Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Great EA Adventure, Part 3

The ride from the hotel to Universal Studios was a quick one. The facility was, literally, just across the street. Grandma chatted a bit with Peter, an actor living in New York a little younger than me who sported a UK accent. He was a pleasant, cordial sort of dude.

"I wonder what it's going to be like!" was the comment of the trip, it seemed.
-"It's probably a bunch of fucking big empty warehouses with a bunch of people running around in golfcarts wearing headsets and looking busy" we'd guessed. Of course we only knew from those movies and television shows that pan out and show the inner workings of the places that birth damn near our entire imaginations. How very meta.

Universal Studios is a bunch of fucking big empty warehouses with a bunch of people running around in golfcarts wearing headsets and looking busy, as it turns out. Everyone is very active and very nice. The security guards at the front gates not obese, donut eating simpletons admiring lists of upcoming celebrities, much to our disappointment. Apparently we would need to tour Warner Brothers for that.

Here we were, in the land of Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple, staring in awe at the impressive array of battered picnic tables and smokers stations lining the alleys. Who had sat here and eaten a turkey sandwich? we wondered. Scott Stapp probably smoked a cigarette right over there by that porta-potty, prayed to Jesus, jerked off on that spider plant, downed a slug or two of vodka and then recorded the music video for My Sacrifice. This was truly the place where dreams are made.

We were met at the studio by Cleve, a big happy fellow with a clipboard and a mission. He took us through a couple short hallways and into The Green Room.

Now, I don't really know if it's considered a 'Green Room', per se, but it had a couple couches and some snacks- so that's what I assume everyone called it. It had an older projection TV in the corner with a Debug Xbox 360 sitting on the floor, not plugged in to anything. We were the first ones to arrive. At this point it was just the three of us (Grandma, Peter and myself) and the room seemed large enough.

Then more people began to arrive.

First was a mother and her son who looked to be around 6 or 7 years old. "It's hard sometimes for him in auditions because he has bright red hair but it doesn't match the red of other people," she told us. The kid was cool. He brought with him his PSP and a bag of mostly destroyed UMD's and some legos. "I keep telling him we need a case." He was there to play Tiger Woods PGA 09' on the Wii.

Next was a thirty-something guy who had done commercials pretty much everywhere. He wore a blue-ish work shirt and tie with slacks.

Then came a couple with their younger daughter. They had driven up from Miami. "We were really excited when she got a call-back from the open audition."

After that a brunette, then a blonde who confessed that she had to call off work to be here today and they wouldn't be happy about it.

Then a dude who looked like a cross between Dimitri Martin and Woody Allen who did nothing but play Madden as he waited anxiously for his turn.

The room no longer seemed so large.

All of them were actors. Most had began with local casting calls in South Florida. It wouldn't be fair to say they weren't gamers, as quick discussion revealed that most were, but we felt outclassed. Grandma and I exchanged looks that said "what are we doing here?" Oppositely, as they asked Grandma how she came to be part of this thing and she responded with the story about the blog and Monica and the video, they seemed to segregate themselves as well. They didn't turn up their noses and give us any sort of "well, YOU'RE not an actor!" looks, but I felt as though they perceived the situation opposite the way we did; thinking that Grandma was perhaps a ringer, and they were merely backups. "They flew you in?!" someone asked. "Hell, we all live here."

Nevertheless, in that Green Room, we all felt that we were in the same club, regardless of how we got there. No one was snobby.

In fact, if any of us were snobby in the least, it was me. It didn't seem that anyone there other than Peter, Grandma and myself knew who Errol Morris was. I wouldn't shut up about him.
"Come on! You have to know him! Thin Blue Line saved a man's LIFE!"
-"What's it called again?"
"Thin Blue Line. What about Gates of Heaven?"
"Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr.?"
-"This is all on IMDB, right?"
"[*look of exasperation*]"

Grandma was called for hair and wardrobe. This is where we met Irene (pictured above). Irene was cool as fuck. After talking with her a bit, she recognized that being in this place was a big deal for Grandma and I both; this was not business as usual. At first, as I photographed Grandma getting her hair ready, she thought I was Grandma's personal photographer.
"Nah, I'm just her grandson."
-"Aww! That's so cute!"

This would not be the only instance of such an exchange today.

