Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Hindenburg

The Butzweilerhof "dressed" as Frankfurt-im-Main Airport.
The German Police weren't too happy about the Swastikas.
Neither were IKEA...

A couple of weeks ago I got a phone-call out of the blue. Would I be interested in appearing in a film? Well, I'll try anything once (In fact, I've done it several times, being an extra on "Dresden" and "Desert Flower" although blink and you'll miss me) and so I went along to MMC studios in Ossendorf. On arrival, I was taken to a room and given a page of script to study. I had to play a guard who was searching a store room for a stowaway. The casting director was very pleased with my acting, although I'm apparently a bit fat for a guard. (Where have I heard that before?).

Anyway, eventually I was cast as "Ticket Taker 1" (Ticket Takers are allowed to be fat) and had to go for a costume fitting. Once they were happy that I looked suitably like a (fat) Ticket Taker, I had to have my hair cut in a suitably Thirties style (Leaving me looking like Oliver Hardy), and was told to come back on September 29th. The production was to be a retelling of the Hindenburg Disaster, and I, apparently, was going to be taking the tickets. It had been decided that, to sell the production to English-speaking countries, the film would be better done in English, and dubbed into German, because English-speaking audiences tend to ignore dubbed productions, whilst Germans are far more at home with dubbed films. So, using this roundabout logic, they needed English native speakers to play Germans - which is where muggins here comes in.

September 29th duly rolled round, and I turned up at the studio. I was dressed up in my Ticket-Taker clothes, and then, since I actually had a line to say, I was taken to make-up, where my hair was cut again, and then all the bald and greying bits were duly painted. In the next seat to me was the actor I was to deliver the line to : Hannes Jaenecke, star of many fine German film and TV shows, and some bloody-awful American ones (including "Black Horizon", one of the worst science-fiction films EVER), who was having his hair coloured black. In case you're wondering, film sets have a definite pecking order - Extras have to be there first, and do the most waiting, whilst the actors get a later call, better waiting rooms, etc. Actors and crew also eat separately from the extras. It's all mainly to do with the planning of getting a lot of people dressed up and in the right positions.

I was then taken to the set : This was the nearby Butzweiler Hof. In case you don't know, this is what is left of Cologne's original airport. Most of the runway got turned into an Ikea, but the buildings are still maintained as a monument to German aviation. Anyway, I had to sit in the "waiting room" for about three hours before they were ready for the scenes I was in. I was brought out to the front of the departure lounge, which was dressed as Frankfurt-im-Main Airport (The Hindenburg didn't actually visit Cologne, although it's sister ship "Graf Zeppellin" did). I and another actor had to stand at a gate, which lead to the airship. A nearby green screen represented the airship, which would be matted-in later. Further along the runway, the 2nd unit was filming the workers pulling the airship down, using a crane and a fork-lift truck with ropes attached to it.

Eventually, it was time for my close-up. I had to stamp a ticket, hand it to Hannes Jaenicke, and wish him a good flight. This was all done from several different angles, and, just to make it more awkward for me, I had to do it right-handed, being a left-hander. Could I remember the bloody line? "Enjoy your journey".. I managed to say every word apart from "journey".. "flight", "trip", you name it. Hannes Jaenecke didn't seem pleased. I deemed it prudent not to ask him about "Black Horizon".

In my defence, it was one line, and they'd changed it since the casting. Fortunately it wasn't anything to worry about as long as I got near it - I think. I'm probably heading for the cutting-room floor as we speak.

My last scene was a close-up of the Zeppellin ticket as I rubber-stamped it. I'm happy to say I got it in one take. That's probably all you'll see of me in the film. Good job I cleaned my nails....