mary, Ave, Linz. Mitch and Caris in "Robin Hood".

This week has been, to say the least, exhausting, but more exciting than words can express. However, I'll try. :o)

Mom is progressing well. Her tests of late have shown no abnormalities and therefore, both her neurologist and oncologist have determined that the embelism that caused her TIA (mild stroke) was caused by a "rogue" clot brought on by the cellulitis in her leg which moved up to her brain. Since the cellulitis is now under control (thank God!), she's doing well and can be left alone for the nights. Which means that Charlie has been able to sleep here at home. Jenice has been spending the last two days with Mom so that I could attend the meeting with Caris' prospective agent AND take her to her call on the movie set.

Yesterday, Caris had a 7:30 am call in Hollywood's Wilshire District as I previously mentioned. We had a huge storm here, and lost power temporarily. I was very concerned about driving the 45 miles to the location in the bad weather and so we decided that we would leave home at 5:00 am in order to give ourselves plenty of time and drive at a safe pace. California labor laws for minors in the entertainment industry require that kids bring at least 3 hours of schoolwork with them to the set and the studio must provide teachers to instruct them for that period of time when they are not in production (actual filming time). So, along with the wardrobe that they asked us to bring, and all of her paperwork (work permit, Coogan law account), Caris had to bring her school backpack with her homework.

Knowing only the name of the project and that Caris would be an "uppercrust private schoolgirl", we assumed that perhaps it might be a kid movie (kinda like Harry Potter). As it turns out, "Mrs. Harris" is about the story of the love-affair- turned-sour between Mrs. Jean Harris (played by Annette Benning) and Dr. Herman Tarnower (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) of Scarsdale (NY) Diet fame. It's an HBO made-for-tv movie which will air in the fall or winter of this year. Mrs. Harris was the headmistress of the Madeira High School for Girls and Caris would be playing one of the students. The movie is set in the 70's.

We arrived at the crew/extras parking lot in plenty of time and were shuttled, along with 150 other girls and their parents, to the set location. Being that this was Caris' first booking, we were both very nervous and didn't quite know what to expect. So we just kind of followed the other girls and moms (or dads) and did what they did. First, they had us turn in her work permit to the studio teaching staff. From there, they sent us to wardrobe where they fitted Caris in a school uniform. She had to go through about three pairs of shoes to find some for her. We actually brought shoes, slip, and uniform shirt which Caris had borrowed from Taryn and Caitlin the night before, and one of the wardrobe people loved her shoes and blessed her for bringing the shirt, but another wardrobe person decided to just deck her out completely in their own department wardrobe...shoes, shirt, and all. All the while we stood in line and took all of this in, Caris kept saying how much she wished Taryn were here with her. So many of the girls knew each other, had worked together before, or came into the situation as friends who signed up for background work together. She was right. This would have been perfect for Taryn as well and all that much more wonderful for Caris to have her best friend here with her. She never stopped thinking about her. After Caris changed into her uniform, she was instructed to go back to Wardrobe and get an approval. They felt her sweater was too large, and so they went through about 2 more sweaters and a blazer before they found one for her. The wardrobe person that helped her exclaimed.."Girl, you are TINY!" Which made her smile. After he approved of the fit, even though her sleeves were a bit long and he cuffed them under, he sent her hair and makeup.

As Caris and I were walking back to hair and makeup, this short, round, troll of a woman (very scary!) was walking out with a few people barking orders here and there. Caris and I were smiling and talking, very excited about the whole process, and Caris pulled on the sleeve of her blazer and said, "do you think the sleeves are a little long?". I smiled and giggled in response. Just then, this horrible woman stopped dead in her tracks with her entourage of people, grabbed Caris by the arm and loudly said to her.."Listen, people are different sizes and not everyone is the same. If you're going to make nasty remarks about the wardrobe...."

Caris' face went white. She was mortified. She said in a very scared little voice; "I wasn't doing that."

"Oh yes you were. I heard you. And I heard your mother giggling."