As Irene did Grandma's hair, thirty-something actor guy and I escaped the stuffy Green Room and went outside for a cigarette. A production assistant came out to ask him some questions about his wardrobe. It was exactly this moment that I realized that Grandma was going to be doing greenscreen work of some kind. I recognized the chroma-key language from MTV. I hoped her outfit would be suitable.

A woman approached us an introduced herself.
"Hi, I'm Errol's assistant." Quickly realizing a possible faux-pas, I moved aside.
-"Sorry-- I don't want to blow smoke in your face."
"Thank you."
Fuck!, I thought. Way to make a first impression, Tim, you fucking dick.
"Did you get any sleep last night?" she asked us. "The fucking people next to me were up and down the entire goddamn night."

I backed away from the conversation to avoid saying something stupid, a tactic I stuck with for the rest of the day until moments where it was no longer possible. I did NOT want to fuck this whole thing up for Grandma by putting my foot in my mouth or tripping over a power cord or some other dumb fucking thing that I've been known to do [In the fall of 2004, I volunteered for The Democratic Party in Cleveland. A week before the election, I fell like the dumbass I am, pulling loose the power cord to a laptop owned by the chairman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, effectively erasing hundreds of database entries for canvassing and voter pick-ups. It is possible that my clumsiness clinched Ohio for Bush against Kerry in 2004, and by consequence, continued the Iraq War, killing thousands of people and destroying the regional stability for decades.]

Back inside, Grandma had finished up in wardrobe and was wearing new clothes, the tags still affixed and poking her in the ass.
"You nervous?" I asked.
-"Tim, all these people are actors!"
"Um... yep."
-"I don't know what the fuck I'm doing!"
"Relax. It's just like we did with the video. Just be honest, be yourself, play the game a little and your done! No big deal."
-"No big deal."
"No big deal."

By now, Grandma had been waiting for about four hours or so, getting more anxious each minute. I'm sure my constant ranting about how awesome Errol Morris documentaries are didn't help much. We were reprieved by lunch.

I don't know who catered this thing, but it was AWESOME. We were expecting cold cut turkey sandwiches and cans of Pepsi from a taco cart manned by a burly, mustachioed Italian-in-a-wife-beater named Rocko or some such thing. In truth, it was trays upon trays of tilapia, golden potatoes, pasta, and veggies. Grandma ate a stuffed mushroom of some kind. "This is awesome! What's in this?!"
-"Blue cheese," I responded with a smile.
"No it isn't. I fucking hate blue cheese."
-"That's what the dude said."

Sitting a table further down the row, tucking away at a salad, was the man himself.

Errol Fucking Morris.

[to be continued!]

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Great EA Adventure, Part 2

Grandma was four under par by the time I had finished eating some cold pizza. I awkwardly asked someone if I could go outside for a quick smoke. "That's what the badges are for," she said, pointing at the "Visitor Pass--Escort Required" card clipped to my shirt. I left the conference room that housed the dying rehearsal party and walked past the security guard, pointing at my badge like I knew what I was doing.

I stepped out into a cloud of Florida humidity, sat down on a bench away from the door draped with banners advertising various familiar games and lit the first cigarette since the plane landed in Orlando. I retraced our journey thus far in my head, ignoring the lizards running around like squirrels on the fountain facing EA Tiburon.

The plane ride down was uneventful; aside from the woman who lifted her kid to stand on the tray rails at the Sbarro in Cleveland Hopkins and an unintelligible taxi driver who got us lost going from the hotel to EA using what might have been the most annoying, audible GPS unit ever (TURN RIGHT; TURN RIGHT; TURN RIGHT; TURN RIGHT; TURN RIGHT... "Hmmmm, we seem to be going in a circle...") there wasn't much to look back on. The sense of urgency to get to this place had deceived us, I think. Pack quickly--Drive to the airport quickly--check in quickly--fly around the storms (can you fly more quickly?)--get to the hotel to check in--secure the room--hail a cab--get to the rehearsal party--WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF US IF WE ARE LATE?!

And yet everyone was groovy. No worries. "Have some pizza! Hi Grandma! Would you like to play some games? Are you thirsty?" The quiet casualness of it all hit us like a fire hose. I needed to relax. I needed a cigarette.

I went back inside with the others.

