Extras Gig #4: The Office, Part 3

“What’s up, Avatar?”

“Not much, Craig Robinson, good friend! How are you today?”*

*imaginary response, actual response was a stupid grin and probably my face turning a million shades of red.

The coolest thing about working on this set was getting a nickname from Craig Robinson. He’s a really good pool player. I think hearing that there were “pool experts” around intrigued him. He kept challenging us to play. The ADs scolded him (gently- extras get yelled at for breaking the cast/extras boundary, cast members get a gentle reminder that such intermingling is less than ideal).

I ignored the requests from Craig anyway, being the pool playing fraud that I was. So why did he call me Avatar? Well, as I have said before, being an extra is 10% fun and 90% boring as hell. It’s important to bring things to do. At the time, I was kind of into Avatar (which is also the link to click if you have no idea what I am talking about right now and would like to read part 1 of this story). I was working on a sketch while he was playing pool:

5213311793_c7d7265d9c_o

He stopped his game to compliment the drawing, talk sci-fi, and suddenly I had a nickname. Gush.

The pool expert thing intrigued the whole cast, actually. John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer finally broke down on the third day and just flat out asked, “are you guys really pool experts? It says on our call sheets that you are. It seems crazy that you aren’t actually playing pool and they just have you standing around all day.” It was nice to joke and chat with them. Then we had to shoot again and we went back to being invisible, despite standing next to one another. Hollywood is weird. This whole experience really underscored that.

Take, for example, lunch. Lunch on this set was even more amazing than breakfast. Food was custom-made. Want steak? No problem. Vegan? There are actual options for you. Dessert? How about bananas foster, flambéd before your very eyes. Anything you want, it’s yours. Just don’t sit at the wrong table. Which I did.

Being a bit of an introvert, I picked the table that had the fewest people. There were even a couple of kids there. I said hi to one of them. She was sweet. Her mother gave me a look of derision coupled with an awkward and confused smile. A lot of people were giving me a similar look. I felt like a jerk for being nice, so I just focused on my meal and went back to my Avatar sketch.

Later, I found out that “mom” was Angela Kinsey and I was sitting at the table reserved for the cast. Oops. That’s what I get for not being a regular watcher of the show. I was also told that some of the confusion might have been due to the fact that with blondish hair (which I had at the time), I look a bit like Jenna Fischer. Maybe someone thought I was a distant relative visiting the set? Of course, if someone had just told me that the table was reserved for the cast, much awkwardness could have been avoided…

You Can't Sit With Us!

For this reason, Craig’s no-bullshit acknowledgements that we were actually people in the actual world made him super cool in my eyes.

Despite the awkward moments, I had so much fun on this set. My fellow pool expert extras were all really interesting people. There was a perfect balance of quiet time to read, draw, reflect, explore, etc. and active time to talk and play. Between takes, I chatted with the tech crew (always a little more accessible and willing to talk than the cast). They shot on three cameras simultaneously and did about a million different takes to give the cast (particularly Steve Carell) the chance to improvise a little. I learned a lot.

And also pitied the poor editors who had to go through all of that footage. Yikes.

When it was time to wrap everything up, I actually got a little emotional. Couldn’t I just make a livable wage doing this for like a year or something? Later, I wrote a short story about a girl who lived on a studio lot. She dressed from the costume department, grabbed food from the crafty tables, slept on the stunt mats and because she was “no one,” she went completely unnoticed and got to be involved in a cool mystery. Sometimes it’s good being no one…

a-girl-is-no-one
A girl is no one. A girl will get free espresso.

 

Maybe I will post the story here some day.

I ended up being on screen a lot from that shoot. Good food, good people, funny stories, fun work, fun show, fun episode, my face on TV, memories… really, I didn’t see how I could top this, given my previous “background actor” experiences. I decided to hang up my background acting hat and do things that made money (part of my fantasy story above was influenced by the insane cost of living in Los Angeles) and was on a more appropriate path to my career goals.

Look at that expert form!
Look at that expert form! (Photo chosen for maximum awkwardness)

 

Yes, I was done with extra work. An interesting time in my life, to be sure. I would be happy not being part of that world ever again.

