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HOW did I get here??? Extra #29 on the set of the video shoot for Michael Jackson feat. Akon “Hold My Hand”

January 3, 2011

Dear Reader,
This is an entry in the MJ category…and it’s going to be unbearably sweet, so please consider yourself warned.
I am exercising self-control, or the sugar crops of this planet would disappear.

You know that the universe has an immense sense of humor- when I found my own photographed backside hanging from a chair on TMZ, with several others- you know that things happen. But what happened?

In November 2010 a video was being shot- that to “Hold My Hand” by Michael Jackson with Akon; marking the first official single of the first posthumous album by MJ- directed by Mark Pellington.

MJ and Akon

Just a few days before the shot, I recall reading the casting call, thinking to myself, ooooh! But I was too late.
But never fear- another casting call went out into the world, this time on Sony’s official website “Want to be an extra? Email us.”

I am the type of person who has never won a single dollar in any lottery and who inevitably will find the one banana peel in a 10 mile radius to act out an impressive slip-and-fall. Meaning, I am the person who is typically in the wrong place accompanied by the worst timing known to mankind.
“Will you at least email your application, you can cry later!!” And so I did- God knows how many people emailed.

I looked into the mirror and simply asked for the small miracle to be part of this video, hoping to have addressed the right folks on the right Planes of Existence, as free of emotion as I could possible be. (the latter part is akin to asking me to stop breathing…)

It was a Friday, 8 PM.
My phone sounded the sound that makes me perk up- the sound of a sonar on a submarine, reserved for the one email account that means “REALLY, REALLY important!” I jumped. And then I read the words.

“Congratulations! You have been selected to be an extra in the Michael Jackson “Hold my Hand” music Video Shoot. etc etc”
^^^I think I just stood there not saying anything, reassembling the lower part of my face that had dropped considerably and was now resting comfortably on the floor, while I was staring at my blackberry in utter disbelief.

Slowly, slowly the scent of red beans having turned black brought me back. Dinner was definitely ruined, I knew I would have to work all night on another translation that needed be done- but none of that mattered. I spent the rest of the night blowing my eardrums out, dancing through the house. I just did as I was told.

So I put on my dancin’ shoes. “Blissfully ecstatic” would be a good start to describe my elation.

And so this East German found herself once more in 5 lanes of LA traffic, shaking her head in disbelief, praying and hoping both map and GPS would get me there. I have zero sense of direction…

Something rather remarkable (but then again…if you have been a part of the post June 25th world- you already know…) happened.
The entire group of extras was CCed on most of the correspondence leading up to the shoot- random strangers started conversing with one another before they even met.
Conversations went like this: “Hey, can someone pick me up at the airport?”- Answer: “Which airport, dude?” or “Heeeeeeeeeeelp- my printer ate my map and I don’t have access to another printer, somebody please email me directions!!!” or “What the %^&%* are you guys wearing??”- you know, all valid and burning questions that demanded answers. Such as “oh what the bleep- now they decide we should bring second outfits with a plain t-shirt???” You mean, it’s 8PM and I am hunting down the next Target for a plain shirt? Yes, Sir!

MJ Job: Set Location

Later, on set, we joked that this wouldn’t be something related to MJ if there wasn’t a considerable amount of ‘dramatic flair’ added. And believe me, that drama came.
In form of a rather cowardly attempt at plain old sabotage.
10 minutes of midnight we received an email (supposedly by the “Estate”) regretfully informing us that the shoot would be cancelled due to weather concerns…Sorry everyone.
We had been asked to check our emails for last minute changes- and I am sure a few people did not show because of that email.
So the organizers shot out one last minute email to PLEASE disregard any questionable emails- confirming the call time and asking us to please confirm our participation.

I personally decided that unfortunately in the world of Michael Jackson an attempt of sabotage could be part of the deal- and it was.

And there it was, the huge blimp hangar. Things got pretty real when actual security outside the set was instructing everyone on how to proceed from here on out.

I recall driving onto the set on a narrow gravel road- when this thing came my way, being hauled away from the set. I started laughing and pulled over- it was the polished, black grand- or my car. The truck was bigger, they won.

Video Still

We signed our lives away on a lot of paper, lined up like lemmings to get our numbered ‘mug shot’ taken- and spent a lot of time in the holding area. No photography on the actual set and being the good girl that I am-I left my camera in the car. But nobody had an issue with us shooting one another and so the camera came out for a short while.
Now I regret being fairly shy and rather biting my tongue off before asking for anyone’s picture- all the while Mr. Pellington had zero issues to pose with us, BUMMER, and there I was so polite, lol.
(lemme tell you how relieved I was that I did not find MY pics on TMZ)

So the extras shot their scenes. The blimp hangar is gigantic- and so are it’s doors.
Director: “Now imagine you’re walking in the light, you’re a spirit and you’re walking home.”
Well, it’s fair to say that none of us had issues understanding that concept the first time.

A few repeats, countless females in heels stumbling over the same crack in the hangar floor again and again. So did I. No banana peel anywhere in sight- and my face still almost hit the ground. Right to the words “things will go better if you jussssssss, if you jusssssss hold my hand.”

“Okay everybody, let’s do it again because a few of you were ducking when the camera went above you. Don’t!”

The song was done, but the scene was still going. So we clapped, walking out of there. Clapping in silence, to the song inside of us. Powerful, oh, someone was with us. We didn’t have to say it, some of us looked at each other, sharing the same observation. Finally one said it, oh God, this feels weird.

“Cuuuut! Listen, people, some of you are not walking in the light!!” A few of us were close to laughing tears.

We had a good time. We sat, we waited- people danced. Put more than 3 MJ fans together and start counting the minutes until people dance.

" 'Til we see the sunlight" - MJ fans in their natural habitat- dancing.

