Being in the background has its benefits.
I am a fan of the side hustle and just this summer, I have made quite a bit of chump change participating in market research and psychological experiments — (more than $20 an hour for easy “work”). However, my most interesting side hustle thus far has been my short time on a film set. In part one of this post (more here), I discussed my experience leading up to my day on set of a feature film production. In this post, I will continue this tale right where I left off.
After changing into my “wardrobe,” I took a seat and began two of the most important tasks of being an extra— being quiet and waiting. I had anticipated this certainty so, I pulled out my Kindle and attempted to occupy myself by reading. Yeah… that didn’t work, because my mind was racing in every which direction. So, instead, I began writing to you, dear Reader, and completed the whole of part one of this blog post even before we were called on set.
I could write so much about the waiting period. In this time, the extras made brief small talk, the crew wheeled in the equipment, some guy set up a fake tree branch (just the branch) in the corner of the room (to cast an abstract shadow, it seems), cameras and lights were situated, snacks (of the chips and pretzel variety) were set out on a table (this station is what they call “craft services” or “crafty”), and a production assistant loudly relayed that one of the actors would be at least 20 minutes late. All in all, we extras waited for over an hour before anything really “happened.”
Then, I overheard the magic words that made my heart flutter, “you can start placing BG.” “BG” “background,” or “extras” are how we are referred to. We move into the next room, which is a small bar. Not a public bar, interestingly enough, but one of those bars that are a part of a private club of sorts.
I am instructed to stand by the jukebox. Scratch that, “Henny,” another extra will stand by the jukebox. I will start in the chair on the left. Nope, scratch that— the chair on the right. We all go through this sort of direction (being placed in one spot and then being moved into another one) for several minutes. The director and assistant director were very friendly. They asked us our names and introduced themselves to us. Ultimately, I am seated with my face away from the camera—pity—but at least I got to see all of the action up close. We shot the short scene between the lead actress and the bar tender only 3 times, before we broke and reset the camera to capture the action from a different angle. I was handed drinks (I’m still unsure what liquid was in the glass—probably soda).
In between takes, the extras chatted with one another. It was during these moments when I learned that my table mate, Henny, is none other than the director’s mother— and what a proud mom she was! Apparently, this is her son’s third feature film. She flew into Boston to be a part of the action. While it is a general rule that extras shouldn’t speak to the crew unless spoken to and they shouldn’t take pictures on set, Henny was so enthusiastically doing the opposite— I guess she’s allowed 🙂
All in all, your experience as an extra is what you make of it. If you have high levels of enthusiasm like moi, then that energy can carry you through the long waits, the starts and stops, and many hours of “work.” If you are uninterested in the goings on on set and get bored easily — you will not enjoy the life of a background artist (that’s a profession, right?). Overall, this was a good experience for me, and I look forward to (read “will relentlessly search for”) similar opportunities.