by Staci Layne Wilson
Cue "Hooray for Hollywood"
I'm going to be in a movie. I'm on a big soundstage in Hollywood. Palm trees are swaying gently in the Southern California breeze outside the window, and there are movie stars strolling by, everywhere I look. Handed an ice cold Mai-tai, I'm led to the wardrobe department, where I am fitted with only the finest of threads in which to be shat from the bottom of a giant spider.
Insert "record scratch"
OK, so most of that's a lie. I am going to be in a science fiction adventure and yes, my character "Cocoon Victim #2" will indeed be ejected from CGI'ed arachnid ass, but the rest ain't so.
Nope, Mega Spider is not filmed in some historical Hollywood studio where Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard once strolled. Here in dirty downtown L.A., inside a well-worn warehouse turned filming hot-spot, it's Lombardo Boyar, Greg Grunberg and Clare Kramer — and they're not so much strolling as they are running. The palm trees are cell-towers, and the Mai-tai's are cafeteria style mini-milks. 1%. Wardrobe is mostly my own clothes, which nobody warned in advance will be coated in sugary paste, mystery goo, and white thready things that are supposed to be spider webs.
What, And Leave Show Biz?
Although my 3 days as a glorified extra on the set of Mega Spider were indeed grueling and as it turns out I'm onscreen for just a blink and you'll miss it blip, it was fun. I just love being on set (and let me tell you: I have spent many, many hours on them — from being a journalist on behind-the-scenes stories, to actually working behind the scenes).
On Mega Spider, I am among friends. My roommates are also extras (Andrew Kasch is Cocoon Victim #1, and Annette Slomka is tearing down the street in terror, along with some other of our circle… not to mention Kasch-man's cat, Frodo, getting more screen time than any of us); another pal, Joe Hui, is Cocoon victim #3 and Kraft services guy (for real, not reel); friendly acquaintance Lloyd Kaufman gets killed; one of the kindest people I know, Emma "Blood Girl" Jacobs, does makeup and hair (and gelatinous masses); buddy Buz "Danger" Wallick is an A.D., and my friend Mike "Madman" Mendez directs the film.
I'd met Greg Grunberg a number of times from the interview circuit when I worked for NBC (SyFy Channel) and covered Heroes endlessly. I made a new BBF in Lombardo Boyar, who is, in the film, my savior. So, in spite of driving the 405 freeway home each evening covered in syrup and caked with dirt, every day was pure fun.
Here's the set up: A giant alien spider, some 50 feet tall, escapes from a military lab and rampages through the City of Angels. It settles in a skyscraper to lay its eggs and spawn as many eight-legged freaks as it takes to enslave all of humanity. To kill the creature before the city is destroyed, the U.S. force sends their best (Kramer), who then teams up with an exterminator extraordinaire (Grunberg), and the building's security guard (Boyar). Most of the action takes place in and around the office where the mama spider has chosen to nest.
On day one Andrew, Joe, and me — plus a couple of others whose names I didn't catch… hey, it’s not easy to make friends when you’re mummy-wrapped in venomous vines and laying on the floor under hot lights — we are festooned with fake wounds, wound up in off-white webs, and drenched in what's supposed to be spider-placenta. Brought before the director for inspection, he takes one look at us and says (rather unsympathetically I think), “More goo!”
Emma complies, apologizing all the while, as some kind of sticky, sugary syrup is poured over our heads from buckets. Then, as is often the case in this lovely biz we call show, it's decided the extras won't be needed right now after all. What's more, we can't be inside the building, so it's out into the searing sun to wait until we're called, syrup at once hardening and melting.
Are You Sure This How Little Miss Muffet Started?
Once we are called back to set, it's almost a relief to lie down for awhile. Even if it is on a cement floor. After conferring with Mike, Buz gives us our "motivation", explaining that we've just been expelled from the preggo spider's sac, along with a few hundred pairs of spindly alien twins. We're basically lunch, tied up like lamb chops and slow-roasting until feeding time.
