Driving past comfort

Posted on August 29, 2010
Filed under Columns & essays | 16 Comments | Email This Post

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward or scared or uncomfortable when you try something new.” — Brian Tracy

Working as a film extra since last fall, I’ve rarely had to drive beyond metro Detroit for a booking. Which is a good thing, since my sense of direction is pitiful — especially if I’m trying to navigate unfamiliar expressways.

Luckily, my husband Doug has worked in many of the same film gigs. He drives while I squint to read the directions on a Google map.

But two weeks ago, one of our casting agents phoned on short notice to ask if we’d be willing to take a five-day job in Grand Rapids, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from suburban Detroit. And there was another catch: The job required both of our cars for various scenes, so we would have to drive separately.  We’d also have to book a hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, since we’d be working at least 12 hours daily on location.

Doug was all set to pack up and hit the road. “We could think of it as a working vacation,” he said hopefully, adding that we hadn’t taken a real break this summer.

Regardless, I could feel my anxiety slamming on the brakes. Working out of town for five days would present some unique challenges — the least of which would be finding convenient laundry facilities for our film wardrobes. My elderly mother’s “early stage” dementia had moved to the middle stage this summer, leaving me vaguely uneasy about leaving town. (I’m not as free as I’d hoped to be at this stage of midlife.)

And what would I do if Doug and I got separated by a caravan of trucks barreling down the expressway? What if, en route to Grand Rapids, my tire blew and my cell phone died? As Doug likes to point out, I can spend hours imagining all kinds of ridiculous “what-if” scenarios.

Stretching lessons

There’s a wonderful quote by Les Brown, one of my favorite motivational speakers: “If you put yourself in a position where you have to stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness.”

Clearly, I’ve never been much good at stretching — or tiptoeing — beyond my comfort zone. But wasn’t that one of the reasons why I’d signed on to work as a film extra last year?  Feeling cooped up in my newly emptied nest, I had hoped to get out there and meet some new people. I wanted to experience a new creative medium; to learn more about filmmaking. And hadn’t I hoped to be challenged just a little?

So I called the casting agent back and said yes to the booking.

Before I go on, I need to explain that I’m not at liberty to discuss many details about the films I’ve worked in before they’re  released. Since the magic of movies involves an element of surprise, everyone who works on a production is warned against sharing plot details. Taking photos on set is strictly prohibited, too, and I’ve heard several accounts of crew and background extras who’ve been fired for ignoring that rule.

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Though our roles in these films have been very, very small, we’ve learned some valuable life lessons in the process of answering call-outs, working with directors, and following protocol on set.”

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But I can tell you that the film is an action-comedy. I learned how car crash scenes are filmed — and even got to drive my car in one. The Grand Rapids police, who’d been enlisted to close several intersections for the filming, were super-friendly and fun to work with. And what a thrill it was when a production assistant handed me a walkie talkie so I could hear the assistant director’s cues in my car. It wasn’t exactly stunt driving, but it was a totally different experience from any other films I’ve worked in. My comfort zone was reasonably stretched, and by the end of the week, I was starting to feel at home in the middle of Grand Rapids’ busiest intersections.

Spending a few hours in “holding” — the place where background extras wait when we’re not on set — is another opportunity to push past boundaries and comfort zones. At times, it can feel like you’re hanging out in a circus tent. At the very least, it’s an intensive exercise in public relations — and a fascinating glimpse into human nature.

In holding, you meet characters you wouldn’t ordinarily find around one lunch table. This type of work attracts everyone from tattooed college students to laid-off auto execs and stay-at-home moms in need of a break. A few have full-time careers in more lucrative fields — and simply took time off work to discover what it’s like to be in a movie. (It’s always a fun story to share with friends.) Others are very serious about becoming film actors.

After working with these folks for nearly a week, it’s hard to return home without fresh insight — and several new friendships.

Shaking up the old routine

Still, it wasn’t easy to wake up at 5:15 every morning. Our call times were rarely later than 6:30 or 7:00, so we’d arrive bleary eyed at base camp to sign in and wolf down enough breakfast to hold us until our late-afternoon meal. Wrapping up around 9:00 each night, Doug and I would grab a sandwich and dash down to the basement of the hotel to launder our clothes. (We had to wear the same outfit every day but one.)  Then we’d crawl into bed, exhausted.

Working as a film extra probably isn’t your idea of pushing past your own comfort zone. But now is the perfect time to take a closer look at your bucket list and ask yourself what’s keeping you from following a dream or trying something quirky, fun, and new. Even if it merely shakes up your ordinary routine for a day or two, I promise you’ll score a few points for self confidence.

