Most of us have learned we need to know our limitations, so it never occurred to me to think of being in the movies. But when HBO set out to tape "Game Change" and put out a call for someone to play the part of a reporter, I thought I heard my name. Why hire an actor when you could get the real thing, I thought, and local casting director Pat Moran agreed. Miraculously, she persuaded the director of Hollywood's effort to portray Sarah Palin's rendezvous with destiny to cast me — a 35-year veteran of TV news — as a political reporter.
My call was for 6 a.m., and of course I got there early, though I was by no means first on the scene; Ben, a production assistant, welcomed and guided me into my dressing cubicle, a segment of an 18-wheeler divided up into spaces for those with speaking parts, but small ones. It was more than I expected, palatial by TV news standards, and had its own bathroom; union contracts from days I thought were past mandate this.
By 6:05, I was in makeup; by 6:15, my hair was "done"; by 6:30, I had had breakfast (thanks again to the unions); and by 6:40, I was ready to wait.
Which I did until roughly noon. I'm not complaining, mind you; actors get paid by the day.
My "part" was one line, which I had managed to memorize — I was to ask a person in the crowd at a Sarah Palin rally why she supported Ms. Palin, and the designated person, an actress from New York, was also ready to perform.
But not so fast.
We were escorted to the location where the taping would happen, met the movie's director, and were positioned by camera and light people where the question and answer were to take place; we tried the lines, seemed to have them down, and then were invited (a first for me) to sit in those movie-set directors' chairs I'd never expected to occupy. And while we sat, I got the first demonstration of how determined these movie folks were to do a quality piece of work. They had two other people "stand in" for me and the interview subject while they adjusted the lights, screens, backgrounds, etc., and even had the guy "standing" for me wear an identical outfit to what I was wearing (khaki pants and blue blazer, but still). They were determined to get it right.
Then it was time to roll tape; before a frame is shot, they do all those things you've heard about on sets, including the clap-board listing the scene, the people calling for quiet, places, rolling, speed, background-scene begin, and finally, "action," meaning we spoke, and repeated, and repeated again. Every person on the set was professional, pleasant, quiet, competent and focused on his or her piece of the production. The second cameramen, who hold the incredibly heavy cameras while the first cameramen are waiting for the call to roll, are as invested as the director.
I never detected a mistake in any of our "takes," but the director asked for some small refinements which made the final product better. For each new take, the hundred extras performing in the background at the Palin "rally" (in New Hampshire in the fall of 2008) had to cheer, wave their placards, wave their arms, call out to the candidate, and present delirious excitement; they never tired. These were Baltimoreans, determined to be more realistic than any New Englander ever could; they've missed being in movies, and now that they had one, all seemed happy to be there.
I know I was. When it ended, and a "wrap" was declared, the director and screenwriter thanked us as if we were truly gifted actors. I was thrilled to have seen how they do it in the big time and to understand why they needed those 20-plus trailers in the parking lot, those catering tents and make-up pros and security guards and other members of the local economy.
The movie will air sometime this fall or winter, and I, for one, can't wait to see it, even knowing my part may well not make the final cut. I know how the election turned out, but I also know Baltimore will win in this version.
Andy Barth is a Baltimore journalist who has appeared on WMAR-TV2 and WTTG Channel 5 in Washington. He has experience in politics with both major parties (but none as an actor). His email is email@example.com.