The day I filmed a video with Taylor Swift at Dunder Mifflin
So, this was a pretty big secret that I was keeping for about two months…And now the cat is finally out of the bag! I was an extra for Taylor Swift's video "Shake It Off." AHHHH!
Here's the experience...
*I wrote this the day we shot the video, so the language is a bit more “active” or “in the moment.” There are also probably some details that have changed since the video came out yesterday. I am also waiting for the group picture that we got with Taylor, and because we couldn’t have our phones that day, I don’t have any pictures from the day! And I’m sorry that it’s so incredibly long…If you actually read all of this, you rock!
The outfit she was wearing when our group filmed on June 25. //Image from Billboard. com
If ever there was a sentence or a list of things I never thought I would say, I guess that headline would probably take the cake. And I’ll explain what that was all about a little later. However, I think all stories need a little background information, so let me start at the beginning, which happened last week, on Tues., June 18.
My summer had been pretty uneventful, which is totally fine after a crazy school year, but it is summer and I had nothing planned. While some of my friends are going off to Alaska and Hawaii, I’ve just been taking care of things that needed to be done around the house and doing a lot of reading. Until out of the blue, I receive a message from Taylor Swift’s people (Taylor Nation), saying that I’ve been selected for a special CONFIDENTIAL project, asking whether I would be interested. I couldn’t believe her team was reaching out to me like that, so I was just excited about that. I immediately ran and told my mom, who thought it might be a scam or someone had hacked their account. I was a little leery, but it all seemed legit after checking that it did indeed come from their verified account.
So, I emailed them right away, and they filled me in on the fact that it was super exclusive; not to say anything to ANYONE about the project or the details or to post anything online, though I still knew nothing. After corresponding with Taylor’s people and telling them that I was absolutely interested and met all the requirements, they said they’d be in touch in a few days. They also stressed several times that it was A BIG SECRET and you should not share the email anywhere or say anything about it; all confidential. That night I got a call and said that I would need to audition…And it would involve dancing. HUH?? They said that you didn’t actually need to be a dancer – Just move naturally, like you normally would with music. I’m like, ‘what the heck am I auditioning for?’ This is involving Taylor? What is this all about? Is she even going to be there? What is this exactly?? I talked it over with my parents and they were cool with it, since they know what an inspiration Taylor Swift is to me and how much I love her. The catch was that it was the very next day, so that didn’t give us a lot of time. It was now or never. I chose now and I jumped. But, I was SO nervous and anxious about the entire thing.
They gave me all the details for the next morning, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Everything had happened so fast; being reached out to by Taylor’s people, auditioning…That’s the kind of things that dreams are made of, but I still had no idea what was going on. Auditioning for major projects was something I had always dreamed about doing. Especially in high school when I really thought I was going to be an actor or do something on that side of the business. But, here the opportunity was in front of me and suddenly I was freaked out. Technically, “fan club members” didn’t have to be there until 2:45, but since we had made such good timing and didn’t have any other plans, we went straight to the casting agency. We rode the elevator upstairs and there were several dogs in the front waiting room – I forget that they have to go through the same rejection humans do going on auditions! HA. JK. I told them I was there for Project Cardinal, and they pointed me to a waiting room in the back. There were a few people waiting, but they had told us to be extremely quiet and not to talk about the “talent” that was involved, as there were also professional dancers involved who didn’t know what they were auditioning for. There was only one other girl waiting for this particular audition when I showed up. I showed the girl at the desk the email I had received and checked in. I took a seat next to the other girl and assumed that she was a fan, but we couldn’t talk about any of it. She just asked if I had ever done this before. The girl at the desk also asked if we had done anything like this before and we both said no. I told her that I had done a lot of stuff in high school, but never anything professional on this level. Both of us were nervous. So, the lady at the check-in desk just told us to have fun with it and smile. Finally, a few dancers walked out of the room we were to go in, and we were next! AH! I had no idea what to expect or how long it would last really.