All said and done, this turned out to be one of the most unusual “vacations” Doug and I have ever taken. It also capped the one-year anniversary of our foray into film work — and was the 12th production we’ve worked on to date. Though our roles have been very, very small, we’ve learned some valuable life lessons in the process of answering call-outs for bookings, working with directors, and following protocol on set. (More about those lessons in upcoming columns.)

On the way back to Detroit, I felt as if we’d been away much longer than a week. In a few whirlwind days I’d seen movie stars and stunt-car crashes and the heart of Michigan’s second largest city. And I’d made some wonderful new friends.

Pulling into our driveway at home, I felt relieved to be back in my comfort zone, and I thanked my car sincerely for getting me there safely. It had worked hard for me, and I can’t wait to see how it cute it looks in the movie. – Cindy La Ferle


Comments

16 Responses to “Driving past comfort”

  1. starrlife on August 29th, 2010 9:14 am

    Funny I never think of you that way! You seem so confident and adventurous.

  2. Cindy La Ferle on August 29th, 2010 9:19 am

    Starrlife, thank you for that vote of confidence, but there are SO many cool things I don’t do because I play it safe, believe me. One-day gigs here in Detroit are easy; but five days out of town really did present some challenges.

  3. Sharon on August 29th, 2010 11:44 am

    I love this story, Cindy. You took on the challenge with gusto and proved to yourself that you could do it. I’m glad it all worked out.

  4. Only the Half of It on August 29th, 2010 2:57 pm

    Bravo. Sounds fun. And good for you to push beyond those imagined boundaries. I would love to do some extra work if I could get the time.

  5. Cheryl Wright on August 29th, 2010 3:47 pm

    How serendipitous! I’m using this Brian Tracey quote in an article tentatively entitled – 3(or maybe 4) ways to get out of your comfort zone.

  6. Cheryl Wright on August 29th, 2010 4:03 pm

    Reading your account of your beyond-your-comfort-zone experience(s) inspired me to tiptoe out of my own to sip at something I’ve neglected (water-color painting).

    Citing one excuse after another, I felt comfortable hiding the art supplies I bought a while ago.

    I’ve set aside Monday afternoons to discover and enjoy watercolor painting.

    Thanks for sharing your beyond-your-comfort-zone experience.

  7. Toddski on August 29th, 2010 6:11 pm

    Great article Cindy. Your description of the people and environment is spot on. Hanging out in Grand Rapids with you and Doug was a lot of fun.

  8. Cindy La Ferle on August 29th, 2010 6:22 pm

    @ Cheryl: Thanks so much, and I am so happy to hear I inspired you to start painting! I can’t wait to see what you do, so you will have to post some photos on your blog.

    @ Todd: You were one of the people I count among the wonderful new friends we made! I know you met Doug on another film set, and I am so happy we got to spend some time on set too. You’ll notice I didn’t mention the bad cold I got. That was a challenge of a different kind, but that wasn’t in my control, and I chose to focus on the positives!

  9. Nancy on August 30th, 2010 7:55 am

    I LOVE this, I feel as though I was there with you guys! As usual, I’m living the “lime light” life via your and Doug’s experiences as extras.

    More so, I too have never pegged you as having a hesitation to leave your comfort zone. I’m glad you’ve had both experiences with this project.

  10. Cindy La Ferle on August 30th, 2010 8:15 am

    Nancy, thank you! I think I became a little less adventurous after my mom was diagnosed with early stage dementia. She’s still living on her own, and I’m her only child. So I worry a lot more about leaving town (for longer periods of time) than I used to …

  11. Samantha Pattison on August 30th, 2010 8:04 pm

    Thanks Cindy for the wonderful and timely article. I too am going to try to venture from my comfort zone, more on that later.
    You truly are an inspiration!

  12. Cindy on August 31st, 2010 7:51 am

    Sam — can’t wait to hear about it … you MUST share! :-)

  13. joanna jenkins on September 1st, 2010 3:45 pm

    Sounds like you had a great time, Cindy. Michigan’s film business is booming these days and I’m glad you’re taking part in it. Let us know the film names when you can. I’ll be on the lookout for you you!

    Cheers, jj

  14. Bridgette on September 1st, 2010 9:17 pm

    I’m like starrlife, I don’t think of you that way either?
    I feel differently that you however, my life has felt like one big tug-of-war and I’m all stretched out!!!

  15. deb on September 2nd, 2010 8:47 am

    Cindy,
    you always make me feel full of wonder and hope and life affirming good when I visit here.
    I wish that for you always too. I guess we all have our comfort circles, though they may look different from others .
    Congrats to you in all of this busy…

    I hope your Mom is doing well. She must be proud of you.

  16. cindy on September 2nd, 2010 9:47 am

    It makes me feel a bit outside my comfort zone to even think about doing that kind of work! I love hearing about it from the safety of my very comfy home office, and I admire your adventurous spirit greatly, though.

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