Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Set! Mysteries at the Museum! Season 9 Episode 909

Last Wednesday, I played the part of George "Machine Gun" Kelly for the TV show Mysteries at the Museum.
Now in its ninth season, Mysteries at the Museum is cable reenactment show that airs on the Travel Channel.  Each episode is broken into segments that cover several stories.  According to wikipedia:

Mysteries at the Museum is an hour-long television program on the Travel Channel which features museum artifacts of unusual or mysterious origins.
Each episode is focused on interesting and unusual artifacts held in museums. The show is hosted by Don Wildman and consists of over 80 episodes spread throughout nine seasons. The shows executive producer is David Gerber and it is produced by Optomen Productions under the executive producers Nicola Moody and Dominic Stobart.[1]

We left downtown Manhattan on the shuttle van, just after 6 am.  The location was Ramapo Horse Farm in Sufferen, New York, just near the Northern New Jersey border.

Holding for the crew and actors was a converted barn that doubles on the property as a party space.  However, the November morning was cold, wet, grey, dreary, rainy and damp.  The barn felt colder inside than outside.  I had to layer up and find space that wasn't right next to the doors that were constantly being opened to bring in equipment.

Generally, I've enjoyed working on these type of reenactment shows.   Since the productions are done on a shoe string, the sharp line between cast and crew is greatly diminished.  The close quarters, long days and quick work environment encourages a camaraderie that I appreciate.

Set in the foothills of Bear Mountain, the farm's expanse, along with several buildings in states of various dilapidation allowed for the location to be used for multiple stories no matter the setting or era.  Plus, fog machines, camera tricks and lighting aided in the illusions.

Similar to the other Travel Channel show I was on a few years ago, Monumental Mysteries, Mysteries at the Museum covers many segments during the course of one shooting day.  On the day I was on set, two camera crews were shooting different stories simultaneously.

Although featured actors were brought in for specific characters of each segment, there was not enough actors to fill in all the roles, background or otherwise for every scene.  Therefore, every actor available was drafted into other scenes.  I was far busier than I anticipated.

In the morning I played a British Red coat soldier for a Revolutionary War sequence based on the battle of Fort Washington.

In one of the barns I watched the crew shoot a scene of the colonists under attack.  The smoke machines were on, and combined with lighting, a "fog of war" atmosphere was created.  The director, Justin Lee Stanley, ran back and forth in front of the camera to create the illusion that the colonists were fighting off a major attack.  The camera angle in combination with using a "shakey" camera effect created a cinematic quality and a semblance of a major war movie being filmed.

A fellow actor, one of the producers, and I were dressed up and placed on a ridge on a hill with fake muskets.  Since this was a low-budget television series the prop guy created a tubing wire filled with flour for us to blow into, to mimic the look of gunpowder being fired.  A special effect that was interesting for me due to my allergies.  In between takes I was constantly washing my mouth out, careful not to ingest any flour.  However, after one take the wind blew in my direction and I took a face full of flour from the gun going off next to me.  Fortunately, I lived long enough to get to lunch!

After lunch we shot the scenes required for my character, George "Machine Gun" Kelly.  The story centers around Kelly and his wife kidnapping and oil tycoon and holding him for ransom.

Wikipedia summarizes:

George Francis Barnes Jr. (July 18, 1895 – July 18, 1954),[1] better known as "Machine Gun Kelly", was an American gangster from Memphis, Tennessee, during the prohibition era. He attended Central High School in Memphis.[1][2][3] His nickname came from his favorite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun. His most infamous crime was the kidnapping of oil tycoon and businessman Charles F. Urschel in July 1933 for which he, and his gang, collected a $200,000 ransom.[4] Their victim had collected and left considerable evidence that assisted the subsequent FBI investigation that eventually led to Kelly's arrest inMemphis, Tennessee, on September 26, 1933.[1] His crimes also included bootlegging and armed robbery.

The crew repurposed several sections of a barn that was used to house motor vehicles on the farm (the same barn where in the morning we shot the colonial fort).  Lights were set up for an interrogation torture scene of our captive.

After getting few shots the cameras were repositioned to a different corner to mimic the gangsters hideout.  Antique looking lamps, tables, newspapers were placed to give a feel of authenticity.  The director asked me to give my best Bogart impersonation as he directed us through the shots.  The reenactment shows rely heavily on music and voice overs, so all the acting is pantomime, similar to being in silent films.  So, as the camera runs, the director can yell out changes and guide the scene.  I was even given clove cigarettes to let burn at the edge of my lips (if the flour didn't make me sick in the morning, I guess the smoke was another chance).

Later we moved back to the barn where holding was.  The couch and lighting was repositioned to give the appearance of being the den in the Oil Tycoon's house.  We did several takes of us storming the room to take him hostage.  At one point, I must have been embodying the fun of the character.  Apparently the actor playing the tycoon was asking several questions from the director and cinematographer as time was running out to get through the shots.  He turned to look at me for an answer, and I gave a gruff Bogart-esque response, "Shaddup."

Later in the day I was once again drafted into a scene, the last of the day, centering on the Salem Witch Trials, maybe the most fun shoot.  I was dressed as a 17th century Puritan, but I think I looked more like the bassist from the Revolution, Prince's former backing band.  Or, I was dressed like the last outfit that Shrek wore when he turned human.  Or even, like Puss-n-boots from Shrek.  in any event, I had on a fairly fly-daddy outfit.

By the end of the shooting day, we had covered so much ground I felt like the time was nearing midnight.  Yet, we finished just slightly behind schedule at 7pm.  We were back in lower Manhattan by 8.30.

I'll post again as soon as I have the information of when the episode is airing.  

Horses on the horse farm

Dreary cold morning and a horse, of course


I think this horse has taken selfies before

Watching the crew direct an equipment van towards holding

A cold redcoat

A colonialist at kraft services

Costume department

To the parking lot

An office doubling as makeup

Not exactly Paul Revere and the Raiders

Happy Gangsters

George and Kathryn Kelly

Family Portrait

Setting up the captive

Charles F. Urschel

Cinematographer, Director and assistant

From my view

The Hangout

From behind the camera

More from the director's view

Looking from the table as they set up the shot

Candid moment of the Kelly's at home

Can't be Machine Gun Kelly without the Tommy Gun

Shaddup shuttin' up

Is this what it sounds like when doves cry?

A pick up shot before we headed home

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