We set our stuff down and the two that were in charge immediately started talking about what we were going to do. We were going to listen to a short clip; dancing together, then each of us would dance alone. They took a picture of each of us, then told us to say our name into the camera. WHOA! We’re talking the real deal. Then, it was go time. The music started and I just moved back and forth, feeling the music; nothing fancy, but also not just standing there either. I was trying to remember to smile and to just have fun with it, instead of taking it so seriously. All in all, I was pretty happy with how I did. I thought they might say when we’d be hearing back about it, but that was it. I met mom in the hallway, and we walked back to our car. The rest of the day was just spent around Hollywood. We tried to make it to the Annenberg Space for Photography for their new country music exhibit, but that didn’t work out. LONG story and not relevant.
All in all, I was happy with the way the audition went, but I was extremely anxious about the outcome. Even though I had no idea what it was for specifically, it was something HUGE and Taylor related, so I knew I would want to be part of it. I felt good, confident, dressed up a little for the part, and just enjoyed whatever the process was for (even if I didn’t end up getting picked). At least I had the opportunity, right? But, I still kept playing it over and over in my head, wondering if there was more I could have done or whether I would get picked. Or was everyone getting picked? Suddenly, I had never wanted something so bad. And then, last Friday afternoon, while shopping at Hobby Lobby, I missed a call from the Los Angeles area. I called it back just moments later, and the guy from Taylor Nation told me that I was officially booked for “Project Cardinal.” I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t find out any other details until the night before the shoot, until then I was just really counting down the days. For a planner like me, it was driving me up the wall to not be able to do anything or know anything to get ready for this big opportunity. GAH. But, it was a process of letting go.
Last night, I finally received the email that included everything from wardrobe to call time and where the studio was. It was taking place at Chandler Valley Studios, which sounded SO familiar, but for some reason I couldn’t place. I had mentioned that I thought it might end up being in the area where The Office filmed, but wasn’t totally sure. In the meantime, the email had me panicking around 6:30 or 7; going through everything in my closet trying to find something to wear, as well as several other options like it called for. After eating dinner and doing the dishes, I ran out to (hopefully) find something that might catch my eye. I ended up finding a really nice green dress and decided to wear that with a jean jacket and short brown boots. I finished gathering everything together and put it all in a bag. I was ready to go and so nervous I felt like I could throw up, but so excited and curious all at the same time. What in the world would we be doing?
Alright, so now you’re all caught up to speed, which brings us to today, Wed. June 25. One of the single greatest days of my entire 22 years of life. After barely sleeping a wink last night; my mind filled with daydreams and concerns, just not being tired, and watching Glee, I woke up at 4 a.m. Apparently my mom couldn’t hear her alarm, so I had to wake her up, then we got ready. I put on my makeup, straightened my hair, and put on my best dress…Then off we went. At 5 a.m, we were ready to go. I made sure I had everything (though we did have to turn around to go back for something), then we grabbed breakfast at Jack in the Box and hit the road. For being so early, there was actually a lot of traffic on the road, and the sun was still coming up. It was very bizarre to be up so early, and I was still trying to wake up. We listened to music (and a few unreleased songs from T. Swift) and made our trek into LA.
My mom and I made it to the studio much earlier than we thought, because there wasn’t much traffic…and guess what?? It was the studio where they filmed The Office at Chandler Valley Studio. It was no wonder the street and studio name sounded so familiar…We had checked it out last year, so we were semi familiar with the area, and it eased my mind about where to go, since there are only about two gates, which were clearly labeled as to where we were supposed to enter. After waiting around for a bit, we decided to drive around, so my mom could find something to do while I was on the shoot all day. But we quickly found that there was nothing in the area. After driving awhile, we stopped at Carl’s Jr. used the restroom, then headed back to the studio to just wait in the parking lot. Several people were starting to show and waited in their cars, either touching up their makeup or just not ready to go yet. I saw several people starting to walk up to the gate; a line forming, so I decided to go that way. I grabbed my suitcase of clothes and said goodbye to my mom, also leaving my phone behind.
