The way historic places in Winston-Salem go, The North Carolina School of the Arts is certainly among them. This year, in fact, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the school’s establishment by The North Carolina General Assembly. Nevertheless, in addition to being five decades old, UNSCA is historically significant for other reasons, too. It was, as ncpedia.org puts it, “the nation’s first state-supported residential school of the arts,” it maintains The Stevens Center (which originally opened in 1929 as a silent-movie theater), and its graduates have gone on to have historic success. Among those on its list of alumni are Danny McBride, Mary-Louise Parker, and Jada Pinkett Smith.
That said, one cannot help but wonder what the journey from UNCSA to Hollywood stardom is like for its graduates. A project is underway that seeks to explore what that very journey is like. Currently raising funds on Kickstarter.com, filmmaker Nick Weis is working to make a new documentary, Jesse Heiman: World’s Greatest Extra, come to life.
Jesse Heiman, in fact, is the actor who garnered great attention for his role in godaddy.com’s “Perfect Match” commercial which debuted earlier this year. In the commercial –colloquially described on YouTube as “Refaeli Kisses Nerd”– Heiman had the honor –or the embarrassment– (depending on how one looks at it), of playing the so-called “nerd.” Though the commercial did make the actor substantially more recognizable (after years of having been repeatedly cast as a background actor only), it also associated the young man with a certain type of image – that of an awkward or socially inept person.
Weis’ project, however, aims to delve into the life of Jesse Heiman beyond his godaddy.com appearance or his many bit parts as a so-called “extra,” (which, as aforementioned, are many and include appearances in the background of films as diverse as Old School and The Social Network). In World’s Greatest Extra, Weis aims to explore Jesse Heiman as an individual person, and, subsequently, what it is like for an individual person to try and make it in Hollywood, just as so many UNSCA graduates have done before.
Heiman is a particularly interesting figure to follow in that he has established a foothold in Hollywood – he has been cast in several blockbuster films, has starred in one of recent memory’s most buzzed-about commercials, and has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but what of the next step? Jesse Heiman: World’s Greatest Extra also seeks to examine the actor’s efforts to transition from “extra” to “leading man.” Yet in that examination is also an evaluation of Hollywood’s casting practices. One wonders if someone perennially cast in the background or as “awkward,” can convince L. A.’s casting agents of his or her ability to shine in a leading part.
No less, perhaps the most interesting theme World’s Greatest Extra strives to take on is the personal effect typecasting for one role or another has on a performer. To some, godaddy.com’s “Perfect Match” commercial is nothing more than a few seconds of provocative advertising meant to grab the average television viewer’s attention, but for Magic Happens Productions, the company behind Jesse Heiman: World’s Greatest Extra, it is a question. That is, how did the filming of the commercial separately affect Bar Refaeli, a supermodel, and Mr. Heiman, the world’s so-called “greatest extra,” personally? The advertisement definitely helped Heiman’s recognizability, but certainly some would not care for the accompanying national reputation of that “GoDaddy Super Bowl nerd,” as one Huffington Post article described Heiman. Perhaps World’s Greatest Extra can answer how an actor or actress –Heiman or otherwise– distinguishes himself or herself from the roles for which he or she is cast.
For more information about the project, one can visit the film’s Kickstarter page, or view a preview at http://vimeo.com/nickweis/jesseheimanfilm. The project is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JesseHeimanFilm. If the documentary accomplishes nothing else, it will certainly make one think twice when driving down South Main Street, and considering the many aspiring actors and actresses inside UNCSA dreaming of fame on the silver screen.
• For usedview.com, I’m Guy Montgomery.
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