Archive for April, 2008

Dave Barry Does Marley (or should I rephrase that?)

Monday, April 21st, 2008

I’ve always been a huge fan of Dave Barry, the wildly popular syndicated humor columnist. He was writing his column for the Miami Herald during the same time I was writing mine an hour up the coast at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. But it would be wrong of me to leave the impression that Dave and I were on anything resembling an equal plane. Dave was THE columnist in South Florida (and through syndication across the continent); the rest of us worked in his large shadow, trying desperately to capture a sliver of his effortless wit while working equally desperately to not look like copycat wannabes.

At last our paths have crossed. Dave landed a role on the set of Marley & Me as an extra in the scene capturing my fortieth surprise birthday party. In real life, Marley crashed the party by diving onto a tray of appetizers, and wolfing down mozzarella and basil on toast squares, but I have to admit the birthday cake makes for much better visuals.

At any rate, Dave Barry being Dave Barry, he wrote a very funny column about the experience. And from my few days on the set earlier this month, I’d say very accurate, too. If you think being a movie extra is glamorous, try it for a day and see how you feel by the twelfth hour and twenty-seventh take.

Dave writes, in part:
There is a definite hierarchy on a movie set. At the top are the director and the stars. Below them are the lesser actors and crew members. Below them are the support people who provide food, transportation, security, etc. Below them are the stunt birthday cakes. And at the bottom are the extras. We are there strictly as background. In fact, the crew people actually call us ”background” when they herd us around.

”All right, background!” they say. “I need you all to stand over here!”

As an extra, you do a lot of standing around. First you stand around waiting for the set to be prepared. Then you stand around on the set while they rehearse the scene. Then you stand around being the background while they shoot the scene. Then you stand around waiting while they look at the scene to see if anything went wrong, which something always does. Then you stand around while they shoot the scene again. It goes on for hours and hours, the standing. But it’s worth it, because the money is huge.

I am, of course, kidding. For a day’s work — and it can be a long day’s work — they pay you $100, or what one of the extras, Joyce Newman of Miami, described as “one-third of a good pair of shoes.”

You can read the piece in full at:

And Dave, I’ll look for the back of your head on the big screen. It’s going to kill!

On the Movie Set

Monday, April 14th, 2008

(PHOTO: Clyde the Lab getting in character for his role as Marley. Not only is he a dead ringer for the real Marley, he has the same personality, as well.)

Jenny and I recently returned from four days on the movie set for Marley & Me in Miami — and what an out-of-body experience it was. In a good sort of a way.

Director David Frankel and his team have so faithfully recreated that period of our lives that walking onto the set was a little like stepping into a time machine and hopping off in our old neighborhood in West Palm Beach, Florida, circa 1992.

Three minutes after arriving, Frankel said, “Come on, I’ll introduce you to Owen.” Filming was outside a bank building on Brickell Avenue in Miami, and in a private corner of the lobby we interrupted Owen Wilson eating lunch. He was what you might expect, given his immensely likable screen presence — warm, charming, funny, friendly, down to earth. He even offered to share his plate of food. But as Jenny and I talked with him, I kept thinking to myself, “Good Lord, who dresses this guy?” He had on baggy khakis, a crinkled cotton shirt and rather dated-looking tie. Then it hit me: Oh, he’s dressed like me. Or at least the me of back then. Yep, he nailed my inimitable fashion sense. I glanced at his wrist and thought, “Gee, famous actor and that’s the best watch he can afford?” Then I recognized my old plastic $19 Casio I wore faithfully all through the ’90s. He even wore the same aviator Ray Bans and beat-up topsiders with no laces I used to kick around in. On his left ring finger, he sported what looked like my wedding band, too. It was a little other-worldly.

Later outside, David introduced us to Jennifer Aniston, and it was the same kind of experience. She was lovely — even lovelier in person than on screen — and instantly put both of us at ease. But again, how stange: It looked like she had raided Jenny’s wardrobe from the early ’90s. And my favorite part was her ride: She pulled up to the curb in a late ’80s Toyota Tercel hatchback — except for a slight color difference, an exact replica of Jenny’s vehicle from that time, dings and all.

We wandered back to the director’s station where David sat, monitoring each scene through headphones and a bank of monitors. Beside him we spotted twin “Marley & Me” director’s chairs with our names embroidered on them. One read “John” and one “Jenny.” “Wow, they even have seats waiting for us,” I exclaimed. I was just about to take a load off when Jenny grabbed my arm and whispered, “Ahem, those are for the *other* John and Jenny.” The really good looking ones. Oh…. David, who is great and exceptionally gracious, ushered us to other seats

Later, during a break, my smart-ass wife couldn’t resist sidling up to Jen Aniston as she sat in her Jenny chair and deadpanning, “Excuse me, but I believe you’re in my seat.” Fortunately, the actress has a good sense of humor.

And then shooting resumed and one of the first lines out of Owen’s mouth was: “I’m John Grogan.” Off on the side, I had to scratch my head once again. Um, I thought I was John Grogan. And so went the week. Out of body, start to finish. As well as terribly fun and exciting. Thawing out in the Florida sunshine wasn’t bad either.

Most importantly, we both loved what we saw. The scenes we were present for were funny (sometimes hilariously so) and heartwarming and sweet. The dogs — there are more than two dozen — portraying Marley from puppyhood into old age are gorgeous — and suitably mischevious. Unpredictably mischevious. You can imagine all the unscripted moments. The outtakes alone will be worth the price of admission.

Marley & Me is shaping up to be a really wonderful movie. Filming is scheduled to wrap up about June 1. The film is scheduled for a Christmas day 2008 release. I can’t wait.