I got in line; a little paranoid about what to expect and how everything was going to work. Everything has been SO secretive, no one wanted to say anything, in case the other people around us weren’t aware. It also freaked me out when one of the guys on the crew said, “You guys are here for Aaron Carter, right?” UHHH NO, I hope not! HAHA. Luckily, he was just kidding LOL. I quickly made friends with the girl behind me, Molly, and we started talking about the project when we both realized we were Taylor fans, the audition and also our majors in school, which helped the time pass off pretty quickly. Luckily, it was also still pretty cool out, so the denim jacket I was wearing was appropriate. Soon, they started checking people in, so we could fill out release forms and all that fun “official” stuff. We got badges with our names on it and a cardinal in the background, and were to wear those around all day, so it proved who we were and would grant us access when needed. We all gathered in a large soundstage that was complete with a green screen of some sort and a trampoline, along with makeup and snack tables set up. I was in awe of everything. There was so much action and the day was still young. We all took a seat and finished filling out our paperwork and started chatting with one another. Before we had all finished filling out our forms, they needed all of us to be approved by wardrobe, so we walked outside and around the building to one of the trailers (which was where most of the parking lot scenes took place on The Office), and I was geeking out about that. We made it to wardrobe and the stylists walked down the line approving outfits. They said mine was “Perfect” and “Great” and I was “good to go.” I was so relieved, because I’d been worried that I’d have to find another outfit, and was crossing my fingers that the other stuff I had would work out, then we headed back inside.
After finishing the forms, we turned them in and lined up to take a picture with our number that we were in line. I was 19. When we were done, we went back inside to the soundstage to hang out. That’s when I got a chance to talk to one of the other girls near me (I’m sad I didn’t catch her name), and let’s just say my journalism skills were coming in handy, because I was so fascinated by everything and everyone around me. I wanted to get to know them all. Anyway, the girl told me all about her time in New York and some of the other auditions she had been on back there, and that she moved to LA to do more TV/film. I was also able to start talking to some other friends of mine, Maddy and Lisa, that I didn’t realize would be there (since we were all sworn to secrecy, it wasn’t something to broadcast on Facebook or Twitter..Or ANYWHERE for that matter) about the weather, since they’re all from different states, including Nashville. After awhile, they had all of us line up and they were filming us/taking pictures. A security guard came in and asked us to come in closer so he could talk to us for a few minutes to fill us in on what we would be doing. He said it was our last chance to admit whether we had phones or not, because it was a very serious thing if we were taking pictures and putting things out in the public. I obviously did not. We signed agreements saying that we wouldn’t talk about it, etc. Then, he started saying that this is a music video shoot and Taylor would be there, so even though a lot of us were super fans, we needed to be professional. We were being paid for a job, so it was still important that we actually do that without getting too carried away. We were all whispering amongst ourselves, like…AHHHH! Can you believe it??
Soon after, the makeup artists started coming over to see if anyone wanted to get their makeup done. One of the ladies asked if I wanted mine done. Although I had done it in the morning, it had been a few hours, so I thought I could use a bit of a touch up, especially in case we would be on camera later on. Plus, I was on an actual set with people who do this all the time! I was going to live it up. So, she put some of her fancy makeup on me with the good brushes and creamy foundation, using one of the sponge eggs. You know, I had been wondering how people could do this all the time, dealing with rejection and just all of the intensity of working on a set, but after experiencing everything today, I can easily see why. While I was still in the chair, they said it was time to go to our actual location for the video shoot, and started lining everyone up. They were only waiting on me and one other girl, so the makeup artist quickly finished my makeup, and I was free to go. The friends I had made earlier were near the front of the line, but I couldn’t find them at the time, so I just ducked in at the end, and actually ended up standing next to the girl I auditioned with. We started talking as we walked over to our next location, and couldn’t believe everything that was happening. We both agreed that it was a bucket list moment.
