Best Dead Man on set at Sugar Hill Harlem Inn
Recently I got a call from a young lady,Johanna Vanderspool,with a production company called Hidden Treasures Productions, who wanted to shoot a scene for a documentary,called Secrets of the Soul,at Sugar Hill Harlem Inn,that will show on PBS this fall She came up and saw the rooms and chose Miles room to do the shoot.She seemed nice enough but little too sweet for my taste.
We agreed on the price and I made arrangements for her to do the shoot on Wednesday.They were scheduled to start at 8am.They ambled in one at a time and around about 9.30 they were all assembled and they started to organize the room and bring in equipment.
The first request for a favor, was to use the lobby to store their extra equipment.Then they wanted to use the reception room as a waiting area for the actors.Then they asked to put the food there too,which of course then became the area where all the crew came to eat.Then the make-up artist wanted to use a table in the kitchen to do the faces of the actors,and asked to borrow a mirror.The director also asked to borrow a few old photos that he wanted to use as props in the movie.
When it became time to shoot at around 11am it was brought to my attention that one of the actors had not shown up.The scene to be shot was about a doctor who took dying people and put them on a scale and measured their weight immediately before they died and immediately after.The doctor claimed that the difference was 21 grams and therefore this not only proved that the soul existed but proved that it carried some weight.This was a theory that, later on, thankfully was invalidated. The problem was that the dead man did not show up for the movie shoot and I was asked if I would just lie down on a bed and pretend to be dead. I agreed once again and I put on a costume which consisted of an off white long john jumpsuit.The make-up artist painted my face and lips,to make me look like a dead man.
I went upstairs and lay down where upon I was told that I had to pretend that I was dying of TB and therefore a deep phlegmy cough was required with some loud wheezy breathing. Then I had to let my head tilt slightly as I closed my eyes and died.Of course the scene had to be shot over and over to get it right,but I was reassured that I played the part like an expert.I’m sure this is generally the mood on these shoots, to make the actors feel like they are doing a good job. I thanked them for the complement but was not going out in search of any more parts for dead and dying men.
While lying on the bed,I got to thinking about money.I thought it would be OK to ask for more money since they had used 3 times the space that they requested.I did not think that they did this intentionally,but it just turned out that way.In retrospective it is their business and they must have realised that the space was not big enough.I came downstairs and took off the make-up and the jumpsuit.I was then asked to,and signed a release form.Now most smart people would have not done that right away especially considering I was going to ask for more money.I assumed that even though she never offered any money either for the extra space or the “wonderful acting job”that I did, that she would agree to pay me something and gladly.The idea that she would come to my place knowing that there would not be enough space to do what needed to be done, and then push her way into my space little by little without being noticed like a scheming little weasel, did not even occur to my gullible self.
After I was dressed in my own clothes I called Johanna who had left early.I came right to the point and told her very calmly that I thought that she should pay me more money.Well let me tell you I saw another side of this sweet girl.She immediately flew into a tirade.She was furious.I was so rattled that before I knew it I was screaming back at her.She of course immediately brought this to my attention so I calmed down and I told her that perhaps if she let me speak then perhaps I would not have to raise my voice.She agreed to let me speak, but the minute I began to explain my side of the story she started speaking over me.Her main argument being that I should have asked before the end of the shoot.After a moment I realized that this conversation was going nowhere and I told her goodbye and hung up.
I decided to speak to the director and he was very understanding and of course reminded me of the wonderful acting job I had done and said he would speak to her about it.Later on, after he spoke to her, he came down and explained that in fact I would be better off to make a deal with her and get something rather than going to her boss who was a lawyer, and therefore an asshole,(my interpretation), and because nothing is signed, I would get nothing extra.She had offered me half the going rate for the space and zero for the acting job,since “she thought it would be so much fun”.Is there a law against having fun and getting paid for it?
Why would a person has been accommodated in so many ways behave in such an outraged way,as if personal ingegrity were being questioned and ulterior motives suggested?History shows a consistant problem with self depreciation.A compelling urge to hold a boss,or a belief in so much awe that it becomes an extension of the ego,and the conditioned urge to be ambitious.This pernicious,economic,political, social and spiritual ambition to be something,always searching for a projection of the imagination.When society becomes victim to propadanda the system becomes more important than the individual.We live in a dangerous time then,with a constant bombardment of ads to buy name brands,to believe in this or that philosophy and most dangerous of all,to be patriotiotic.Let us not forget that history lesson.Throw those flags away.Rip up all those bibles and other holy books,throw the whole lot on a pile and burn it.Feel the liberation, the freedom from belief,your boss, your god, your country,your ego.