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?

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