By Michelle Kaczynski
It’s not every day that you find yourself on a movie set with Robert Downey, Jr.
Last summer my next door neighbor, Molly McDowell, texted me that I needed to come out to the front porch. Boston Casting, she said, is looking for a real court reporter with court reporting equipment to be cast in a courtroom scene at the Plymouth Courthouse in the upcoming film, The Judge, and she wanted to send them my picture.
All too often in films you still see the mousy court reporter pecking away at an antique steno machine, striking one key at a time with a paper tape dribbling onto the floor. I liked the idea of shining a more realistic light on our profession, and especially so because had recently updated to the Lightspeed writer and the Microsoft Surface, and.
Once Molly took the photo, I emailed it to Boston Casting along with a description of my writer and computer. A week or so later, Boston Casting informed me that I had the part. When I inquired as to whether I would be paid for my time, the casting director replied with a wink, “The food at the site is really great.”
The next step was to report to the wardrobe department in Allston, Mass., and bring three outfits I would normally wear to work. The wardrobe department was housed in a cavernous grey brick warehouse that took up half a city block. Inside the warehouse were hundreds of rolling racks of clothing shipped from Hollywood, each rack labeled with numbers, scene names, and actor’s names.
I changed in and out of three different work outfits, and the staff took photos and sent them to the director. Ultimately my grey pant suit was given the okay, and it was tagged with a number and added to a rack. As I walked back to my car I tried not to worry they’d lose my suit in the sea of rolling racks.
On June 27, 2013, I left my house at 6 a.m. and drove to the shimmering, modern Plymouth Courthouse/Plymouth High School complex. I was directed to the school building where I was given a number and directions to the cafeteria to wait to be called for hair, make-up and wardrobe. The high school was used as a staging area for actors, extras, gaffers, camera men, construction people, lighting, and sound engineers.
Breakfast at the Plymouth High School cafeteria was excellent as promised. I chatted with some retirees who frequently work as extras on movie sets for a little extra income. About half an hour later, I was called to hair and makeup and, after I was “fixed up,” I was sent to wardrobe where I was reunited with my grey suit and from there escorted to the courtroom.
The film’s director, David Dobkin, prefers to have real people play themselves in his films. For example, at the gorgeous, sun-drenched Plymouth Court House, there were extras dressed as uniformed bailiffs and court officers. Disconcertingly, there was also a set of authentic uniformed employees, bailiffs, court officers, and employees of the court. It wasn’t easy to tell whether people were court employees on duty or were film extras. When asked for directions to the cafeteria or restrooms, actors and employees both replied as if they worked there.
One person who fascinated me on the set was what I’ll call the continuity guy. He was the person responsible for making sure everything is the same from scene to scene and take to take. He asked me not to move my extension cord, or to put my hair behind my ear. He constantly snapped photos for reference of anything that may be inadvertently moved between takes that might later be sought out by People Magazine’s Gaff Squad.
After much tweaking of camera angles, running dolly tracks, fiddling with light towers and yards of gaffers tape, Robert Downey, Jr. appeared on the set. He looked fit in a supple blue pinstripe suit, as energetic and sleek as a panther. He got his lines with David Krumholdtz, the other actor in the scene, down perfectly and strutted out of the courtroom quite happy with himself. There was no need to do another take, but they did one more anyway just in case.
When the day was done, it was close to 7 p.m., and for my work on the set at the Plymouth Courthouse, I was paid $101.53 after taxes. You can see me in the first courthouse scene in the background pretending that I’m taking down what they’re saying. Would I recommend that you try your hand at “acting” the part of the court reporter if the opportunity arose? Absolutely.
The Judge was released in October 2014 and is still playing in some theaters.
Michelle Kaczynski, RPR, is a freelancer based in Boston, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.