The French Mute

Countdown to bagels in my face: 4 Days. 

Acting in a motion capture animated film feels akin to being in a dream. You feel like you might have to pee the entire time. When you’re fighting, you can’t use all of your force. If you are using a computer, the keys are unfamiliar and don’t have the same feeling beneath your fingertips. There is always some kind of unforeseen obstacle holding you back. In this case, it was our motion capture glasses that were not wireless. I called it being plugged into the Matrix.

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And if you forgot that you were still plugged in, and tried to escape to warm up in front of the giant space heater, you would be reminded as your body moved forward and your head snapped backward. 

Training came in handy for this kind of work as there is no set. In a Brecht fashion, the “set” is tape on the ground, C- stands used for trees in Central Park,

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and very modest beds, chairs, and desks. It was an indelible test of imagination. Acting in film is already a huge challenge to one’s imagination because, especially in indie film, you have to imagine that there aren’t a gaggle of people around you talking about who blew up the porta-potty before breakfast. The director of photography, God bless him/her, will take a substantial amount of time lighting and framing you so you look beautiful (or terrifying, depending on which film). The director will be ignoring the assistant director asking him/her “Can we shoot the camera rehearsal?  Hm? Is that- can we shoot this? I would be really happy if we could shoot this.”  And you’re thinking…

CHARACTER THOUGHTS CHARACTER THOUGHTS CHARACTER THOUGHTS

Typically, a day on set for me on an indie film is 12 hours. That’s from the time I get called into hair and makeup. In the French production of The Prodigies, however, it was far less. Everything was frighteningly casual. Our lunch breaks were about 2 hours after all was said and done. About an hour and a half to eat, and then a half hour for a cigarette, and espresso, and perhaps a nap “as you like!”

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In Luxembourg, you had to budget in another 2 hours to be able to kiss every single person thrice on their cheeks at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day.

I loved that everything smelled like sugar and cigarettes.  I was so lucky to be there! Overwhelmed by the beauty of the people, the language and the cities we were working in every day.

Ah, yes. The language.

I have a skill for memorization from years of performing plays and memorizing my favorite poems. I always said that it was why I was so bad at remembering everything else: I haven’t the capacity! I had great faith that I was going to get by just fine.

I discovered very quickly that Parisians are a particular people when it comes to the French accent. They can spot a foreigner right away. In lieu of saying “je veux un croissant s’il vous plaît!”, I could have walked right up and belted “Manamana!” in their faces and it wouldn’t have been any more offensive than actually trying to speak French.

I was denied directions, water, or even a smile. One incredibly frustrating day, I threw in the towel altogether. I went to the grocery store to pick up some items. With a huge lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes, I impatiently waited for the total to come up on the register. I tore money from my wallet and gave it to the cashier, sitting on her little French chair. She asked me if I wanted one bag or two, and I couldn’t even open my mouth. I showed her two fingers and shook my head apologetically. Startled, she began putting my groceries in the two bags while gabbing on rapidly in French.

She thought I was mute.

And for the rest of my time in France, unbeknownst to the cast and crew, when I went out in the evenings, or on my days off, I was.

When I returned from filming The Prodigies, I had no plan other than auditioning again and finding another sideline job. While acting work came in quickly, it was for far less than my big studio rate of $800/day. For my first off-broadway show, I was offered $300/week before taxes and that contract would last a little over a month. The first live action film I would accept, Rising Stars, was my introduction to SAG Ultra Low Budget contracts. At the time, it was $100/day before taxes (now it is $125, Production Assistants make $150), with a shooting schedule of approximately 4 weeks, working 6 out of 7 days, 12 hours a day. My rent and utilities were over $1,000/month. Wahoodle.

My money was diminishing faster and faster without a sideline job, and 4 months in between acting gigs. Without any experience or connections, no one would hire me to waitress or bartend. Things were looking bleak. And then I saw an ad for Care.com for dog walking. Care.com is a fantastic website that offers jobs in nannying, babysitting, tutoring, pet care, and senior care. Now there are even more sites like these to find sideline work https://www.sittercity.com/ https://smartsitting.com/nanny-jobs/ https://www.rover.com/ http://www.tutor.com/

I’ll warn you that you will make a heck of a lot more money waiting tables and bartending, but then you have to deal with hungry drunk people. And if you’re like me, you’d rather pull some long strands of grass out of a pit bull’s butt than do that.

Rates for dog walking typically look something like this:

  • $12 for a 3o minute walk/ $20 for an hour/ $60 for an overnight stay

Cuddles all day and a free workout? Sign me up! So what I’d have to deal with a couple of crazy pet people? I was going to be the best pooper-scooper in Manhattan. I was going to turn shit into lemonade!*

I was going to throw shit against the wall and it WOULD stick!*

Because, after all, shit floats to the top!*

 

*I’ll accept suggestions to alternate endings.

 

Author: Lauren Ashley Carter

Lauren Ashley Carter is an actress, producer, writer, director, mystique, bagel-eater, lover of all things red. You've seen her in The Woman, Jug Face, Pod, Darling, The Mind's Eye, Law and Order SVU. You will see her in Imitation Girl.

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