The first thing you notice about EA Tiburon is that damn near everybody still there at 7:30pm is dutifully wearing polo shirts branded with the EA logo like they were uniforms at Footlocker. The atrium is a large, glass place with vinyl tapestries draped from the ceiling proudly showing ads for Madden and NASCAR like museums promote upcoming exhibits for The Bronze Age and dinosaurs. Beyond the security desk with the young looking guard are doors lining the hallways that go to god knows where.

"No, you have to scan that badge before you can go back in..."

At the end of the hall was the conference room where the rehearsal party was held. On the left were collapsible tables with pizzas, soda, and chicken wings. In the center were five or six dev-kit or debug Xbox 360s playing the various games to be used in the commercials. A family was playing Tiger Woods 09' on the right. A couple guys were playing a fighting game I didn't see on the left. At the center was Grandma and a dude with WK and EA who had grew up not far from us in Ohio. In the back corner of the room were freelancers working for WK, typing away on a couple laptops.

It felt like a low-key Counterstrike LAN-party in the back of a student center at college.

When the party ended, we took a cab back to the hotel. Less traffic this time, yet impressively-- this taxi driver was even more misunderstood than the last.

"So where'y frm?"
"Where'y live?"
"Clvlynn!! Man, y'shud check th' Mimi's Place in Universal Studios."
"Mimi! Drew Carey, y'know? I used't drive 'im this one time. Good meatloaf."

I can't really recall the rest of the conversation; Grandma and I could only detect the meaning of sentences by the pitch of his voice towards the end of any given string of words. If the pitch rose, it was a question.
"Given' try flood basketball, jumpin' roun' gettin' all hungry and that?"
-"I couldn't say, really. Maybe."

If the pitch fell, it was a statement. Statements are easily agreed with.
"Pineapple! Fish is gonna' get iodine man' you up there makin' squirts."
-"I know just what you mean."

If the pitch rose or fell but was followed by laughing, it was wise to simply laugh in response and say "I hear ya'."

Somehow we made the thirty minute drive from the Maitland Blvd. to International Drive gabbing away at each other and having a good ol' time without actually saying anything at all. The phenomenon was fascinating.

Back at the hotel, we were isolated without a car. Luckily there is a TGI Friday's just across the street from The Doubletree Universal, where we were staying. This particular place doesn't close until 2am. Grandma ordered some mesquite chicken and I had a couple shots of bourbon to ease into the fajitas.

"Alright. Your call time tomorrow is 8:30am."
-"What's that?"
"It just means that's when you have to be there."
"Somebody is going to meet us in the lobby of the hotel tomorrow at 8:00 sharp, and take us across the street."
-"In Universal Studios?"
"Yeah. Apparently they actually have studios at Universal Studios."
"Well, I mean they actually film shit there."
-"Well, that's the idea."
"I knew they had a theme park; I knew they shot game shows and shit- but I thought it was like King's Island when Paramount owned it. I didn't think the studios played as much of a part."
-"It's probably a bunch of warehouses."
"Probably. After we get there, I don't know what's going to happen. Probably wardrobe, but who knows. The call time for you might be different than for somebody else, it might be the same for everyone; I honestly don't know."
-"How many other people are going to be there?"
"I don't know. There were maybe a dozen at the party last night, maybe less. It could be a long day tomorrow. Are you excited?"
-"I'm nervous."
"Nah, fuck it. You'll do fine. Just be yourself."
"Everyone has been really cool so far. I don't know what Errol Morris is like, but in everything I've read about the man over the years, I've never seen anything that suggests he's an asshole. He's probably the same as everyone you've met. They just want to see you do what you do. They won't bite."
-"It's not so much that.. it's just, I'm afraid I might fuck everything up. I've never done this before."
"You did it for MTV."
-"Yeah, and I sucked."
"You didn't suck. You're just not an actor. They know that. If they wanted actors, they'd hire them."

The next morning a PA met us in the lobby holding a sign that said "Barbara & Peter." I introduced myself. "Is 'Barbara' Barbara St. Hilaire?"
-"Yup! She's for the commercial?"
"Yes. My name's Timothy."
-"Yes. We're just waiting on one other person here in the hotel- Peter. He's another one for this shoot."
-"Another actor."

[to be continued!]

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