Her wardrobe assistant, Bob, who had helped Caris tie her tie earlier, broke in; "She wasn't doing anything. What are you doing?" Why are you doing this?"

Obviously, this woman was the Costume Designer and she was apparantly under a lot of stress. Bad timing for us, Caris was her "victim of the moment" and she let loose on her. She continued to hold Caris by the arm and I stepped up; "She wasn't complaining! She was just talking to me, and we weren't making fun of the clothes!" She was hearing none of it. Not from me, not from Caris, not from Bob. Caris looked at me, terror on her face. I could tell she was afraid this woman was going to throw her off the set. For what? For nothing. The woman made an about face and she went into the classroom/auditorium where other girls were, dragging Caris along with her, and she started ordering some of the girls to start switching sweaters and blazers with each other. Poor Caris. I kept looking at her, wondering if she was going to be ok and if I should step in. But she rolled with the flow as this woman did her switching out process, finding that other girls' sweaters weren't fitting them properly either. In the end, Caris and these other girls were left with sweaters or blazers that fit them better, and grumpy Costume Designer lady just disappeared somewhere else. I called Caris over to me. I asked her if she was ok. She wasn't. I could tell that she was microseconds away from tears.

"Why did she do that? I didn't do anything."

"I know, Sweetie. Shake it off. Don't take it personally. She's under a lot of pressure and she's barking at everyone."

"I was afraid she was going to send me away."

"She can't. She doesn't have the authority to do that. Don't worry. Let's go to hair and makeup. You ok? Do you want to stay?"

"Yes, I'll be ok, but now I'm scared to death of her."

"Don't be. There are a lot of girls here. She's already forgotten you and she's barking at someone else."

We went to hair and make up. As it turns out, I was right. The makeup and hair artists all said the same thing. Don't worry about her. She barks at everyone. Once we were done there, we were sent to "school". Caris had to report to a studio teacher and sit with her group and do her schoolwork until she was called to shoot. Once she was settled in with her class for the day, I asked her if she would be ok for me to leave and go to the parents holding area. She met her teacher, got out her books, and started working. She gave me the "ok" sign. I stood there for a minute and took in the surreal moment. Here we were, in this beautiful, historic building (Wilshire Ebell Theater), chaos all around us, and here were all of these girls, beautifully attired in school uniforms (burgundy blazers, sweaters, and socks, white button down collared shirts, blue, burgundy and grey ties, black penny loafers, and grey, pleated skirts...very proper!) actually sitting down to do schoolwork. If I had walked into that room not knowing what was going on here, I would have thought that I was actually at a private girls school. Ironic that they really were doing their own actual schoolwork, but not actually all students at the same school.

After all this, it was now 9:30. Two hours after call time and we were just getting her settled in. I went to the parents waiting area and found a little corner to catch a breath. I could tell that so many of these parents were "old hats" at this. They had their own folding chairs and brought knitting, or artwork, or books to read. Some brought laptops, others were on cellphones. Some of them knew each other and gathered in their groups to chat. Again, another surreal scene to me. Me? I found a place on the floor and opened my Dr. Phil book (YES, I'm STILL trying to work through it!).

Every now and then, one of the moms I was sitting next to would ask me questions; "Is this your daughter's first call?" "How did she get involved?" "Is she working on other projects?" "Does your daughter model?" I would answer, and then I would ask some questions of my own.."How about your daughter?" "What happens next?" "What do we do about their school absence?" "Should I call her school?" etc. I figured I could pick their brains if they were experienced in all of this since I was a newbie. I actually learned quite a lot. I learned that I am SO unlike these other people. Caris did all of this on her own. She brought us the information. She told us she wanted to do it. She told us how to go about it. It was HER desire to do this work...not mine. I was simply the catalyst by which these things could be put into action. Get her to where she needs to go, fill out the paperwork. BUT, this was Caris' deal. I was very proud of her efforts, AND I was proud of her parents for not being "stage parents". We provided the ability for her to pursue her dreams, but we did not push her into it. I could tell that this was "big business" for some of these parents. I smiled.