We made it to the main building, which was “Dunder Mifflin” on The Office, and walked through the large elephant doors as they’re called. There was a lot of commotion as we made our way further inside. A bright white backdrop was all around, as we looked straight ahead and a large white stage was set up in the middle of it. Around the area, cameras and crew were setting up equipment and figuring out how it was going to go. They made us squish in close as much as we could, then they brought a group up on stage to start getting things going. As they were positioning things and getting it all just right, the rest of us on the floor were just waiting around and chatting with one another, though we had to keep the noise to a minimum so everyone could focus on what they needed to. I talked with my new friend, Molly, a bit as we waited for instruction. One of the crew guys was also extremely hilarious. He had this dry wit and a lot of sarcasm, so he was chatting with us and keeping it fun.
Maybe 15 minutes later, I heard a voice talking that I was very familiar with, but couldn’t see because I was blocked by a piece of equipment. When the blonde girl came around the corner, I saw that I was correct and it was Taylor Swift herself. She was very Audrey Hepburn in all black, her hair sleek and makeup to perfection. She looked like a true model. She said hi and introduced herself. That first moment when you see her is always just kind of like, ‘are you even real?’
“Hi! I’m Taylor,” she waved, and got down to business. “So, do they know what they’re here for?” she asked her creative team. “Do you guys know what you’re here for?” We shook our heads, like not really. “Well, do you want to know?” We all say yes, so she looks to a few of the crew guys and asks if they want to explain. They responded with, “Why don’t you do it? You know it better than anyone,” so she did. And she announced that it was the music video for the first single of the fifth album! AHHHHHHHH. She explained that over the past couple (really more of the past seven years of her life) have been under a microscope and that someone always has something to say. You know, the cynics and the critics. The haters. But, she’s had to learn to deal with it and get past it, so she wrote a song called “Shake It Off.” She said that we would be hearing it for the first time, and that we would probably hear it so much to the point of being sick of it, and then we’d be really excited again when the song came out. She then told us about the premise for the video and how she was going to put herself into several awkward situations and be that one guy who just dances awful. Everyone emphasized for all of us to have fun and to just let go; don’t try to look cool. Taylor even joked that no one could be a worse dancer than her. She pointed out the director, and then also explained what a BIG secret this is and how she’s trusting us to not put it out there until the video is out and then we could tell anyone about anything. Taylor explained that this is the biggest video shoot she’s ever done and that it is also the biggest secret in her life right now, and is pretty much taking up all the space in her mind. So, in case we didn’t know before, this was a BIG DEAL. After she walked us through the process and painted a picture of what the rest of the video would be like, she joined the first group on stage, while the rest of us waited down below, completely mesmerized by everything she was doing.
I absolutely love how hands on she is with everything; asking questions, checking on details with the rest of the team, introducing herself to all of the extras on set (like she really needs to at this point – and that speaks volumes), and having a vision for what she wants, without being a diva or rude just to get her point across. To see her in her element, working behind-the-scenes was a dream come true. The cameras started rolling and the song was blasting through the speakers, as everyone started dancing around. At first, I’ll be honest that I couldn’t tell it was Taylor singing, and then it hit me that this was the new song. It all hit at once, watching the dancers on stage as she shakes and shimmies on stage and sings along to the new single. I LOST THE ABILITY TO EVEN. I was trying so hard not to cry, but it wasn’t working. I was turning into a total girl, and trying not to ruin my makeup in the process. Taylor kind of has that effect on me, because I’ve been there from the very beginning. To see where she is now, I couldn’t be more proud. Everyone looked like they were having the time of their lives up there with her, which was just so cool to see. Back to the song. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to feel about it. But, kind of like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (which grew on me very quickly), I couldn’t help but like it. I loved the message and you couldn’t help but dance to it. And after today, it will always hold a special place in my heart. And it’s very summer anthem-y.
Nothing like this has really ever been done to my knowledge, or at least by Taylor, so to be part of something so special is insane. I don’t think I will ever fully wrap my mind around it, nor will I ever be able to put into words just how cool this experience was. But, I sure do hope that everyone gets to have a special day with their idol or Taylor herself. Then, Taylor started going down the line and giving everyone hugs and chatting with them here and there.
