I really wasn’t aware that I did it that much, but like Remington Steele and Martin Tupper, sometimes I feel a moving picture is worth a thousand words.
By the way, did you know that oatmeal was used as quicksand in most of those cowboy cliff hanger serials? I don’t know what they use now, but strain your eyes during the closing credits to try to catch a ‘No Oatmeal Was Harmed During The Making Of This Movie’ disclaimer. I don’t know who this statement would be warding off- maybe Wilfred Brimley.
Do you fancy yourself higher up than oatmeal, but maybe not as superior as Wilfred Brimley in the food chain? If you’re a NYC native with some time on your hands or even a visitor planning to hang with us and you're up for something completely different, listen up.
Why not be an extra in a film or television series?
There are basically two kinds of extra work- union and non-union. The acting unions, and I refer to SAG and AFTRA, are expensive (up front) to join but also get you paid more as an actor. However, as Yossarian learned in Catch-22, there is a... well, almost a catch to joining the rank and file. In a nutshell, you have to be in movies and television shows before you can be in the union but you can’t be in movies and television show until you’re in the union.
I am one of L’Artistes du Union and I often answer calls to do union extra work. But they often also use a lot of non union people on these jobs. They just pay them less. Right about now you’re saying, “Sheesh, keep enticing me.”
Google any combination of extras, casting and nyc and you’ll have plenty of research material to start your career as an extra in the game of art imitating life. In the mean time, familiarize yourself with some tips I can share from my tours of duty in the out of focus trenches.
You’re An Extra:
Nobody cares about your years of study at Strauss or Steppenwolf. Show up on time and follow the signs and instructions of the already harried Production Assistant who will probably be your den mother for the rest of the day. You will not be discovered today, neither by the director, the major star in these scenes or the viewing public when this work sees the light of day.
You are just being hired to populate a scene, so that it doesn’t look like everybody else in the world mysteriously died for some unexplained reason.
What And Where:
There might be a couple of terms you’re not used to on your first day. Knowing them now will save you time, save you from getting lost and save from just a tad more intimidation as you navigate the strange land that has opened its gates for you.
Holding is where they keep the extras. It’s like a big toy box, especially when you look around and see that you’re sitting in a room with cowboys, chefs, SWAT troops, ballerinas and astronauts. It’s where you are most likely supposed to show up first thing in the morning to sign in and it’s most likely where they will feed you later.
There’s a lot of people in holding. A lot of them know each other and are all having friendly chats. It’s important to keep your ears open for stuff that the Production Assistant is shouting, as it may pertain to you and where you are supposed to go at that very instant.
Craft Service isn’t that program where the ladies come around in the hospital and teach you how to knit. Craft means food. Like I said, it could be in Holding. It could also be in trucks or in roped off areas out in the street. Why don’t they just call it food? That’s a very good question. Do not ask the Production Assistant. Which brings us to our next tip-
Keep Your Mouth Shut:
I’ve been on a lot of sets where there always seems to be ‘seasoned’ know-it-alls who love volleying diatribes about the conditions of the shooting location, the hours we are working today, what else are we getting, yadda yadda yadda.
I find it best to nod, smile, maybe even rise a clenched fist of solidarity and then distance yourself from these people as soon as you peg them and for the rest of the day. Especially for the rest of the day. As the day gets long in the tooth, methinks they shall turn the protests up to 11.
I’ve been in more than one situation where the schedule suddenly merits letting half (or most) of the extras go for the day. The PA always sends the rebels and whoever has been hanging with them walking.
You’re An Extra, Not A Stalker,
so do not pester the big movie stars, no matter how much favorite they are of yours (if that makes any sense). If they want to, they might actually like hanging and interacting with the extras. A few months ago, I was an extra on the FX series Damages. My only brush with Glenn Close was almost crashing into her coming around a corner. I froze in my tracks, gestured towards her presumed path and softly said, “After you, Ms. Close.”
She responded with a charming smile and an almost royal nod and continued on. All this, despite the fact that I was three times her size, wearing a convict jumpsuit with a shaved head and murderous tattoos all over my face and skull.
On the other hand, William Hurt could not get enough of us. He was always coming over to hang with us and talk about acting. I thought that was cool. Don’t, however, expect it as anything near the norm, okay?
And, for the life of Brian, do not ask for autographs or have that screenplay you wrote ready to spring out like a set of numchucks. You’re on the inside today. You’re part of the gig. You got past security because security is there to keep out the rabid struggling writers and Stage Door Johnnies.
The only exception to this rule, and I probably shouldn’t even be saying this, is maybe... just maybe... at the end of the day and whatever mega-star is heading out to their van or limo and walking right past where you’re standing. If you happened to have brought your own personal copy of a book they wrote or a VHS copy of some seminal and critically acclaimed work they did a million years ago, you might be able to make polite eye contact and direct their eye to your cherished icon of their career... and they might just sign it for you.
But, in the immortal words of Corporal Dwayne Hicks in the motion picture Aliens, “Doesn’t mean we’re engaged or anything.”
Oh, good gosh, it so doesn't mean you're engaged or anything.