Get a Grip!

Star-struck Hollywood hopefuls fight to make the scene in Phoenix's filmland fringe.

In between movie gigs, Brekan does stage and sound work for live theater -- a gig that he describes as half as lucrative and twice as laborious as film work -- and the occasional trade show. He says he's learned to accept the unpredictable flow of movie work.

"There are no solid gigs in our business," he says. "It's a real feast-or-famine proposition. You might work 30 hours in one weekend and then have several days off."

Arizona Film Commission director Linda Peterson Warren frets that Arizona is losing movie projects to Canada.
Paolo Vescia
Arizona Film Commission director Linda Peterson Warren frets that Arizona is losing movie projects to Canada.

When Doug Brown lost a part in The Postman for being "too dark," his buddy Shay Calinawan ended up getting the role. In Three Kings, Calinawan -- who played an Iraqi refugee who'd been shot -- again trumped Brown by scoring a much-coveted close-up of a grisly stomach wound.

"I had my mug in that movie about five or six times," Calinawan says. "I had to walk around with a big bloody bandage on for weeks."

Calinawan made his film debut in 1989, in an unreleased short by Stephen Furst (Flounder from National Lampoon's Animal House). At the time, he lived in Simi Valley, California, and worked as a weight trainer. He also waited tables at Universal Studios. He wanted to break into the movie business, but after a few years of futility with casting agents, he decided that he needed some training.

In 1993, he moved to Tempe to study theater at ASU, and graduated in 1997. During that time he got brief extra work on Dead Man, The Getaway and Tombstone.

When he was hired for The Postman, the film's casting agent got a look at his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame and asked if he could do stunt work. He had no experience as a stunt man, but as he says, "With Hollywood, when an opportunity opens, you either take it or you don't." So Calinawan was twice asked to jump off a 250-foot rope bridge and swim in white water with an 80-pound costume on, and no life preserver.

"You get your one shot, and you're either ready or you're not," he says. "I did it, and in retrospect I'm glad I did, 'cause it was a great experience. But I was terrified to do it at the time. I thought I was going to drown in that river."

Stunt work in The Postman turned out to be a mixed blessing for Calinawan. He started getting other job offers, but casting agents also started pigeonholing him as a stunt man, when he really wanted to be an actor.

Although he lives in Tempe, Calinawan also maintains a Burbank, California, post-office box. He doesn't want to be limited to Arizona film shoots, so he also keeps track of any work in New Mexico, Texas, California and Nevada. Between gigs, he works as a bouncer at Scottsdale retro club Polly Esther's. Soon, he'll also start waiting tables at Gordon Biersch Brewing Company.

He continues to do stunt work, most recently as a football player for the Dallas franchise (#54) in Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday. His scenes were shot at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. It was a gig he couldn't turn down, but he says he's trying to steer himself away from stunt work, fearing that it will slow his chance at an acting career. But he rigorously keeps himself in shape, knowing that he has to be ready if he's asked to do something that's physically demanding.

"I had a little bit of extreme sort of training from being in the Army for a little while, but it wasn't the same. I've had to do a lot of intense work. When you do stunt work, you always feel that you could be faster or stronger. I learned that I wasn't as good a swimmer as I'd thought."

Calinawan, like Brown and Brekan, knows that the waiting between gigs is always the hardest part. Brekan insists that the secret to sanity for any Arizona film worker is not to let the down time between jobs become a source of aggravation. So he uses his free time to work on his own multimedia art projects -- paintings, home-studio recordings and filmmaking -- confident that the wait won't be long.

"You try not to worry about it too much, because if you're good at what you do and you believe in what you do and you're soliciting yourself enough, the next job will come," he says. "And you've got to make what you earn stretch to the next deal."

Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address:

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