Finally, they rounded up another group of about 30 to bring on stage. I was included in that, and I was dying of excitement. We all lined up and waited as Taylor watched the first playback to see how it turned. She was incredibly excited with the footage from the sounds of it, and was ready to get the next group up there. They positioned the next group on stage, and still needed a few more, so they added me later. By that time, I was on the very end, until they added one more girl on the other side of me. I talked to the girl on my left for a few minutes and she asked if I was a Taylor Swift fan and I was like, “oh yeah.” She laughed, then said something like, “I could tell, because you’re like,” and demonstrated my face/ the way I was acting. HAHA. I wasn’t acting crazy, but I think she could tell I was in the zone of some sort. I was just really excited, and I didn’t care who knew it. I mean, isn’t she what we were all there for??
Taylor hopped back on the stage and started making her way through the line; shaking hands and chatting with people, as she introduced herself. She always somehow finds common ground with everyone, and so effortlessly too. She then made her way over to the end, and I couldn’t believe that she was standing right in front of me, as I’m standing on the set to her music video. Kind of crazy how life works out sometimes, am I right? It had been years since we last met, so I didn’t expect her to remember me, I was just happy to be chatting with her again. She said, “Hi, I’m Taylor,” and I don’t think I even said my name…I just said hi, because I was so excited. Totally dumb of me LOL. Then, I said, “I just want to say that you’re the number one person on my list of people to interview, because I’m a journalism major.” She’s like, “Wow. That is so cool, thank you so much. And good luck with everything.” I responded with, “Thank you. You’re like my idol,” and she thanked me again, ever so sincerely. I know that sounds lame, because people are probably like, ‘yeah, sure she did, whatever. She hears stuff like that all the time.’ Yes, you’re probably right. But, everything Taylor does is genuine, so when she says something, you know she means it from the bottom of her heart and truly wishes you the best. I’m pretty sure she thanked me for being there, which I said was no problem, of course. As she was starting to walk away, I said, “So, maybe I’ll see you again someday,” and she looked me in the eye and said, “Probably,” with a matter-of-fact tone to her voice, “I run into a lot of journalists,” she laughed. I just said “That’s true,” and that was that. But, now she knows. From her lips to God ears…I’m sure it’ll happen someday.
When she was done greeting with everyone, she hopped to her place in the middle of the line and they talked over a few things with us before we started shooting. They just kept reminding us to have fun with it and to do the little “Shake It Off” dance, if we wanted to. The music started playing and it was showtime. I can’t believe how fun it was to just not care and dance in front of a ton of people; fans, professional dancers, and crew. It’s not like I was dancing hardcore or anything, but I was moving a lot more than I would have in the past HAH! I was wearing a denim jacket, so it was getting pretty toasty from all of the lights, but what a blast it was dancing on stage with T. Swift, as she’d work her way down the line. Now, hopefully they keep the shot where she walks by me ;) LOL. Pretty soon, our time was over, so they walked us off to the side, and decided to take us outside, as the last group went in. I just kept thinking, uh, can we do that again? Cause it was SO FUN!
We all walked outside and ended up waiting for quite awhile. I hung out with Molly, and we talked about the video, some Taylor related things and of course, speculating when the video might be out. After waiting awhile, the sun was starting to beat down on us a lot, and we were starting to get hungry, but we weren’t sure whether we could have snacks, so we just waited around. Awhile later, they escorted us back into the soundstage, but this time it was just for the selected few that Taylor’s team had picked out. We all watched on as they did their thing, and I thought Taylor had left already, because we didn’t see her. But, she was behind the director’s chair watching every move and calling the shots. A little later, we split into two groups, “Project Cardinal,” which was Taylor’s fan club and “Project Sparrow,” which was made up of the professional dancers, so that we could take group pictures with Taylor. We all squeezed in with one another, then Taylor hopped in. Although, I felt like I wasn’t going to be seen, because the girl in front of me was just short enough that I thought she might block my face! HA. The photographer said it came out great, so I’m crossing my fingers that it really did. Then, Taylor talked with us for a few minutes and said that we were all “absolutely killing it” and she was excited with the way it was turning out. She also talked about Ed Sheeran’s new album, and how his sales had really been improving and that we should go buy it, because it’s incredible. And then we should go buy it and tell all of our friends and be really obnoxious about it, like she’s been doing. “And we don’t illegally download music either, do we?” she asked. “We buy it.” So, once I get my paycheck, I will probably try to pick up the album. I mean Taylor recommended it and all. She thanked us all again for coming out, and moved to the next group. We were all dismissed after that; Taylor left and said that she would be back later (probably for the shots she was doing by herself) and we all stayed behind to watch the single dancers they had picked out.