 

Then a year later, Central Casting called me and asked if I would be willing to work on Mad Men…

Extras Gig #4: The Office, Part 2

(Go to Part 1)

Wow. I never noticed how nice his eyes are. Funny how the camera can miss so much. He has really pretty eyes. Really pretty eyes that are… waiting. Maybe I should say something.

“Hello.” I replied. He smiled in return.

Steve Carell and I spent what felt like an hour locked in an awkward, courteous gaze. Both of us smiled and nodded.

“So…” He said, trailing off and looking around.

Oh! He’s as embarrassed as I am. Heh. He’s blushing. I probably am too. This is cool! We’re both blushing and confused! Wait. Actually it’s just incredibly awkward. I should say something nice to end this.

“I’m… waiting for the bathroom.” Brilliant. That will leave a lasting impression.

“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry! I thought… They said…” Just then, the 2nd AD rounded the corner.

Second ADs hate extras. We are constantly over-complicating things. Many of us are either vying for that extra little bit of screen time, trying to get a celebrity autograph (or worse), desperate to “prove” how much we “know” about their job, or begging for a SAG voucher. I’ve had that job. I can seriously relate. I’m sure this didn’t look good.

“Sorry, Mr. Carell,” he said. “Hair and makeup is through here.” He gently guided Steve into the next room. Steve gave me a shrug and a smile, the 2nd AD gave me the “I’ll deal with you later” look. He never did. I didn’t get a SAG voucher, either. Steve didn’t even say goodbye. After all we shared.

A woman left the bathroom right as the commotion was winding down. She looked into the room and then back at me with the “was a celebrity just here?” look. It’s a great look. For a moment, you are elevated to celebrity status by proximity. I call it proxi-lebrity status. Or maybe celemity status? Vote in the comments below.

A bit of Hollywood advice: if you achieve proxi-lebrity status, try to keep a level head about it. “I saw Johnny Depp in line at Starbucks” is interesting blog fodder (and awesome), but it’s not an appropriate answer to “how’s that entertainment career coming along?” Geek out about it, for sure. I’ll geek out with you. Just remember you still have work to do. Occupying the same space as another person is not actually an accomplishment. Unless you are literally occupying the same space as another person. That might get you a Nobel Prize. Though even that could just be an accidental slip into another dimension or a transporter malfunction. I digress. A lot.

After that excitement, they finally called the pool experts to the set. As I walked down the winding staircase, I couldn’t help but notice a noise that sounded like a large fan. I am presenting it like was a minor thing, but it was actually deafening. It sounded like a wind tunnel. It only came on between takes. Obviously, I had to ask what it was.

“It’s an indoor skydiving thing.” Some PA at the base of the stairs was responsible for communicating between the set and the noise. That answer raised more questions than it answered, so I asked if I could take a look.

What sounded like a wind tunnel was actually a wind tunnel. A giant fan blew people up, suspending them in midair while giving the illusion that they were falling. So yeah. Guess what I did for my birthday later that year?

Yeah, baby!
Indoor Skydiving Thing!

The PAs paraded us through the crowd of very tired half annoyed/half intrigued extras. We took our spots and were given the rundown. The first thing we were told was that the balls were fake. Since actual pool balls make noise, only the stars were allowed to hit them. We had to play with racquet balls lacquered with pool-ball-colored paint.

The actual pool experts were at a total loss and understandably disappointed. Rubber balls flew everywhere for the first several efforts. I just laughed. I went back to the message on the casting hotline. No one doing this job would need to sink shots, do tricks or even make contact with the balls. In fact, the fakers had a much easier time than the experts.

Once we were in place, they brought in the stars.

I have to confess something here: at this point in time, I didn’t actually watch The Office. I had seen an episode or two and knew the general storyline and the major characters, but I just couldn’t get into the show. I wasn’t in love with my job when the show first came out and the last thing I wanted to do was to go home from my real-life awkward office world and watch a fake awkward office world.

I fixed that after this job. I had so much fun on this set! Actually, I probably had a little more fun than I should have…

Extras Gig #4: The Office, Part 1

Part 1? Yeah. I’ve done this before- broken a long narrative into multiple posts. People appreciate shorter blog posts, or so the blog gurus/content optimization experts say. I’m also really good at cliffhangers.

