Scene 4: DIE EXTRA, DIE!
Copyright 2008 Neill Fleeman

Father Nathan in Sisters

Die, Extra, Die!

     Having joined the ranks of screen immortals by delivering my first lines in a motion picture, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself - until I realized I hadn't gotten paid for doing it. That sort of thing almost never happens to Jack Nicholson. “Hmmmp,” I said a little grumpily to The Lady of the House, “I want to read lines and get paid.”
     “Un-hunh,” she said.
     You know how it is. Anybody who has ever driven a car at some time or another has fancied he could race in Formula One. Anybody who has ever read a book has entertained notions of writing a best seller - if he could just think up a title. So it's only natural that after a lifetime of watching TV and films I think I can make things pretty warm for Mr. Nicholson -- despite the fact that I have next-to-no talent and have no clue of what acting is really about. On the other hand, making money for being clueless is pretty much the dream job description of a large percentage of the people in this country. Just ask the folks at American Idol.
     If you've familiar with these Filmland Chronicles you know that it's at about this point in the story when the phone rings to get the plot boiling so. . .
     “Hi, Neill. It's Alex.”  Alexandra was a PA on the Ramin Baharni film Goodbye Solo and in large part responsible for me delivering my first deathless words of screen dialogue: “It says here you speak French.”
     “I'm on another film now,” she tells me a little breathlessly. “Sisters. Kind of a supernatural flick.” [Author's note: for “supernatural” read “crazed teen-age slasher gore-fest”.]  “I'm in a real bind. We've added some scenes and we need a guy to play a priest.”
     All by itself the idea of me playing a priest is hilarious enough to attract my interest. But it gets better.
     “It's for two days. There's some dialogue. And it pays.”
     Dialogue and money!  Hot dog! I start flipping through the calendar, looking at the weeks ahead.
     “When does it shoot?” I ask, pencil at the ready.
     “In three hours,” says Alex dryly. “I told you I was in a bind. Can you do it?”
     I put down the pencil and look at my watch. “Uh, sure. Do I get hacked up or anything?”
     “Oh, yeah. Really splattered. You'll love it.”
     Dialogue, money, and a gory death scene!  Looking over your shoulder yet, Nicholson?
     Alex is so happy to see me she almost turns handsprings when I get to the location, an old house on the south side of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I quickly get introduced to Shannon, the Director of Photography, and Ron, the Director. Ron hands me a stack of paper. “Here are your sides,” he says. “You read Father Nathan.”
     Now if you remember, my histrionic skills were stretched to the utmost by the seventeen words I uttered in Goodbye Solo. We shoot in a couple of hours and Ron has just handed me what could pass for the phone book in several Third-World countries. This gives new meaning to the term “horror film.” I flip though the pages. The dialogue, as written is… well… awful. “Mmmm,” I say, “Do we need to be word-for-word, or can we play with this a little.”
     “Oh, play with it, if you want.” Ron turned out to be a very hands-off director. I rewrote almost all the dialog for two scenes and he seemed to be very happy with the way it played.
     Jim, who was in my speaking scene in Goodbye Solo, arrives a bit later. Jim is to play a character called Reverend Tom. Reverend Tom is being pursued by the ghosts of three sisters who ran into a little hot water during that high point in American cultural development known as the Salem witch trials. The spirits of the sisters somehow got locked in a medallion - you know how things work in these sorts of pictures -- but the medallion was broken sometime during the previous sixty minutes of the film and the girls are having a bit of a night out. As you might imagine, having been out of circulation for a few centuries, the re-embodied sisters are somewhat lacking in the social graces and are now going around introducing themselves to the Twenty-first Century by ripping peoples' guts out. For whatever reason, Reverend Tom, who has been known to see pink elephants from time-to-time, thinks he's next on their list and he winds up on Father Nathan's doorstep looking for help. Father Nathan takes the lad in, tries to ascertain how much of Tom's excitement his real and how much came from a bottle, gives him his best Spencer Tracy Boys' Town pep talk and goes off to fix him a nice cup of tea.
     And then the Sisters show up and turn them both into cat food.
     Gripping stuff, hunh?
     If you watch CSI or one of those other TV shows where actors spend half of each episode up to their knees in blood and body parts, you may have asked yourself how they do all that make-up, exactly (well, maybe not exactly) what the stuff is made out of, and if it's as icky to work with as it looks. If so, ask no more, gentle reader, for having spent a couple hours getting this stuff applied to various sections of my anatomy, I am now an expert in such matters and can give you the whole scoop.
     I was literally up to my eyeballs in the gooey stuff and I can assure you that the whole business is nothing but good, clean, wholesome fun. The body parts are nothing more than some specially concocted Jello, made extra dense and mangled around into the shape of whatever internal organ you're interested in - liver, spleen, intestines, etc. The blood, which looks and splatters just like the real stuff, is a mixture of chocolate sauce, corn syrup, and red dye. It has a rather pleasant taste but as you might imagine it is quite sticky and hard to wash off. In my big Sisters death scene I fell face first into a plate of assorted goop in take after take and it took two days to get the stuff out of my hair, nose, and ears.
But all in all it was loads of fun.
Needless to say, the week after the Sisters shoot I was once again feeling pretty pleased with myself. I had convincingly delivered two pages of dialogue, most of which I had written myself, had a big, splattery death scene, and got paid for it. One more rung on the ladder to stardom!
     But then a question began to gnaw at me: “What next?”
     I was mulling this over one night while I fixed dinner. “Well,” I said to The Lady of the House as I steamed the asparagus, “I guess the next entry in my acting resume should be a nude scene.”
     “Un-hunh,” she said.