Sunday, April 22, 2012
The Eyes Have It
For the first time in my life, I had to wear contact lenses. These were not ordinary lenses; these were hand-painted costume lenses, just like the pair you see in this photograph of Saoirse Ronan. They cost around a thousand dollars per pair, according to a lens technician on the set of The Host, where I spent several days working this month. Because of the expense, the lenses were specially insured, and I was asked not to give myself eye drops, to wear sunglasses as much as possible, and do nothing to my eyes while I wore the lenses.
A casting service in Albuquerque called me twice informing me that I had been "picture chosen" (chosen from headshots) by the film's director to be a "featured extra." Why not take a gig like that? It sounded a small opportunity to be seen in a major release, perhaps a chance to make a professional impression on the film's director, and in any case it was paid work. I said sure, and made arrangements to stay at a hostel in Albuquerque.
On the first day, extras who were fitted for these lenses reported to a special trailer to have their lenses inserted by "lens techs." But they never got to me. On that first day, they used me as background in a few shots without the tell-tale extra-terrestrial eyes. Not that anyone will notice. The eyes are pretty striking to look at in person. Reactions to them varied: a few said they were quite comfortable, and a few others suffered, reporting tunnel vision and itchiness. Lens techs circulated throughout the day with eye drops on demand. One extra had a very bad reaction to the lenses, his eyes actually turning red and swelling by the end of our day. I heard later that a few people sought care for eye infections after that.
I had gotten a pass that first day. How would my eyes react to these things when I reported to set again?
The base camp was near the Hard Rock Pavilion in Albuquerque, a small city of trailers and tents staged on the mesa. In wardrobe and makeup, we "featured extras" lined up outside the makeup trailer where the lens techs did their work. People went in and a few minutes later came out with spooky eyes, blazing white and blue, dabbing at themselves with moist wipes as they made their way back to the extras' tent.
I introduced myself by saying that I had never worn contact lenses in my life and had a very difficult time even with eye drops. They were wonderful and patient. Everything seemed sanitary and calm. Despite my squinting (which I tried to defeat by force of will, with little success) they got the lenses in and all was well. For sure, I was constantly aware of the lenses: they blurred my peripheral vision somewhat, and even with eye drops there was a sensation of having a speck of something in each eye, but it was tolerable.
I wore these lenses for two consecutive 13-hour days, and the only time I was in something like agony was after they took the lenses out the first day. My eyes raged with pain, as if I had been poked in each eye, and tears flowed all evening long. I went out for supper and basically sat there with eyes weeping as if I had had my heart broken.
The last thing I did before lights out that night was drop in some thick lubricant the head lens tech had given me. "It will blur your vision," he said, "so put them in, turn out the lights, and go to sleep." He wasn't kidding. It sure felt good, though.
On the third day, the lens tech intervened on our behalf, telling the crew he did not want us wearing the lenses unless we were going on camera. And, as it happened, they never got to us. Indeed, they wrapped me that day, never having used me, and it is not clear whether I am reporting to work again next week, or if my "featured extra" opportunity has been scrapped.
The tale of what we "featured extras" did with ourselves for several days at base camp will be taken up in another post.