At first I was tied to an office chair (we are all employees of the most unprofessional ilk — we're in jeans and tennies, I guess it was casual Friday… for which I am most grateful, when the running and action scenes are later shot). Then it is decided I should be laying closest to the most glorified extra of them all (again: didn't catch her name, but she was the Fay Wray of our bunch, trussed up standing, as a human sacrifice). So I do that. Then, Buz explains the Mega Spider will be entering the lair, but not before we are rescued by Greg Grunberg and Lombardo Boyar. As I said, Boyar is my own personal knight in shining armor, armed with a lighter and pen-knife to free me from my fatal bonds. Once we are on our feet, the spider sees that lunch is about to get away, and we all dash away.
In the next scene, downstairs, we are on the run again: this time, into an elevator which, I am told, is about to filled with starving baby spiders hot on our heels. The doors close, just in time. During all of this, we have no lines (translation: we are not being paid, and we're not union extras anyway), but Greg and Lombardo are hilarious with not only their scripted dialogue, and ad-libs as well. The two are friends IRL, and have worked together before; the repartee comes easily, and naturally, to the pair.
1000 Ways To Die
While the idea of a Mega Spider — or more ridiculous yet, a Dino Spider, as the concept was originally presented to Mike — is kind of funny, the ways in which a spider devours its prey ain't so pleasant. When the predator seizes its victim, its hinged fangs swing out to penetrate the body. They work something like hypodermic needles, in that they have a hollow duct inside and a hole in the tip. The duct is fueled by a juicy gland, so when the spider pierces, it shoots out poison, injecting the not-so-happy meal with enough neurotoxin to paralyze or kill it. Most spiders wrap the carcass in silk on the spot to make it easier to transport back to the nest, while other species actually cover their prey in webbing before injecting venom, making it easier to attack.
According to HowStuffWorks.com (and, presumably, Peter Parker), "Most spiders don't eat their prey whole; instead, they expel digestive enzymes onto or into the animal to liquefy it. Some spiders use their fangs to inject the digestive fluid directly into the animal. This sort of spider liquefies the animal's insides, leaving the exoskeleton more or less intact. Then it sucks the liquefied remains into its stomach through hairs on its chelicerae and mouth, which act as a filter. Other species chew their prey up with serrated 'teeth' on the chelicerae before vomiting digestive fluid on the body and sucking in the liquid remains."
Sounds dreamy! No wonder lunch breaks on set were so speedy.
"For your information, there are five hundred and fourteen eggs in that peachy little sac!" —Wilbur
Day 3 is reshoots of Day 2, on a completely different soundstage. For whatever reason, something beyond my minuscule extra's need-to-know basis, I'm told the whole scene we spent in gunk is a wash. While I am not exactly thrilled at the prospect of reinventing the web, I must admit the new set is much better-dressed and a lot creepier. We aren't as gooey as before and we don't have to run as far. All's well that ends well.
Only, it's not ended yet. Day 3 is toward the climax of the film so I can't give too much away, but in this scene Andrew, Joe, and me are led outside the building by Greg, 'Bardo, and Clare. The city streets are strewn with debris, there's a downed helicopter (which will be added digitally, later… there was a marking on the ground to show where it will be, but I don't have much spidey-sense. Buz: "Staci, you just plowed through the burning wreckage again!"), and Angelinos are running for their lives as the Mega Spider makes her final stand. Greg's Alex character says something like, “I'm just an average guy on his day off, and now it’s all up to me...”
Presumably the eight-legged enemy is vanquished, but I guess you'll just have to tune in yourself to find out, when Mega Spider is released in 2013. (Please don't blink when Greg and 'Bardo enter the office, leap into the elevator, and emerge from the building.)
= = =
SCROLL DOWN for more PHOTOS!
Cast listing of people I know
Andrew Kasch ... Cocoon Victim
Annette Slomka … Runner
Blake Reigle ... Nurse
Dana Davidson ... Nurse / Patient
Frodo … Mrs. Jefferson's cat
Greg Grunberg ... Alex Mathis
Jennifer Gonzalez ... Doctor / Victim
Joseph Hui ... Cocoon Victim
Kevin Tenney … Runner
Lin Shaye ... Mrs. Jefferson
Lloyd Kaufman ... Jogger
Lombardo Boyar ... Jose Ramos
Mary Czerwinski ... Victim
Ray Wise ... Major Braxton Tanner
Ruben Pla ... Carl
Sarah Oliver ... Cocoon Victim
Shem Andre Byron ... Lab Assistant
[photos: Staci Layne Wilson, Buz Wallick, & courtesy of Mike Mendez]