One of the production assistants would come in every hour or so and tell us how things were going along and when they would be breaking for lunch. Some of the girls had been on set since 6:30 and would be breaking for lunch first. Then the 7:00 girls, then the 7:30 girls. I would walk down to the "classroom" every half hour and check on Caris. But, I never saw her. I assumed by that, that she was on set. I would later find that my assumption had been correct. The first opportunity I had to see her was 4 hours from the time I first left her, when they let her break for lunch. We walked over to where lunch was being catered; a beautiful church down the block from the location. It seems a lot of these buildings are often used by movie studios for location shoots, so they rent out their facilities to the studios for parking lots and places for crew/cast meals. While we munched on bbq chicken breast, rice, and veggies (Caris had jalapeno mac and cheese!) we talked about what she had been doing. What it was like on the set, what the shot was about, etc. She said that Mrs. Harris (Miss Benning) came in to lecture the girls about behavior, schoolwork, society and their place in it. I asked her if Miss Benning was as beautiful in person as she is on screen. She said she is very beautiful AND very funny too. She kept giggling when she delivered her lines and she would talk and joke with the girls. Caris said it was hard not to stare at her and hang on every work she said and that the director had to keep telling the girls that they were supposed to be "bored rich school girls" who didn't care what the headmaster was saying. But they were having a hard time doing that because they were so fascinated by her. I wished that I could have been a mouse in Caris pocket! Caris also said that they kept moving the girls around in their seats for certain shots. They would move a girl out of a primary shot simply because her shoes weren't "right" and they didn't want them to show...details like that. Ahhhh, movies!

After lunch, the girls were told that they had "wrapped" (finished shooting their scenes for the day and were no longer needed) and could return their uniforms to wardrobe. Now, here's the interesting part. Because minors are required to put in 3 hours of schooling a day, some of them didn't get to put in their time because they were in production. So, even if they were done using them for filming, that didn't mean they could leave. They still had to put in their time. In order for the girls to be able to leave the set and collect their pay voucher, they had to be signed off by their studio teacher that they had completed their 3 hours of schoolwork. Many of the girls were able to leave because they weren't used as much on the set and got their school time in. But Caris was on set for most of the time and she only had 1 hour of school time in. She told me as we were walking back for lunch that she still had some work to do. So, we turned her wardrobe in, and she went back to "school". Since there were so many girls checking out and collecting their pay vouchers, it was going to be a long wait anyway. She and I sat in the classroom/auditorium. Her teacher signed her report card, gave her "glowing" citizenship marks, and we got in the line to check out. As we were waiting, a group of people came down from the set. Sir Ben Kingsley was among them and as he turned the corner, he brushed against my arm. I quietly said to Caris, "that was Ben Kingsley". She had no idea who I was talking about. That made me laugh. We were told that there was a possibility that she could be called back next week. I asked her if she wanted to work if they called. She said, "Yes, I just don't wanna run into that awful woman again." I laughed again. She is so untouched by all of this hullaballoo. I like that.

As we walked back to the parking lot at the end of the day I asked her...

"So Caris, pretty cool for the first time, huh? Did you like it? Was it fun? Because if it's not fun for you, it's not worth it."

"Yes, it was fun, except for that woman. But I had fun, it was cool. There's just one thing that would make it better."

"What's that?"

"I wish Taryn were here."

"I know, Honey. Maybe soon she will be. I'd be happy to be her set guardian if her parents would let her come."

"I know. Thank you. Thank you for everything."

Having been up since 4:00 am, I knew she was tired. She looked tired. Yet she still had drama practice tonight for "Little Shop". I told her to lean the seat back and sleep while I drove us home. She did. As I drove, I thought of what had just transpired that day. Little did I know when I was her age that someday I would be doing these things with my beautiful, talented kids. First Averie, and now Caris. I was so grateful that they let me share all of this with them. I was tired from a truly incredible couple of weeks with no breather. But I felt so blessed.


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