 

 

That didn’t count.

Moving on. I’ve chronicled my “career” as an extra in a few other posts spanning several years. Want to catch up? First, I explain the process of becoming an extra. Then, my first gig on 100 Questions. (The first of those questions being, “is that an actual show?”) After that, I moved on to a chilly night on the set of Cold Case. From there, I had a sadly un-Fillion experience on Castle. I wasn’t exactly excited about doing these things anymore. Especially after having been passed as an “Avatar fangirl.”

 

courtney hoskins avatar freak
Come on! This took forever to wash off!

I was about to give up on it entirely. Until…

One day, I hit the extras jackpot. It wasn’t all luck, mind you. Like all big breaks in Hollywood, it took skill, determination, persistence, and a fair amount of lying.

A random call to the casting hotline surprised me when I heard they needed people for The Office. I didn’t hold my breath. Popular shows fill up fast. This was a four day shoot, to boot. That’s about as long-term as one can get as a TV extra. I actually skipped past the general call, fairly certain all the spots would be filled. I paused, however, when I got to a message asking for extras with a specialized skill set.

Having an unusual skill can get you a featured extra role or a coveted SAG voucher. Alas, I have no facial tattoos, cannot ride a unicycle and my car at the time was the useless color of black (they don’t use black cars for background because they distract the eye). I can, however, play pool.

“We need males and females who are pool experts. Please don’t submit for this role unless you can sink shots and do tricks.” I immediately submitted.

Before you send me a message challenging me to a game, you should know that technically I can do neither of those things. I CAN sink shots. Sometimes. And I can do really neat tricks where balls jump over other balls. Accidentally. This was my best chance at getting on the show, though, so I submitted anyway. I knew that they were not going to get a lot of female applicants. I also knew that they did not actually require pool experts. All I would really need to do was make my blurry shape look like it knew roughly what to do at a pool table.

baby-playing-pool
This, right?

 

Of course, this didn’t stop me from worrying about it. What if they DID need me to do trick shots? Do I actually hold a cue the right way? Do I lean over the table with the proper form? And then there was the guilt. What if I just took a job away from someone whose ONLY skill set was “pool expert” and here I am, a talentless hack, raking in the fame and money? Oh, right. This is Hollywood.

I was accepted on the spot.

The set was “on location” at Universal Citywalk. My Winter-in-Scranton sweater and the 90 degree “location” weren’t the best match. Luckily, all of our scenes were indoors and they had the air conditioning cranked up to “Arctic Front.”

Climate control wasn’t the only luxury. I meandered over to crafty. Unlike my previous experiences, crafty was not a folding table with a box of assorted chips and a Costco-sized tub of pretzels. The set of The Office was fully catered. I had my choice of drip coffee, tea, espresso or freshly-squeezed orange juice. For food, I could choose from fresh Belgian waffles, made-to-order omelets, granola, yogurt, (gluten free, of course) toasts with jams or peanut butter, bagels with real cream cheese or a variety of fruits. The good ones. This wasn’t just soggy melon balls and grapes! This was mango, papaya, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and ALSO melon balls and grapes!

It didn’t take me long to realize that the “pool experts” were the royalty of extras. (Yes, that’s tough to envision when everyone is making minimum wage, but… work with me.) We got to laze around between pool shots because they couldn’t risk reusing us in the background. It might destroy the continuity. It also didn’t take me long to realize that almost all of us lied about being “pool experts.”

All of this made my job a little boring. After several hours of reading and not a single moment on the set, I got a little restless. I wandered over to the restroom. Thwarted by a locked door, I leaned against the wall, stretched my back and started wondering what I would read once I finished my book.

That was when Steve Carell said hello.

A Piece of the Pi

This shot took me DAYS to set up and render. I made it for my demo reel so I could get a job at Rhythm + Hues in 2006.

R+H created Babe, Richard Parker from Life of Pi, Aslan, the Geiko gecko and countless other memorable CG characters. They recently filed for bankruptcy (a disturbing trend amongst VFX houses lately). Pi won best VFX tonight and when the rep started thanking R+H, they not only played him off stage, but they muted his mic. R+H got no mention from the cinematographer (who, let’s face it, owes many of his gorgeous “shots” to the VFX) to even the director, who only expressed that he wished VFX could be cheaper.