Financial crisis? Let's dance! 2012? Let's dance! Bored and waiting? LET'S DANCE!

We sat and waited a lot- and listened to our stories- and everyone had a story. Wether someone overcame their fear of flying just to be able to be part of this- or moving from Chicago to LA- I listened to some remarkable stories. Obstacles and mountains moved- fears faced- all just to be there. In other words, the usual heroism in the world of being yourself in a world post June 25.

Trying to round up a few of the extras.

And the offical “planned” part of the day ended. We were free to go- but an offer was made to those who decided to hang a bit longer- ‘if you guys can wait a little, you could just dance freestyle for us and we’ll film it”. (you mean, film us dancing…with THAT camera??? *gulp*)

the last scene of the day incidentally opens the entire video

I don’t think any of the scenes that we did with the sun going down were planned that way- I think they happened after the crew observed us.
The last scenes were literally shot in the minutes before the sun went down, surrounding by rolling hills, the wind in our face, releasing balloons, dancing and singing- in sincerity. There was joy, we were joking the silly little insides jokes only nuts such as us can understand. (or find funny…)
I just breathed joy into the crisp air, just being free, dancing and enjoying the other’s company. And I loved and cherished I loved my life. Dancing in the wind, under the sun going down.

Some of those shots made it into the final video.

You see, even visually we represented the idea. We were short, tall, skinny, not so skinny and everything in between. We were black and white, representing all continents, male and female, all age groups.

We are the world. Truly.

6 hours later, 6 hours in the wind, blistered feet- and richer with priceless memories.

We spent the whole day talking endlessly about synchronicity and it's meaning. Amazing stories.

6 hours of wind means being cold and a patchy wind burned face- but if you could harness the happiness of those minutes- entire cities could have been powered on my happiness alone. I heard similar sentiments from others, lol.

The end of the day- the sun went done, a single lonely balloon left, empty chairs. And a big blimp hangar.

BET recently ran a wonderful “Behind The Scenes” Special that captures so much.
Or, as Director Mark Pellington put it: ‘To Michael’- pointing up. “Union of souls and music and imagery.” Indeed.

I had just a bit of time the next day- time to take those dancing shoes off. I had brought 2 of each onto the set- butterflies and a few “dancing shoes”.

I said, hm Maestro, here’s a pair of dancing shoes, you better like the color and the butterfly- the butterfly is sitting on a tree, perched up on a branch in Forest Lawn, overlooking the old children’s section there.

I was also there to give simple thanks, thinking about this journey.

All I can say to is Thank you and everything else I will fail to express in human language.

2010 may not have started the way I envisioned it to start- but the end- the end of 2010 was sweeter than icing on your typical American birthday cake.

2010- an unexpected start, a tattoo, a 3000 mile move- and a video. What a year.
I returned home and wrote an even sappier (oh yeah… and you thought this was sappy???) account- apparently it has been translated into Russian and even Chinese- now that makes me happy. Sony blocks this video in Germany- and China blocks youtube- but these pictures and the account- the joy was shared nonetheless. (says the girl who stood on one side of The Wall in Berlin the night it came down…)

What story will I have the next time I come for a visit?


6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2011 7:16 pm

    oh wow… I only just read it, this is UNBELIEVABLE! Congratulations! You must be so proud for having been a part of something big… That’s wonderful. You deserved it. πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for this story. In fact, I’m now off to read it again, and watch the video a little more *closely*.

    P.S. Have you shared that on the MJJC? Because I’m sure many fans would love to read this…

  2. January 5, 2011 7:18 pm

    P.P.S. I’m sure He LOVED the shoes. :’)

  3. January 5, 2011 7:53 pm

    Something about needing a way larger size, but that gold is always a great idea.

    I was just immensely grateful that somehow all circumstances were right, that I had moved so far just previously etc. There were so many of us extras, it was such a wonderful atmosphere of kindness there.

    I heard Mark Pellington speak for the first time and knew immediately that somehow there was a reason (beyond the obvious) that he was doing this.

    It is on MJJC, that’s when I was approached if I would mind having it translated for the Russian and Chinese fans and their reaction was so incredible, so if my job was to blab on about it, I’ll gladly blab some more.

    After the shoot and after everyone finally parted ways, gosh, I was doing my best ‘dancing’ sitting in a car in traffic for the next 3.5 hours, trying to get to my friend’s house. I had music blaring, if someone had pulled me over the ticket would say something like “unnaturally happy woman singing at the top of her lungs causing public disturbance- nobody should act that stoked being stuck in traffic.”

    It was just amazing, I’ll never forget.

    Then the video premiered and I was clutching my laptop. The first thing I have ever seen of MJ was Bucharest- and of all things to be use- it’s Bucharest footage, lol.
    There’s a cut to the extras- and right after that there’s his Bucharest opening jump. Love it.

    So great to have been there with all the others.

  4. January 12, 2011 7:54 pm

    I don’t know how it took me so long to get around to reading this, but I love love love it. Thanks so much for sharing….sounds like a really special, beautiful experience.

  5. Kate permalink
    January 30, 2011 9:18 am

    Oh. My. God. This is unbelievable! I’m happy for you. πŸ™‚

  6. January 30, 2011 12:55 pm

    I still don’t know how to really describe that day. The BET Special captured it well. It was a swelling, a swelling of voices. I remember Mark Pellington jumping up and down, animating us. And I remember how he kissed that sweet blonde little angel’s hand. We were there, yelling into the wind. How often do you see people in ‘Hollywood’ get choked up? I saw staff starting to shiver during one scene in the hangar, with only sun entering, illuminating a small lit path- eerie and beautiful and real. I saw many holding back tears. It was intense, very intense.
    It was real and true and simply an amazing feeling. And a huge honor.

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