Friday, January 15, 2010

Can I Interest You in Some "Extra" Cash?

Work as an Extra* (yep...i'm capitalizing it) proves less than glamorous, but my experience on Cold Case where i used my sports talents to be a background blur, get free grub and make some pretty good money considering, was so positive that when I randomly (Central Casting rarely, if ever calls you) got called on to be an extra for a Heroes episode, I couldn't resist. Well, that and being unemployed with nothing else to do. Work on the set for some TV show i know nothing about? Why not? Read on...

If this opportunity ever presents itself and the hollywood glamour facade sweeps you off your peasant, C-list feet, I'm not saying turn it down straight out (hey, hollywood ain't thaaat bad), but be wary of any terms such as "night shoot" or "evening call" deceptively present in the conversation. The woman did repeat it a couple of times, perhaps even emphasized it, just to confirm I was agreeing to a torture unknown to me at that moment, but how was I supposed to know? Usually the extra work day is 8 hours. "Night shoot" call was 3:45pm...yes...I will be working at night, probably get out around midnight...I can handle that. When I showed up at Universal Studios feeling mildly special to be let in on account of filming and not tourism, I noticed that 90% percent of these people came equipped with enough baggage to last 3 weeks. Duffel bags, roller suitcases, medicine cabinets and make-up drawers stuffed into hand bags, piles of costumes slung over shoulders...I am in the right place right? Yes. Oh dear. "Night shoot". I see a pillow...and another....oh damn...that girl's got a blanket....this thing isn't going all night is it?

As I finally made my way through the snaking line of people to get my time card I noticed my pay was only $8 an hour, half what you get as a skilled extra (are you sure you don't need hockey players skating in the back of your carnival scene??). Ahh's an experience. As I was bounced from one place to another: costume check (just as you would imagine...luckily everything i brought passed), make-up (which involved a lady going "who sent you over here?" and another guy looking at me: " look fine" (i.e. extras do NOT get personal attention...please leave), giant food spread (of which compared to Cold Case was very disappointing...i had slimy fruit salad, and a bun with lettuce tomato and pickle for dinner) and my favorite place: the holding area; basically about 100 huge tents set up in what was a hollywood Extra daycare of sorts. Before it was dark it was fine and dandy to wait (which is mostly what you do on a set) read, write and chat to fellow desperate looking "actors"...but once it got dark (quickly this time of year) and COLD, all games were off. This shoot was way back in mid-December when there was a bout of 40 degree weather and rain. Miserable was the word that kept flashing through my mind. And then, tired, annoyed, bored, cold, cold, cold, cold....

The scene we were shooting was a carnival...and apparently the end of the world or something. I don't all 15 hours i was there...the actor uttered 3 lines, the crowd ran, things collapsed, etc, etc. Oy veh. But let me tell you, those set-designers, prop-masters...damn do they do a job! I mean...i've been to many a carnival in my life, but this one was the best! And it wasn't even real! They had everything....everything you would want or imagine at a carnival...tons of rides, games, house of mirrors, cotton candy, house, ferris wheel....unbelievable what hollywood does (and pays for...and can afford!) for the sake of entertainment. Even more authentic was the straw all over the ground....and what with the wet weather, turned more into a mucky hay paste...mmm.

I should have known it would be a long night, if not while hovering around a space heater or hearing rumours spread that we'd be let out at 4am, 5am, maybe even 6am, then when the director called cut and said "alright...great job...everyone take lunch!". It was 11:30pm. He was serious. They'd been working these hours (without extras) for 2 weeks, so midnight was logically lunch time. Ohhhh, goody.

You do start to go stir crazy, or just plain crazy when you're standing around for 12 hours and it's 4 in the morning and you are practically begging the sun to come out.  All the repeated shots (you really want me to pretend there's an earthquake and run away again??!), wait time (about 15 mintues in between takes...about an hour for a new shot), and frozen toes...well...i began just throwing my prop popcorn look for that in the episode. Oh...and i've forgotten to mention putting up with crazy people. There are some in-ter-est-ing people in that Extra crowd. One girl who had spent all her money (she's broke paying for gas) and time (over 2 hours) driving to the shoot said she just thought it was a good way to get herself out the directors and such. an extra? There are 500 other people out are a moving blur! No one even cares about you aside from being a part of the crowd! It really is sad see people who think they're really gonna "make it" The whole thing just made me a bit nauseous. BUT, i did also meet a few really awesome of whom plays hockey at my same rink...small world! So we did have fun together, joking, chatting and commiserating/reveling in insanity.

The best part of the night (aside from the Director yelling cut or wrap or something...i was completely delirious and sleep-deprived by this point) was when some of the Asst. Directors took note of our frozen suffereing and offered us some of the crew's food....hotdogs and soup. Garrr...wait...did you say "soup?" What is the chance it's vegan...not much but for some reason i had hope. And when the big dude ladling it out uttered "lentil- vegetable" i practically hugged him/through myself into the giant vat. And at last, at about 6:15am, the sun began to rise, I turned my time-card in still uttering my mantra of "this is so stupid!" and "not worth it...not worth it" and zombied myself to my car to hop on the 101 with all the commuters rising up for work that day. 

Dear must do your thing...but i'll not stand in the background for a night shoot ever again. Thank you and good morning.

UPDATE!!! The Heroes episode (it's the Finale...ok...maybe it was worth it?? umm, no) airs this Monday at 8pm on NBC...check it!)