People are under the impression that CGI requires nothing more than a button press. Computers are a tool, just like a pen, but it still takes real artists to pull it all off. I spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours learning these skills and I consider myself to be nowhere near the caliber of the people who pulled off Life of Pi. I struggled to find work when I moved out here and was SHOCKED at what people were willing to pay. Luckily, I had other skills to fall back on, but I miss this work and would like to think that I could someday return to it AND support my family. And for my friends who are struggling to find that balance, I hope it gets better. Without the VFX artists, many of the most profitable movies would be nothing more than a couple of actors standing in front of a green screen. I hope to see a reverse in this trend and respect to the artist.

Since I couldn’t show up in person to stand with the artists, I have to settle for making a point via the internets: https://www.facebook.com/VfxSolidarityIntl and @VFXSoldier on Twitter are two great sources of more information.

Slusho Zoom!!!

This is my official entry to the Slusho!! commercial contest. It is a fictional commercial for a fictional drink that may or may not somehow play into the new film “Cloverfield,” produced by J.J. Abrams.

Or doesn’t it?

For those of you who think that sounds vague, let me explain:

It is.

Last summer, the movie “Transformers” opened in theatres across the U.S. (yeah, I loved it, so sue me). Immediately after the first East Coast screenings let out, Google began getting hit with thousands of searches for things like “mystery jj abrams trailer transformers” and “transformers trailer monster movie” and “1-18-08” and “free porn.” With the exception of the last search, all of this was seriously pleasing the folks over at Bad Robot productions. Why? Before “Transformers,” audiences were treated to a movie trailer (or “preview,” if you will) consisting of a sort of first person video clip of what appeared to be a monster attack on New York City. It began with the taping of a surprise going away party and ended with the severed head of the Statue of Liberty skidding down a SoHo street. Vague bits of dialog like “I saw it! It’s alive! It’s huge!” could be heard through the chaos of the crowded streets below, as the party-goers evacuate their apartment and attempt to glean more information. The audience was given nothing more than the name of the producers (“Lost” creator J.J. Abrams and his parent companies, Bad Robot and Paramount Pictures), and what seemed to be a release date of 1-18-08. A wave of “what the f*@$?!” spread across the crowd. A massive viral marketing campaign was born…

Youtube was soon inundated with pirated copies of the trailer, the web world was abuzz with “what’s it all about” speculation, Paramount pictures was “denying” involvement in this titleless production, and geeks and “Lost” fans like myself were salivating over having a new way to waste precious time.

Fine. What the hell does this have to do with some slushy drink thing? Honestly, no one knows! The drink was first mentioned in an episode of “Alias” (also created by Abrams, also a show that I love). Additionally, in the original trailer, one of the characters from the film was wearing a slusho! shirt. It didn’t take web geeks like myself long to find the slusho! web site, where even more oddness was revealed (like a donkey swimming underwater while thinking of a blue oven mitt and a bizarre story about some “secret” deep sea ingredient that is evidentially used in the manufacture of slusho).

Now it appears that some company called “Tagruato Corp.” has been harvesting this slusho ingredient (?) using off shore oil rigs, one of which (according to foreign “news sources” whose videos are available on YouTube) was just destroyed this last weekend, as the monster makes its way to New York City. Also, the main character from the movie trailer, Rob, has announced on “his” MySpace page that he is going to go work for this company…

This kind of realtime buildup to movies and alternate reality gaming is fascinating to me. The Internet is becoming an increasingly collaborative and accessible space for the human race.

I’m really looking forward to the film. At this point, I have an almost scientific fascination with it. I’ll only be disappointed if, like so many other movies this year, this turns out to be yet another zombie movie…

Extra! Extra!

Ah, yes. It’s about time I got around to writing about this! It’s been, without a doubt, the activity my friends and family are most interested in hearing about. I had a bit of cash saved up before I moved out here, so I was able to play a little bit before “buckling down” and finding a “real job.” I decided to skip on down to Central Casting and sign on to be an extra- sorry, “background actor.”

That’s right; I just basically implied that being an extra is not a “real job.” Also, I used a semicolon. Read on THAT!

