Sunday, August 14, 2016

Extra, extra; read all about it!

Had my first-ever TV extra gig on Monday.  Last summer I'd responded to an open call by a professional casting company, which got me in their database and on their email list.  However, Monday was the first call for extras that I'd been able to show up for.

This being my first time, I showed up not really knowing what to expect beyond that I should plan to be there 12+ hours.  (It turned out to be 13.5 by the time I checked out that night.)  As instructed, I wore one wardrobe option suitable for the scene and packed 2 or 3 more options.  Fortunately, Wardrobe liked what I wore so I pulled my "entertainment" and a pair of flip-flops out of my suitcase, put them into my tote, and locked my suitcase in my car.

We had been instructed to report to a church parking lot, where they had trailers set up for Wardrobe, Hair & Makeup, and a few others (crew rooms?).  Once we'd checked in, been cleared by Wardrobe and Hair & Makeup, we boarded a shuttle to the shooting location, where we were directed to a great big tent (air-conditioned, thank heaven!) - Holding. They had a small breakfast buffet set up for us, and a constant supply of 4-oz water bottles.  There was also a small trailer with 3 little restroom cubicles.  I was expecting a porta-potty; not so!  These were actually rather nice-looking - they were decorated!  They had "paneling", a pergo-style floor, a flush toilet (presumably into some sort of tank, given that it was a trailer), a framed mirror over the sink, and even a framed picture anchored to one wall.  Three cubicles weren't really sufficient for our numbers (150?  200?), but at least they didn't stink, despite the August heat.

I was reasonably well prepared for my wait.  I had a tote full of crossword puzzles, some music to look over (most of which I didn't touch), and my flip-flops to wear in Holding instead of the heels I'd bought for the occasion.  Boy, was I sorry by the end of the day that I hadn't had time to break those new shoes in at all!  I wasn't the only one with spare footwear, either; I saw at least 2 women wearing very comfy-looking slippers in Holding.

We got a "pre-lunch" of sandwiches and sides (apples, bananas, granola bars) around 11, and a hot lunch starting around 1 or 1:30.  They announced the order - crew first!  The union performers would be next in line, with non-union performers going after the crew & union folks had filled their plates.  Some of the people who'd done these before said that working as an extra often amounts to getting paid to sit around and eat.

Those extras (called "background", or BG) in military uniforms were called first.  Mid-morning, they took about half the rest of us for an exterior scene.  It wasn't until 2:30 or 3 that they called all of us for the final scene to be shot that day.  They herded us all into the church, where we sat while they tweaked some technical things, and even tweaked a few of us (Wardrobe adjusted collars, brushed away fuzzies, etc., while Hair fixed a coupla women's tresses and Makeup powdered a few scalps so they wouldn't gleam).  They then ran the same short scene over, and over, and over, until I imagine most of us could recite the one principal's lines right along with her.  They adjusted the lighting and sound equipment, herded us first off to a corner, then back to Holding while they got it just right, and brought us all back.  They then ran the same scene, or tiny parts of it, several more times.  Each time, I think they tweaked some light or sound setting, or changed a camera angle.  For some of the runs, they had stand-ins come in for the principals.  (I wonder if that's to give the principals a union-required break, or the stand-ins some union-required work?)  In the end, it took about 5 hours to shoot a scene that ran only a couple of minutes.  Quite a difference from stage work, where you run a scene pretty much straight through, and don't have to worry about camera angles.

I was interested to see how very many crew they had.  Because we were told to stay out of their way & let them do their jobs, I couldn't exactly ask what they were doing or "What's this for?"  Still, it was interesting to see how very many different versions of tool belts & kits they were wearing and what they were stocked with - gaff tape, scissors, safety pins, makeup brushes, multi-tools...  One surprise was when they were adjusting the canopy overhead from which several cables were hung.  They started tugging on it and it moved!  It turned out to be a big, inflated rectangle!  They used several guide lines to move it over to a side section of the church; rather reminded me of the people who "walk" the big character balloons in the Thanksgiving Day parade.

Some of us were issued various props.  If you received a prop, you had to surrender an ID - something you'd definitely want to get back.  You got your ID back when you returned the prop at the end of the day.  That was just the first step in the check-out process.  Once you'd turned in any props you'd been issued and gotten your ID back, you got on one of the shuttles to go back to the church parking lot where we'd checked in.  Then we all stood in a long, slow line to finish filling out the forms we'd gotten at check-in, get checked off their list, and be sent home.  Filling out the form wasn't the boilerplate exercise you might think.  The several copies were not all the same form!  They were all stuck together as if they were multiple copies of the same form, when in fact the last 2 pages were a different form, that you had to fill out front & back.  No wonder the line was moving so slowly - none of us first-timers expected two different forms to be stuck together!

I'm already scheduled for another extra gig on Tuesday.  This time I'll have a better idea of what to expect.  For one thing, I won't be wearing brand-new heels for the first time!  Based on what I was told, I think I can get away with a pantsuit, which means flats, which means I won't have to take spare footwear for Holding.   I'll still take my suit w/ skirt as one of my wardrobe alternates, but will cross my fingers that Wardrobe will OK the pantsuit.  I'll also know how to fill out my paperwork this time, and will be sure to do that while I'm in Holding waiting to be called, instead of in the check-out line, in the dark.

It's only been a week, so I haven't gotten my paycheck yet, but one of the "pros" was saying extras get paid something like $88 for 8 (8 1/2?) hours, then time and a half for any time after that.  Apparently you don't get paid for the half-hour lunch break (the 8.5 hours?).  If that's accurate, that would mean I worked 4.5 hours at time and a half.  That works out to $74.25 for the overtime, plus $88 equals $162.25.  I wonder how much of that gets taken out for taxes...

I think the hardest part was probably sitting on set, as the pews in the church they were using were not very comfortable after an hour, and we were there much longer than that.  I was exhausted by the end of the day (about an hour's drive each way on top of a 13-hour day), so I didn't offer to work any of the calls later this week.  However, I did get myself booked for this Tuesday, so you can see that I didn't hate it.  We'll see what they have us doing that day.  I heard some good stories in Holding.  One VERY tall guy regaled us with stories of playing some sorta monster or Viking or something in some movie.  They rigged him up with a wig & beard and even built some sort of fur-lined cape that he had to wear for the fight scenes, which were filmed on a beach.  He said it was a week-long shoot, hard work - not just swinging whatever weapon he had, but wearing that cape, which he said got really heavy when it was wet - and that he loved it.  Another woman said that one gig she worked consisted of running a short distance, over & over & over again, along with a bunch of other people.

As I told some of my fellow extras, signing up for this has made me look at TV shows & movies with new eyes.  All those street scenes, scenes in clubs or restaurants or gyms or what-have-you, all need a LOT of people to make them look realistic.  Nobody particularly distinctive, just average janes & joes to "lend an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."  Just call me Vera Similitude. :)

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