A while back I thought it would be a good idea to chronicle some of my extras gigs in my blog. Then all the social networks, my day job as a web developer and my noveling and screenwriting efforts made maintaining my website seem more like a chore than the fun thing I used to do. This is a return to that. I’m not going to make the promise that I will regularly update (a promise that I will inevitably break), but I would like to get back in the habit.
As for extras work, it was a super fun thing I did when I first moved out to Los Angeles and could afford to fart around before getting down to business. I don’t mean to diminish the life of the full-time professional extra. It’s actually a tough way to make money and if you can do it regularly, you are magic and I salute you. Yes, it’s quite possible to make your living being a “blur” as people will so kindly refer to them (hey, ninjas are blurs too, and NO ONE messes with ninjas), but I had other aspirations and other obligations. Sadly, my blur days are becoming just that… So I want to write about them before they are gone.
My first gig was 100 Questions. A very short-lived sitcom on… some network. I don’t think my scene ever made it onto the small screen, but I basically had to sit in a pants suit and fake sip a fake martini. I’ve already written that story. I’ve also already written the Cold Case story, so you can catch up on those if you so desire.
My third extras gig was Castle. NOW we’re talking! Though I don’t watch it regularly, I do enjoy the show- especially the Nathan Fillion part of the show- so I was excited when they told me I would be in it. They informed me that I would be a New York subway patron. Sweet! I can play that! I lived in New York for almost four years. I know from ridin’ the subway, yo! I decided to go method for this one.
On that note, one thing you should know, should you desire to be an extra or find yourself on set one day: background work is NOT acting. No one appreciates your efforts to stand out. You are “background talent.” Your goal is to blend in (see earlier ninja comment). Also, no one on the set really wants to hear about all of the acting you do, the workshops and schools you attended, the people you have met… Actually, scratch that. Some people do want to hear about that. And they are sitting at that table over there. Not at my table, where I am clearly trying to read American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
Yes, I was being crabby on the set that night. It took far too long for me to find parking and meander through the trailers to find the 2nd AD. Plus, this was a night shoot and I’d heard rumors that we might not get done until four in the morning. There was also limited food for my then-vegetarian self to eat and I was starving. Knowing every eatery nearby would be closing soon and I would be reduced to eating chips and fruit snacks for the next six hours filled me with dread. On top of that, I found out that the scene we were shooting would have NOTHING TO DO with Nathan Fillion. At all. I have this annoying curse of being where he is- sometimes EXACTLY where he is- and never getting to see or meet him. More on that later.
While I was sitting at one of the few tables that had adequate reading light and feeling sorry for my(let’s face it, pretty spoiled)self, I got a call. When I answered it, the voice of my dad’s partner answered back and I suddenly got very nervous. Don’t get me wrong, we get along great and I love talking to her, but it was a bit odd to get a call from her late at night, knowing that it was three hours later where she was. As it turns out, I had reason to be nervous. My dad had suffered a heart attack. Now, I do love suspense, but not where my family is concerned, so let me just spoil this and spare you: he’s fine. Everything turned out great. However, that information would not come to light for another few weeks and the rest of my time on set was spent worrying about him.
I felt trapped. He would need a surgery and I wanted to fly out for it, but I was unable to do anything about it. I alternated between distracting myself with my book and researching flights on my ten-percent-battery-life phone. I decided the best thing for me to do would be to just finish out the night and go home. Needless to say, much of the evening was a bit of a blur after that. I remember walking with my book, trying to look like a New Yorker. I was depressed and self-occupied, so I think I pulled it off quite nicely.
The one detail I do remember from the night is that I was selected to be one of the subway patrons who would go through the turnstile right as the bad guy jumped over to escape Beckett. Since my face would be in the shot, I had to pretend like I noticed, but not really care. Much like I would have reacted in New York had I seen someone jump over the turnstile. The turnstiles the actors were to jump over were very clearly marked with tape. We were told that we could go through any of the other turnstiles, but that we had to stay out of the way of the marked turnstiles.
When the first take came up, I found an unmarked turnstile and set my intention to walk through it. I headed toward it (without looking like I’m heading toward it) and BOOM, the bad guy jumps over the unmarked turnstile. Any look of shock I had as this actor came hurtling at me uncontrollably was completely genuine. They called a cut. No one blamed anyone (mostly because it wasn’t my fault… they have no problem yelling at extras, but tend to hold back with the talent), but I was much more cautious about approaching the turnstiles on subsequent takes. I mean, I would love to be a stuntwoman, but that’s a completely different pay grade with a totally different set of rules and insurance requirements.
I did manage to make it in the shot, at least- see above picture. This was season 2, episode 18. I’m that blur that looks kind of like… well a rather gothy New Yorker. And see that green blur? That’s my copy of American Gods (that book really did help me get through that shoot).
I was later used in three other shots, but never made it onto the screen. It’s pretty amazing. With the exception of two people veryone you see on the screen was an extra or a stunt person. Some of them got paid more than others. I got paid about $80 to be there that night, and I was on the lower end of that price range so… do the math. It’s expensive to put bodies in scenes!