Granted, some people have managed to make it such, and I applaud their success (and wonder how much Top Ramen they must eat), but it is NOT for the faint of heart. Often times referred to as “dots” or “blurs,” extras are treated with absolutely zero respect. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect respect (soon to be a new hit song), but here I am referring to such an extreme lack of respect that you don’t even feel like a human being. The props are quite literally treated better than you are. As a non-union extra, you make $8 an hour to stand on your feet all day, often in uncomfortable attire, and to be shushed like a five year old every time you yawn, sneeze, or say “hi” to your fellow extras. But if it’s worth it to you to have a little bit of yourself attached to a project or to see that star you always wanted to meet, read on:

Here’s how it works: you go down to “Central” at the most inconvenient time on a weekday morning. You listen to their spiel. You stand in a long-ass line with dozens of other Hollywood hopefuls. You register with them (SSN, DLN, W-2, height, measurements, dress size, special talents, car type, “how far will you go,” the works). You stand in another long-ass line. You stand in front of a camera (about as sophisticated as the DMV) and get a picture taken. One. You do not get to see said picture. They hand you a packet of papers and give you a phone number to call. You call said phone number. Again. And again. MANY times per day. You listen to pre-recorded job postings and hope to hear one that sounds like something you match and that is something you might actually like to do. You listen to the WHOLE THING because often they only want your car, or your specific breed of dog, or they want you to jump into a swimming pool with all of your clothes on (repeatedly) or shave your head or be a professional soccer coach or a biker or stripper or something (yes, I’ve heard all of these) and they seem to want to put this critical information last. You call another number to talk to the agent that posted this call. This number will be busy. Always. (I guess a lot of people fit “non-union woman between the ages of 21 to 71.”) You call again and again and again (because you have nothing better to do) or you pay $75 a month to have someone else do it for you (keeping in mind that you will still only make $8/hour when they find you work). IF you get the gig, they will give you almost NO information about where it is or what you will be doing or how long it will take because again, you have nothing better to do and can put everything else on hold. If you don’t get the gig (after all of that), you spend the next several hours worrying that you sneezed or a bug landed on your face in that headshot you never got to see. They give you yet another number to call the night before your job. You call that number (note: get a phone plan with unlimited minutes). They pre-scold you for being late and/or not having everything you need. They tell you to bring your own clothes and often something you would never own and will need to buy (i.e. pantyhose). You try to sleep the night before because your call time is often early in the morning (6:15AM) or late at night (10PM), running until early in the morning. You fight traffic to get to set on time. You fail. You park as far away as possible from the set. You arrive and check in with the 2nd AD or a PA who will either ignore you or call you sweetheart. You go sit in “holding” which is often a tent with a bunch of metal folding chairs in it. You talk to some cool people and a couple of crazy folks. They tell you to be quiet. They tell you to go to costume, hair and makeup, all three of which will tell you to go away because no one is really going to see you and they don’t want to waste their time. You swallow sadness and immerse yourself in a good book. You get called to set. They tell you to be quiet. A lot. Even if the crew is making all of the noise, they will blame the “background talent” for the hammering. You do your thirty seconds of bad “casual conversation” pantomime. You feel good because you SWEAR the camera is, like, totally right on you the whole time! They feed you (usually). You finish your “day.” You go home and tell all of your family and friends to tune into whatever show at whatever time. A week later, you get a paycheck for approximately $80 for ten+ hours of work. Your episode airs or your film is released. Two people report possibly seeing the back of your head for half a second. One of them is your mother. It turns out that it was not your head, but you don’t tell anyone that. You swear you are never going to do it again. Two weeks later, you call the pre-recorded line and start the process all over again. This time you just know you’re going to get that SAG voucher!*

However, like all experiences, crappy or otherwise, being an extra expands my library of fun stories to tell, and I shall share them here- with pictures (where possible)! You know, someone should make a television show based on their experiences as an extra. It might be really funny! They could get awesome actors to guest star. Ooh, ooh! I’d love to see Ian McKellan do something on a show like that…

(*You need to get three vouchers before you can join the Screen Actor’s Guild, which is every non-union extra’s dream. Once you have your vouchers, you pay SAG a large sum of money and then you can actually begin making a more livable wage from doing “background” work.)