A few minutes later, they moved our group over because someone wanted to talk to us apparently, and it was Andrea, Taylor’s mom. She was thanking all of us for coming out and supporting Taylor, and she knows that they had asked us a million times to keep it quiet, so they were trusting us with that information, etc. She also mentioned that if we saw anything being said online that we had all the contacts and we could let someone know so they could shut it down. She also mentioned that once the project is released, they will send us a copy of our picture with Taylor and new merch. We couldn’t believe it. We thanked her for everything, then she took off. The solo dancers were starting to be called up again (including my friend, Maddy–WOO!), and the rest of us stood by from the side. We moved closer to the center of the stage to watch them and give “encouragement” with clapping and cheering. I start to get low blood sugar, if I haven’t eaten for awhile; I think I’m borderline anemic…But, I digress. I thought there was a slight second where I thought I might just need to sit down, but instead, I tried to pump myself up again, everything was good. We weren’t inside much longer, before they said that we’d be done in a few minutes. I took in the last few sights of everything, then followed the rest of the group outside.
We headed into the other soundstage, where we had left all of our stuff earlier. Some were grabbing food, because we were all so hungry and thirsty, while others were getting their belongings together and just sitting down. Those in charge told us that we were officially wrapped, to which we all cheered and hollered. I had just wrapped my first big project with my favorite artist…HOW DOES THAT EVEN HAPPEN?? But, I was completely wiped out, and still needed to figure out a way to call my mom since I wasn’t allowed to have my phone all day. So, I gathered all of my stuff together and decided to check out. I used someone’s phone and let my mom know that I was done, and she had just made it to the IKEA in Burbank…Oops! I went back to change into something cooler, because the jean jacket was warm and it was HOT outside. It was a good thing I had those options after all. I grabbed a diet coke, and turned my badge in, although I was sad because it would make such a cool memento. I decided to just wait outside, as the chaos inside died down, and ended up running into a girl I kept seeing inside all day, that I hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to.
I decided to just start talking with her, because I was trying to make the most of today and thought that I might not ever get a chance to see again. Her name was Kira and she kind of reminded me of Hailee Steinfeld. We talked about how incredible the day was and our love for Taylor. I told her how I had been a fan from the beginning, and she commented that must be really rewarding to see where she’s at in her career now. I hadn’t really thought about it much, but after she said that, it made me stop to think of where both of us were when she started and it’s just crazy to see how her success has blown up, and if anything, she’s even more kind and considerate now. Kira also told me that she’s a singer/songwriter and gave me her business card, so we could keep in touch and possibly collaborate on something for my blog. Then her mom picked her up and I waited. Without my phone all day, I actually had a chance to observe my surroundings a little more closely. Luckily, it wasn’t a very long wait, then my mom picked me up.
I was pinching myself the entire way home. And the rest of the night.
We had lunch at Barone’s after (also used in The Office episode, Michael’s Last Dundies), because my mom hadn’t eaten anything either and we were both STARVING. It was so good, but I was SO hungry at that point and everything was such a blur that I don’t totally remember how the food tasted. But, the ambiance was fantastic, like an old smokehouse/classic style bar.
In all honesty, I don’t think everything will sink in until I actually see the video. It still seems like a total dream. I will never be able to thank Taylor enough for all of the incredible experiences I’ve been able to have with her from holding her very first award/meeting her in 2007 to the T-Party Room and now. No one else embraces the fans like she does. NO ONE. Because who else is going to invite you to their New York or Nashville apartment to have dinner or random dancing parties? I sure can’t think of anyone else.
It’s kind of surreal…But, I can’t wait to see where this next “era” takes all of us. Here’s to new memories.