Guest Spots: Say Hi on the big break that wasn’t

Say Hi: Um Uh OhSay Hi: Um, Uh Oh (Barsuk, 1/25/11)

Say Hi: “Devils”

[audio:|titles=Say Hi: “Devils”]

Seattle-based singer/songwriter Eric Elbogen, a.k.a. Say Hi, just released his third full-length, Um, Uh Oh, since shifting to a one-man operation with a shortened name (formerly Say Hi To Your Mom). According to a Barsuk press release, the album is the “result of the last ten years of Eric Elbogen’s experiences with failing at relationships, both musical and otherwise.” Who better to tell a story of a tragic missed opportunity in Hollywood in the late ’90s? Read on, and see how Elbogen manages to effortlessly weave the title of his new album into his prose.

How I Squandered The Biggest Break Of My Life
by Eric Elbogen

It wasn’t until I moved out of Los Angeles, California 11 years ago that I realized how much of the rest of the country conceives of that city as nothing more than a velvet-roped landmark next to the Pacific Ocean, overflowing with actors and the sorts of people you see on Entourage. A common question I fielded once I moved to New York was whether or not the reason for me having been born in LA was because my parents were in “The Industry.” I’d usually make an attempt at dryly turning the tables, asking if the inquisitor’s parents were gangsters (if they were from New Jersey) or tobacco farmers (if they were from anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon). Nevertheless, there is one anecdote I collected from the 23 years I spent in La La Land that, I suppose, makes the aforementioned question a valid one.

On an unremarkable day at some point in the late ’90s, I left the sheltered micro-hills of UCLA to return to the smog-shrouded sprawl of the San Fernando Valley, in which I grew up. A friend of mine had started working for a casting agency, and was trying to round up a bunch of folk to be extras in a then-untitled film. I wanted the money and had the day free of classes, so I took the trip. At the time, I had been playing music in one of my pre-Say Hi bands and was still naïve enough to think that rockstar-dom would come knocking any day, that said rockstar-dom would immediately, completely, and utterly solve the entirety of my woes, so I scoffed to myself at the multiple hours of us extras waiting outside in a parking lot under a sun-blocking overhead tarp and on splintery high-school, cafeteria-style benches (remember, this was LONG before the existence of “Angry Birds”).

Up to this point, I had no idea about any of the details of the film. However, three hours after sitting around with the rest of the bored attendees, I noticed the actress from License To Drive (anyone?) whimsically scooting around the parking-lot blacktop on a pair of roller skates. A few minutes later, someone important looking and clipboard clad approached the gaggle of extras and asked us all to stand up. He scanned our faces like a roulette wheel and eventually landed on mine. “You,” he said, “you’re going to be my cook.” “Cool,” I said, unsure of the implications. I was whisked away into a trailer, clothed in a white chef’s uniform, and, soon after, was getting my already curly head of hair Chia-ed even more. I was curious about where things were headed.

Not more than five minutes later, I was standing inside the kitchen of the parking-lot-adjacent seedy nightclub where, apparently, all of the action was going on. This is the actual internal monologue that proceeded to follow: “Wait, that’s Marky Mark standing four feet away from me in this kitchen. He looks bored. I wonder what movie they’re actually making. Wait. I know I’ve never wanted to be an actor, but, um, uh oh, this might be my big break.”

I stood there pensively for a few seconds before a jittery production assistant affirmed something to the other end of a radio call. “Okay,” he said. “Here’s what I want from you. When I give you the cue, I want you pick up this tray and walk across the room toward the sink on the other side of the door. When you reach the threshold, you can pretend to be yelling something at one of the [imaginary] kitchen staffers.” “Yep,” I thought to myself, “this is DEFINITELY my big break.” I thought about how silly I had been in all of the years leading up to this moment, having spent so much time convinced that rock ‘n’ roll was my calling. “Never mind though,” I thought. “From this moment forward, I’m a movie star!” I also pleaded with myself not to screw up.

The cue came, I picked up the tray, and hurriedly went for my Oscar performance. Cut to a new internal monologue: “You can do this. You’re walking by Marky Mark. You’re turning around to pretend to yell something. Oh, fuck. Fucking BURT REYNOLDS is walking up past you. That facial hair IS pretty awesome. Wait. Focus. Finish the turn. Say the thing. Life is going be great after this.”

To say that I botched it would be an understatement. Even “understatement” doesn’t cut it. Hell statement or Australia statement may be more apt. Instead of completing what even the most rudimentarily trained actor could have accomplished, I awkwardly cocked my turned neck to one side and muttered something like “plee-koo-pik-bloog-bleeg-blum,” each syllable ascending upward chromatically before descending for the last two. I cowered and sulked to myself, not daring to look at whatever expressions Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Wahlberg may have been directing at me. The PA approached. “Actually, why don’t you just stay in the corner and shuffle this pan. Pretend like you’re cooking something,” he said.

It was thus that I had blown my golden opportunity to be, well, a guy walking in front of Burt Reynolds on film for a split second. It wasn’t until the movie actually came out that I learned that it was Boogie Nights that I had almost been cast in. I left that day embarrassed, deciding slowly that I maybe shouldn’t abandon songwriting for Hollywood after all. When I later saw the movie in the theatre, I sighed to learn that even my less-ambitious re-casting as Guy In The Corner Cooking Something didn’t make it into the frame. Not even a friggin’ arm.

At the very least, a microscopic glimpse of even a strand of my hair in the Paul Thomas Anderson flick would make my anecdote slightly more vibrant. I could have pointed it out to my future grandkids, when they were old enough to watch a movie about the pornography industry, of course. But alas, instead I sit in my Seattle apartment, a slightly grayed 30-something in a relatively unknown rock band, writing this and still waiting for my big break.

PS: PT, maybe some love in a future director’s cut?


Eric Elbogen

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