“Oh and… kill the background.”

On set, I never make a peep when the cameras are rolling. But I just about killed a crucial dramatic scene last night.

The sounds before the actors start acting usually go something like this:

“Picture’s up.” (the picture from the camera is being transmitted to the monitors all over set)
“Sound speed.” (sound is recording)
“Rolling.” (recording picture)
“A marker.” (clapboard numbering the scene for editing purposes)
“B marker.” (used if there’s a second camera; C if there’s a third, and so on)
“Background.” (extras, commonly known as background, start to move)
“Action.” (and the principal actors start to act)

There are numerous variations, but that’s the basic structure. Last night, as I was sitting on the sidelines with three other extras who weren’t being used, the A.D. threw in a little something, almost off-hand, at the last moment.

“Picture’s up.”
“Rolling rolling.”
“A marker.”
“Oh, and… kill the background.”

Instantly, the four of us who weren’t being used in the scene looked around in wide-eyed mock fear, then stood to run away like a gaggle of panicky cartoon elk. It’s a visual gag, so I’m not sure how funny this comes off, but it’s gotta be impressive that four people thought of the exact same joke at the exact same time, no? Not a second’s hesitation from anyone. After sitting back down — the scene well under way — we were all stifling laughter. Which of course made it worse.

Quick, I thought, think of something not funny. Baseball. Baseball’s not funny. Baseball. Pitchers. Right field. Kirby Puckett. Hehe. Kirby Puckett.

Is there a funnier baseball name than Kirby Puckett? Maybe Rollie Fingers, which always reminds me of genitals floating in a jar of famaldahyde. But Kirby Puckett is funny too. At this point I wasn’t outright cackling, but my breathy attempts to cool off were certainly becoming audible. I was just far enough away from mics so that none of the crew noticed, but all four of us came dangerously close to exploding into belly laughs before silently seperating ourselves and staring at the floor.

Meanwhile, I think one of the characters was dying.

On the plus side, I guess I should be flattered that the A.D. used the human “kill,” rather than the inanimate “strike,” which I’ve heard before. “Strike the background,” like we’re props. (We are, but the reminder isn’t always appreciated).


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