Published In The Great North Arrow, December 2020: Santa On The Set

- jim Young

“Sometimes you can have the smallest role in the smallest production and still have a big impact.” - Neil Patrick Harris

“Lights! Camera! Action!”

And the fantasy world of Hollywood begins filming another scene for what everyone on set hopes will be the next big Christmas blockbuster.

Except it’s North Bay, not Hollywood. 

And it’s not “Lights! Camera Action!” anymore, it’s “Rolling! Background! Action!” now.

“Rolling!” indicates the cameras are operating. The cameras are all digital now of course, but the direction refers to the old days when the film literally “rolled” in the cameras. Mostly it is a call for everyone on the set to “Pay attention and shut the fuck up!”

“Background!” is the direction for the background actors, formerly known as “extras”, to start doing whatever they’ve been directed to do.

“Action!” which has remained unchanged is still the direction for the main actors to begin pretending to be whoever they are pretending to be.

But on the first set back, following a mandatory hiatus due to Covid-19, even those directions have changed again.

“Rolling! Masks Off! Background! Action!” is now the call of the day.

The added direction of “Masks Off!” is the new Covid-19 protocol. Everyone being filmed on set quickly removes their masks and stuffs them out of sight up their sleeve or into a pocket.

I find this a little difficult as inevitably, one of my hearing aids catches on the ear strap of my mask leaving me to scramble to get it back in place before filming begins.

I can’t help but wonder why, when the movie will be aired this Christmas Season, they wouldn’t want the background actors wearing masks? Wouldn’t that be more realistic for a Christmas movie set in 2020? 

But of course Hallmark Christmas movies are all about fantasy, not reality. Their viewers will be looking for an escape from 2020, not a reminder of it.

"Too Close For Christmas", the made for TV movie being filmed, stars Jessica Lowndes, Chad Michael Murray, Deanna Jarvis and Chris Farquhar.

And me. 

Well, not really.

I’m not a star nor am I a supporting actor in this movie. I don’t even have any lines. I’m just one of the many people hired to fill in the background. While most of the other background actors are used in multiple scenes over a period of several days, I am somewhat specialized. I am required for one day only and only for one specific scene. 

And while the rest of the background has been provided with 26 pages of pictures of clothing to choose from, my direction for clothing has been much simpler. “Charity Santa: own suit”.

In fact, my suit is more important than I am. The standard rate of pay for background actors is  minimum wage while my suit is being paid more than double that amount. But it is a nice suit.

Just like every place I go when dressed in my Santa suit, I attract attention and the set of “Too Close For Christmas” is no exception. The majority of the time on any set is spent waiting around to be called for your next scene and so, I patiently wait on a sidewalk on Main Street in North Bay with the rest of the background actors, waiting to be called.

“Hey Santa!” passerbys in the cars call out waving and pointing their cameras to take a quick shot of Santa as they drive by.

Finally we are called to the set. Cinematographer Jonathan Yapp approaches me between takes and asks if he can take a selfie with me. The Assistant Director offers to take the picture of us and after posing for it, Mr. Yapp then asks if he can also shoot a quick video of me on his phone for his young son.

“Don’t let him say anything,” director Ernie Barbarash jokes as he walks by, “I’m not paying him for lines.”

“Rolling! Masks Off! Background! Action!” is called again. I remove my mask, replace my hearing aid which has fallen out again, begin to mouth my non-existent lines by silently repeating “watermelon, rhubarb,” over and over again and we are back to work.

I have not yet seen the movie, but I suspect my part will last a good 2 seconds - tops, in a blurry background as the real stars of the movie walk past me.

But for one brief moment I WAS the star in Jonathan Yapp’s home movie of Santa telling his son to be good and to “listen to his mother”

And that’s really all the fame I need.

- 30 -

Editor’s note: "Too Close for Christmas" is actually a “Lifetime” Christmas movie, not Hallmark as was indicated in this article.


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