I had a unique once in a lifetime experience this past week. I was an extra on the set of a blockbuster movie. And, I mean BLOCKBUSTER. The movie is huge and has an A-list actor. I can say no more due to contract restraints. Yes, even extras have hush hush contracts concerning this film. Trust me. It is BIG.
I will write about my experience as an extra, but without mentioning the actual movie and plot. Because it wasn’t the movie that fascinated me, it was the extras. The people who clamor for a millisecond of fame in a movie. Those unique characters in life that can only be examined as strangers slowly becoming acquaintances due to proximity and time. I had just as much joy in learning the lives and nuances of those people around me stuck in holding (the place where they keep the extras to stay out of filming) as I did when I actually made it onto the set after six hours in holding. I was on set a total of two days. Below are some of the observations I made during the filming about the other extras.
We greeted the same faces with a nod or hello in acknowledgment from yesterday or previous filming adventures. There is a whole subgroup of familiarity for those that have been on multiple films as extras.
Those with previous experience are familiar with the routines and distinct life of extras on set. When filming actually begins the extras are referred to as “background”. A signification that we are devoid of self and have become a human prop. I will continue to refer to them as extras.
Everyone there in holding, including myself, was chasing after a glimpse of a movie star. They want to drink up the aura or feel a portion of their greatness that makes them movie stars. It is a particular quality of charisma, fortune and connection. Those extras that had previous filming experience talked about what movies stars they’ve met, how they interacted, and what those movie stars were like. They were like warriors recounting glorious victories on the battlefield. Each boasted as to more quality time spent with a movie star or how they were able to maneuver to get a closer glimpse of them. They told how they were able to meet other lesser players and how they had established connections. These connections puffed up their chests in their importance.
The casting hold is a microcosm of people’s lives and sprinkled dreams. Each has their story to tell of how they came to this time and place. Introduction are made among the extras and snippets of lives shared like photographs from our wallets or phones. But, they are only the descriptions of the photos, the secret pains and joys that live behind the eyes that animate ours speech are not revealed in such casual circumstances. Those we don’t share. It’s the guarded speech of adulthood. The writer in me tried to hear beneath the casual unraveling for something more to the soul.
I was able to get to know four interesting souls. Because honestly, all souls are interesting. We have our stories to tell, layer after layer a revelation to the glowing energy within us. I met many people, but the four I sat with a majority of the time and our conversation turned and turned after numerous hours in holding. These four became my acquaintances.
The most genuine of my party was a chiropractor who had had the most amount of non speaking film time. He was a large, bald man with a protruding belly. He had an everyman quality about him and could easily dress the part for multiple arenas in life. This quality is probably what has given him his multiple opportunities in films. He had a family and was starting a promising chiropractic office that focused on nutrition. He mentioned his paleo diet and its benefits. But, he never pontificated his stance on nutrition and health. He was sincere and honest in all his interactions and there was very little boastfulness in his conversation. His interests were varied. He has a poetry book on Amazon and would love to continue his side job of being an extra. His stories about movie starts had a genuine feeling of awe, respect, and luck. He acted alongside Hugh Jackman and he said he was the nicest movie star he had met. He had other tales to tell and each with a level of incredulity and restrained giddiness.
The second character among my group was the mom-manager. She had two children that were actively involved in acting. Her son has top billing in a movie that is seeking massive distribution. She had stories to recount of traveling to multiple locations and meeting behind the scenes players that held power in the industry. She was extremely knowledgeable and astute to the happenings around her and in film. I sensed a strong absorption and processing of information. She was much smarter than she let on, and she was helpful in making suggestion to me and those around her. That sincerity in helping others earned my respect and admiration.
The third was a feisty, petite, curly haired brunette. She had a fiery temperament that she kept in check with restrained jaw and diverted eye. She would occasionally burst forth in a mini tirade. There was a subtle ambition in her actions on set and I enjoyed watching how she maneuvered within the lines of expectation to achieve a better position. Their was an earnestness to get closer to the cameras and to the stars. At one point the handsome director touched her hip to mover her out of the way and she responded with “He touched my hip.” in a tone of surprised gaiety. She was the most distrustful of the group and she kept herself guarded, until the very end of my second day on set. Then she opened up more about her inner workings. She was the youngest of the five of us, and her guardedness might be a product of insecurity.
The last of my companions was the most colorful and the most stereotypical. Her transparent behavior when we first met put her into a convenient category. Having been placed correctly in a type, none of her words or behaviors proved surprising. Each utterance only secured her place in the category of opportunist and braggart. She was genuine enough in those areas. Her ultimate goal was to move forward into the film industry and she was constantly trying to make connections and maneuver herself closer to the PAs (production assistants) and the movie star. As the days wore on, she finally showed more of her true colors when she said she wanted to get as close as possible to the movie star and didn’t care about the rest. I responded that we were having a good time getting to know each other and she replied, “Yea, but I want to get closer to the A-Lister.” It was said with peevishness. Her stories took the tone of one-upmanship that the chiropractor did not demonstrate. If one of the group said “A”, she responded with a “double A”. I would always smile politely and mentally take notes. She talked a lot and most often about herself. She had seen a lot, been through a lot, and done a lot. She was the oldest out of all of us and she reminded me of a dressed down Mafioso’s wife. None of her speeches or behaviors annoyed me. I knew what I was dealing with within minutes of meeting her. It is an easy feat when someone talks all time.
The above four were my most frequent companions. Two other people caught my attention. The first was a young, short, handsome young man. I started a conversation with him and he asked me many questions. I answered them with my usual restrained, colorful statements. I talked to him about his desire to start graduate school. That was the extent of the interview. Later, when we were on set I stood next to him. As we waited for the cameras and actors to reset, I overheard him talking to another extra about how he was already in grad school. So, who was he lying to? I would like to think it was the younger, cuter extra that he was trying to impress. He was also asking the exact same interview questions he had asked me. This incident left me thinking three things. One, he is insecure. Two, he is a sociopath. Or, three, he was trying to hook up with the girl.
There were so many more interesting people I could blog about. Some of their titles would be retired police officer who wrote crime fiction, a retired principal who was an actress and an R&B singer, a former professional tennis player, and a man that was just happy to be on this particular set and getting paid $8 an hour. The $8 an hour extra job was more than he was paid at his regular job. This saddened me greatly. The majority of us were professionals just basking in this unique experience. To this man it was a dream come true and a pay worth driving from another state for.
This blog was a very long one. If you’ve made it to the end, thank you. I find people interesting and if you do as well, then I hope you enjoyed this. I could have described the holding, the food (there was plenty), and the procedures for the extras. But, it is people that interest me and their own stories. I hope you enjoyed some that I have recounted here.