*Come on RL! Another blog about working as an extra? Well, this blog is all about Hollywood and what else do you think out of work locals do with their time?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Extra! Extra!

When I was away doing the travel thing, I would often hear of events happening on the home front and would get a sudden desire to pack my bags and start running in the western direction. Awesome shows, birthday festivities, etc…a series of Bad Religion concerts actually had me browsing flight home…mind you, I was in New Zealand at the time. . Yes, I was in NZ, but with these concerts in mind (different sets each night comprised of their different “eras”…songs never played at concerts I’d see) I could only recall my day-to-day work routine of hostel duties, none more thrilling than sanitizing doorknobs and folding laundry. Well, enough reminiscing, but when this most recent of awesome activities fell into my inbox I was truly ecstatic to be a home in California, living in L.A.!

Mid-October, a usual day at work winding down, I suddenly see an email with an intriguing subject line and when opened, there was enough there to get my heart excitedly pumping! Apparently the TV show, Cold Case, was to shoot a hockey episode and used my old hockey coach to track down some female hockey players, myself included. Rock! But who knew what this would entail…skating in circles? passing the puck with an accompanied extreme close-up? a director in riding pants shouting through a plastic megaphone? I could only dream (and hope) what Hollywood had in store for a “hockey” episode. I didn’t care, I was going to be there if I had to get up at 4am and wear a pink jersey. I was going to get paid to play hockey. Well, luckily the jerseys were purple and I only had to get up at 6am. Although after leaving messages and various curtly answered emails with no real details, I began to think it was all a hoax…too good to be true. I’d most likely show up, have my gear ripped out of my hands and locked in a room somewhere. I am NOT paranoid. Luckily I did get contact the day before and drove out of Hollywood in the early morn to meet at a rink 40 minutes away decorated with insanely detailed props, rigging gear, wiring everywhere, and people racing around on headsets with the end-of-the-(their?) world look in their eyes. The rush was on. Huh, I feel right at home, Hollywood transplanted. Only here there was a bonus: a tent full of free food. We’re talking a massive spread; I could have had breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one go. Including appetizers and dessert. “Heeey, so…right…we have to skate around for you and all…but uh, when do we eat?”  After signing away our lives and filling out a time card (pay!) we were shuffled off to costume ourselves in color (not always size) appropriate gear.

The atmosphere had both an air of chaos, like if I stopped to ask anyone if they knew what was going on, I’d get a deer in headlights/why are you talking to me kind of look, but also the energized control of a machine with 20 simultaneous working parts. Feeling like a lost bolt rolling along side the machine, I just followed orders, when someone was aware enough to instruct us that is. It was pretty exciting though, to maneuver around giant lights, cameras, dollies, lighting equipment and a mess of wires on the floor that I was sure one of us would inevitably slice in half with a skate blade and onto the ice while the crew stood ready to pay full attention to us. Yep, I kinda liked the attention.

Well, the hockey aspect of it was less than thrilling, as I imagined it would be. The film process is like a broken record, repetitive and annoying. But when “Action!” is called, an energy does rise out of the mundane “hurry up and wait” method. Even if it was more specifically, “aaaand, background!”.  We basically did the exact same drill for over four hours: 3 forwards regroup with defensemen and then go in 3 on 2, everyone crowding the camera side and then “shoot” on net. For fear of killing the camera (people are expendable) we had to slide it towards the net. Exciting. But I have to admit it was! I thought anyway….hey, I might get the chance to see a fragment of my glove on screen. One unexpected obstacle however was that many of us haven’t cumulatively skated that much in a two years. By the end we were all whining, I especially kept emphasizing that all this work would translate into blurry figures moving in unimportant screen space for about 5 minutes. We were tired, aching, hungry. So hungry.  When the director finally called time and a break for lunch we cheered like we’d won a game, a championship game. It was cool though, most everyone on the set was great and one of the main actors in our scene came onto the ice for a picture and some chat time. Fun!

After the hoopla we were told we had only 30 minutes until our next scene. We raced to the locker room, then ran to pile our plates and eat so fast that our digestive system would have the bulk of the work. We kept waiting for some frantic headsetted person to shoo us back to set. Eventually we wandered back to the locker room and still, no one, no rush. I was beginning to feel regretful of my shoveled and swallowed lunch and was getting the deer in headlights vibe. Did anyone know what was happening? I wandered around, found someone who looked half-informed and inquired what the female players needed yet to do. “Oh, you’re done, you can all go”. Well, how about that. Glad we all knew about our dismissal! But hell, at the end of the day, we skated around for four and a half hours, ate a gigantic meal, turned in our time cards and peaced out. Best day ever. I just got paid more than I do at my real job, for a shorter amount of work time, there was way more food and oh ya, I was playin hockey.

The episode aired in December titled “Iced” and as expected, our scene was a generous 4 minutes, we’re a bunch of blurs, but I think I may have briefly spotted myself. “That is so my stick blade! So is.” I get the magic in it tho…it is exciting, knowing you were there. One last note: the dude who played our coach (and a murder suspect…he didn’t do it…whew) took the part not knowing how to skate, took some lessons the week before, and now, just recently, I bumped into him at the pick-up hockey I go to. Turns out he enjoyed the experience so much he wanted to actually take up the sport! I think we girls inspired him. Well, a positive Hollywood experience as an extra. Be sure to look for my name in the credits under: “Extras provided by Central Casting”. That’s me! Look at me go ma!