Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Extras

There are professional extras (Supporting Artists) and part-time extras and people who turn up on the day when there is a big crowd scene because they saw the ad in the local paper. It is harder for the ADs when the extras have not been on set before, especially if the scene takes longer than a day; most new extras will not return the following morning after 14 hours in the freezing cold wearing a summer outfit, miming interesting chatter in the background from ten different angles while all the fun goes on 100 yards away and you are shouted at through a megaphone when your phone goes off after lunch. 
If the big scene involves food and it is summer, it will be rotting under its coats of glue by the third day and if it is indoors, the flies and the smell will be overwhelming. The costumes will have sweat patches and stains of unknown provenance, the make-up department will have transformed you into something your mother would approve of and you will have to queue for your food in a separate line and eat in a tent without a floor while the crew sit and watch you from the heated bus. 
For a rare few extras, this will be their introduction to a dream job. Being an extra means always having time to finish the crossword, belonging to a family that you never have to spend time with over Christmas, eating three square meals a day without doing the washing-up and working with actors that your friends admire. 
Extras are actors themselves, though they rarely get any glory or any lines, they might be asked to react to the main action or studiously ignore it, to dance without music to a song that hasn't yet been chosen, to fight, laugh, scream, fall in love, always in the background. Good extras can make a scene come to life as surely as misdirected extras can kill it. Extras are not 'extra' in the sense of 'spare' or 'unnecessary', they are 'additional' and yes, sometimes, 'extraordinary'. 
Even if you haven't officially signed up for the job of being an extra, you may find that you are working as one. Small parts in big movies will involve much background work and signing up as the actor who dies in the plane crash at the beginning of the film might lead to weeks of decomposing in the rubble. Actors make terrible extras; giddy with the freedom of having no dialogue and wondering why their make-up artist is ignoring them just because the camera is in a helicopter hundreds of feet above the stadium.
My own experience as an extra was not exactly covered in glory. In my teens, I got a one week job on a film playing a girlfriend at an American party. I didn't have any written dialogue, but as a named extra, I was supposed to dance and flirt and make idle conversation so I practised my accent and improvised when I was on set. Late in the morning on the first day, the actor I was working with called his buddies over, "Hey, come'n'listen to this guys." He yelled and a bunch of extremely large men huddled around. "Do that accent again darlin'" prompted my 'boyfriend'. "Oh, fuck off." I replied and before he could answer, lunch was called. After the break, one of the ADs approached me. "Congratulations" He muttered "You're not fired". During lunch, my dance partner had spoken to the director. "When I come back from lunch, I don't wanna see that girl's face." He'd said, with some vigour. "I don't wanna see her in the fuckin' crowd scene." The rest of the week was a bit tense.

4 comments:

  1. Now would that be "The Lords of Discipline"?

    I was an extra in a few things and I remember telling my friends and family to watch me on "Law & Order" as I was in a bar scene. And when that moment came, my forearm was a 'star' for about 3 seconds!

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  3. Dan, I couldn't possibly say.

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  4. hi my daughter played a child ghost in book of blood in edinburgh through pace and loved it ,cant wait till it comes out,really hope it makes it to the cinema.

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