Quiet on the Fake Set; Cue the Unsuspecting Actor
Degradation is par for the course in the world of reality television. Over the years, viewers have watched contestants swallow bull testicles, date loathsome slobs and massacre tunes like “She Bangs.”
But in New York and Los Angeles, cities filled with struggling actors, “Film Fakers” may go down as one of the meanest reality series yet. That is because the program, which will have its debut tomorrow on AMC, dupes out-of-work actors into believing they have landed plum movie roles, only to reveal later that the entire production, from the crazed director to the flimsy script, is a colossal hoax.
It is “Punk’d” meets “Project Greenlight.” And AMC, a cable network known for broadcasting movie favorites, is hoping that the series will act as a “lantern drawing more eyes to the network,” said Rob Sorcher, senior vice president of programming and production.
The first episode, “Croc Park,” features three unsuspecting actors on the set of a half-baked horror film about mutant alien crocodiles. Stuffed with painfully awful lines like “You may bite through my flesh, but you’ll never bite through my soul,” the script is intentionally unreadable; those in the know continually test the mettle of the three novices.
In one instance, the actors are required to attend crocodile “boot camp,” a seminar meant to help them find their inner reptile by, among other things, slithering around the floor.
Though not quite at the level of Zucker or Wayans Brothers outrageousness, the faux films go to great lengths to parody the conventions of movie genres.
In “Holly Holiday,” the sixth episode, Santa and his elves, frustrated with the gross commercialization of Christmas, try to create an alternate holiday. In the fourth episode, “The Committed,” which features a grizzled old gunslinger and his young female protégée, is touted to the unknowing actors as the first feminist western.
In some episodes, C-list celebrities – Erik Estrada of “CHiPs” fame, the model Rachel Hunter and Justin Guarini, the “American Idol” also-ran – take part in the elaborate practical jokes.
“For us this is more than a reality show,” Mr. Sorcher said. “It’s a comedic take on the moviemaking process and movie genres.”
Ron Schrimp, a chiseled 20-year-old from Waldwick, N.J., said he auditioned for the role of the hunky jock in “Croc Park” after reading about it in Backstage, the actors’ trade paper, where the producers regularly advertise for performers. “They were looking for a male 18 to 25 to be in a horror film, and I figured why not,” Mr. Schrimp said.
High school talent shows had been the extent of his acting experience, so when Mr. Schrimp learned that he had landed the part he was beyond thrilled. “After I got off the phone with them I ran downstairs and told my mom and she flipped,” he said.
On the set in Blairstown, N.J., he noticed some things were a bit strange: when he arrived, for example, the “star,” really a mole posing as a Method actor, was chopping a bloody carcass. But Mr. Schrimp simply wrote them off as quirks of the movie business. “Now that I look back,” he said, “I think jeez, how could I have been so blind?”
Rocco Malozzi, a 27-year-old waiter from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, went through three auditions before landing the role of a mobster in “Big Bang,” a Quentin Tarantino-style tale about a mafia boss. Though Mr. Malozzi had done some Off Off Broadway work and once had a nonspeaking part in “The Sopranos” – “I pushed a Sicilian guy in a wheelchair,” he said – he too was fooled.
“I knew there was something going on,” Mr. Malozzi said, “but I didn’t put it together. Sometimes I fantasize about what it would have been like if I had known.”
Dave Noll, the creator and executive producer of “Film Fakers,” admitted to feeling some guilt about the ruses. “If you’re a reality producer, some part of you is always feeling guilty about something,” he said.
But rather than view his program as exploitive or cruel, he said he prefers to see it as a “twisted” form of wish fulfillment. “These kids have always wanted to be in a movie, to come on a set and have their own director’s chair and have real makeup and real lighting,” said Mr. Noll, whose earlier projects included work as a producer for VH1. “For one week out of their life they are living the dream. We treat them like stars.”
Stephanie Warren, who plays the beautiful student in “Croc Park,” wistfully recalled the star treatment she received: the gift baskets filled with scented soaps and lotions, the doting interns and assistants. “We were overwhelmed by how wonderful it was,” said Ms. Warren, who has acted in infomercials and has had other bit roles.
After learning that she had been tricked – it gives away nothing to say that the news is broken with the cameras rolling – Ms. Warren, 23, said she felt a range of emotions, starting with disappointment and utter confusion. “We kind of felt violated, used and abused,” she said. But she ended with a sense of thankfulness for the experience.
“Whether you’re being lied to or not, you do get to act,” she said. Producers, impressed with Ms. Warren’s performance, helped her land a job doing skits for the Fuse network.
Mr. Malozzi, who tends to speak in expletives and refers to himself in the third person, seemed even more enthusiastic. “I’m glad that it’s on AMC and millions of people are going to see Rocco Malozzi,” he said. “I need the exposure.” Far from upset, he added, “I get stoned every night and watch my tape. I think its cool.”
With six episodes taped, Mr. Noll is already hoping for a second season, excitedly ticking off the other movie genres he would love to tackle if AMC gives him the chance.
“We want to do a fake documentary, a superhero movie, a kung fu flick, a crazy cult David Lynch-type film, an animal infestation film like ‘The Birds’ – but we’d call ours ‘The Ferrets’ – a John Hughes-type thing about four kids in detention.” Mr. Noll paused to catch his breath before adding that he would also like to try an M. Night Shyamalanesque film, complete with Mr. Shyamalan’s signature twist ending.
“Of course,” Mr. Noll said chuckling, “the twist ending with our movie would be that it’s not real.” Autor: Lola Ogunnaike