People are amazing.
Yesterday we filmed a new TV commercial for the Drop-In, part of the series called, Little Things. The film crew, about 8 people, had all donated some of their time -- an amazing gift as it cut the cost of the already discounted budget by half!
When I arrived on the set on the 8th Avenue Mall at the entrance to the Telus Convention Centre, two gentlemen were talking in front of the large plate glass windows where the cameras were set up. I wondered if they were the actors, (they looked the part) or not -- they were the actors. We chatted for awhile and then the crew went inside.
The plan was to film through the plate glass windows looking out at the street and the two homeless characters outside. The camera would pull back to reveal two well dressed business man having a coffee at a stand-up bar.
The setting outside was surreal, and very believable. One man lay on a piece of cardboard on a grate on the sidewalk while the other sat on a bench behind him. From beneath the grate, two dress steamers blew steam up through the grate outside. A well provisioned shopping cart, complete with bags of bottles hanging off the sides sat at the edge of the grate while a park bench was lined up perpendicular to the windows behind which we watched the scene unfold.
At one point, a crew member went out to give one of the actors direction. As he was talking to the man lying on the ground a female passerby approached, her body posture combative.
"Is this man bothering you?" she asked the man lying on the ground, her gloved hand pointing at the crew member, her voice filled with concern.
The crew member looked at her, surprised. "No," he replied. "We're filming a commercial. He's an actor"
Embarrassed, the woman quickly apologized and left, leaving us all with a sense of awe that she cared enough to intervene, even when the odds were against her. We were all touched by her concern for the homeless actor on the ground.
Awhile later, the actors were alone outside as everyone was busy getting ready inside. Two police officers approached, prepared to move the actors from their resting place. The Director and I raced outside and moved the officers along before they ticketed our actors!
Another woman, carrying a big paper shopping bag, walked by and stopped to chat to the two 'homeless' actors.
"Here," she said to one of the actors as she pulled a big woolen sock out of her shopping bag.
"Merry Christmas" and she handed him the sock filled with toiletries and Christmas goodies which she had been intending to bring down to the Drop-In along with the other socks in her bag.
"Oh no. I can't," said the actor. "I'm just playing the role of a homeless guy for a commercial."
The woman didn't believe him. "Please, take it." She waved the sock towards him.
He gestured to the camera and crew hiding behind the glass.
"Oh!" She laughed. Waved at us and carried on her way.
Joe* is a client of the shelter. He wandered onto set later in the day. He stood and watched the action outside that wasn't really action as the filming had not yet started.
Eventually he came inside.
"Hi," I said as he stumbled towards me.
"Hey! I know you!" he exclaimed in friendly recognition.
We chatted for awhile, his words slurred. He's quick minded. Funny. Self-deprecating kind of humour. "I auditioned for a movie role," he said. "They told me I was too good looking."
"I can understand that," I replied with a smile.
"I could be in this movie," he said, motioning to the actors outside. "I could go out there an pick bottles. I'm the world's greatest bottle picker."
"They'll want you to be sober, Joe," I replied gently.
"Oh that." He scoffed, waving his 'to go' coffee mug in front of him. "Everyone always wants that." He paused and grinned at me. "I gotta drink to get through my day."
"Can I get you some more coffee?" I asked pointing at his mug.
"Aahhhh. I cannot lie to you," he said grinning sheepishly. "It's beer." And he tilted his head back, lifted the mug to his lips and took a long, satisfying swallow.
It was a day of contradictions. Another homeless woman stumbled onto set. Set her backpack on the ground and started to chat amiably with the actors. We watched from behind the glass. They obviously didn't tell her what they were doing there. From her jacket pocket she hauled out a pack of cigarettes and offered them both a smoke.
The generosity of someone who has nothing.
I filled a coffee cup, grabbed a couple of sugar and creams and took it out to her. "Would you like a coffee?" I asked.
She looked at me, nodded her head up and down, her body moving in constant jerky bobs. "Nice," she said. "Nobody gets left behind."
She took the coffee, sweetened it with the sugars, picked up her pack and continued on her way.
The actors continued to hold their positions. People continued to walk by, most trying to avoid looking at the poor derelicts lying on the ground.
A school group wandered past, a mother hastily grabbing her son, tucking him under her arm as she pulled him closer to the side of the building so that they could pass as far away from the scene as possible.
A well-dressed, affluent looking business man walked by. He glanced furtively at the scene of the two men, one lying on the grate, the other sitting on the bench smoking. His face was a study of disgust.
Some walked by, dropped a coin and continued on their way before anyone could object. Others hurried by without looking.
Contradictions. Generosity of spirit. Coldness of heart.
It was all part of the parade of life that unfolded yesterday on the street where so many people live.
Thank you to Trigger Communications & Design Ltd. and Joe Media -- you guys are awesome!