Being a Movie Actor: My Experience on the Film Set
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
Thanks for visiting this hub, which talks about my experience as an extra on a movie set. Being in movie is always portrayed as being as something magnificent and glamorous, and I suppose it is - if you're the star. But if you're a working stiff, it's an entirely different story. Read on and see what my experience was.
To be frank, despite being a big movie buff, I never had serious aspirations of wanting to be an actor. While I wouldn't mind the money, I've never cared two figs about being famous. As someone once said, "Fame? It's an empty purse. Count it, and go broke. Eat it, and go hungey. Seek it, and go mad..."
Still, when I saw that they were holding local auditions for extras to be in a television biopic about an American icon (a living legend, to be honest), I decided to particpate on a lark. For those who don't know, an "extra" is a person with a non-speaking role in a film. (As I understand it, if you have a speaking role, they have to pay you more - not to mention the fact that I think that qualifies you to get your SAG card (Screen Actors Guild), making you officially an actor. SAG rules state that you be paid a certain minimum salary, among other things.)
Auditions for extras are different than what you see in the movies; I just brought in a picture with my contact info on the back, and the casting department would call me if I had the right look for any of the scenes (which happened later). I didn't have to stand there and recite any lines or read from a script. (I did have to perform a half-dozen sexual favors to get the part, though... Just kidding!)
The Movie Set
Eventually, I got the phone call - which surprised me - saying that they wanted me in the film and to be at such-and-such a location at such-and-such a time on such-and-such a date. (I probably failed to mention earlier that this was quite a while back, and I was still a student at the time. Long story short, I cut class for the chance to be in this movie.)
I show up at the designated place, at the designated time on the designated date. It is bright and early, and I'm actually one of the first people to arrive on what would turn out to be the coldest day of the year. Nevertheless, I bide my time waiting outside of some trailer, blowing on my hands and pulling my little wool cap down around my ears in an effort to keep warm. Eventually, I'm directed - along with a few others who finally arrived - to the wardrobe trailer, where I'm stand outside trying to look cool - culturally cool, that is, not climatically (which the weather had already taken care of - it was freezing!).
At some point, I was given some clothes to change into that turned out to be pitifully small. I mean, it was grotesquely small on me (not to mention that the tiny size further exposed me to the weather), and yet I wore it for several hours and through a few shoots. Finally, someone in the film crew took a good look at me and said, "Oh my. That's not right..." At that point I was taken back to wardrobe and given clothing that was little bit of a better fit. (Obviously someone in wardrobe needed to be fired...)
(Poster available at AllPosters.com.)
The Bigwigs: The Director and The Star
Basically, being on the set was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. I had a few scenes where I was essentially part of a group of people, and we pretty had to take our places and then just wait while everything was put in just the right place.
Oddly enough, it was the assistant director (AD) who did everything. He ran the show from top to bottom, giving everyone their cues, giving the crew their instructions, getting the scene set perfectly, etc. Finally, when everything was ready, he'd go get the director, who would meander in with his cup of coffee, sit in his chair, and peek into the main camera. If everything wasn't up to stuff, he might give the AD some instructions, then leave (going back to his trailer, as I understood it), and come back when all was ready. If it was something minor, he might tweak it himself, but eventually he'd setttle into his chair and then yell, "Action!" Later, he would say "Cut!" (or something along those lines). We would do this multiple times with each scene, so they could shoot the same scene from many different angles.
(Poster available at AllPosters.com.)
In between the director yelling "Action!" and "Cut!", we'd glimpse this odd creature known as a movie star, who had the lead role in the film. Apparently his natural habitat is a geographic region known as "my trailer" and we rarely saw him out of it. (As luck would have it, in one scene that was filmed I am actually seated right next to the star. Of course, I knew better than to try to engage him - I can't recall if they gave us instructions about that, but they probably did - plus, my real hope was that when the film aired my proximity to him would mean I would be on TV. Didn't happen.)
However, I don't want to do him a disservice. He was not mean, arrogant or condescending in any way; in fact, he lightened the mood several times by cracking a joke. (Not that any one was going to not laugh at the star's attempts at humor.) Moreover, if I'd had a trailer I would have spent most of my time there as well, because it could get pretty monotonous sitting there for hours at a time filming the same scene over and over.
I actually have an older brother in California, who has aspirations of being an actor. Thankfully, he has a college degree, because that's what pays the bills. (Every now and then, though, a friend will tell me, "I think I saw your brother on TV last night," and when I call him he'll admit to it, saying, "Yeah, but it was such a small role that I didn't think it was worth telling anybody...")
Anyway, my brother had already told me about the food they serve on the set, and he was not wrong. It was great! not only did they feed us breakfast, lunch and dinner, is was a nice spread each time, with lots of options (including desserts). Although I didn't see our lead actor (I'm guessing he ate in his trailer), one of his co-stars ate with us, and it just happened to be not just a recognizable character actor, but someone whom I had just seen on a new series the night before. We chatted for a while at lunch, and he told me a lot about the industry that I really hadn't given thought to.
But, getting back to my original point, the food was outstanding.
And now the part you've all been waiting for, the pay. I spent 16 continuous hours on the set, and I made a grand total of...(drumroll, please): $80. Yes: eight, zero. Eighty. Not a lot fo money, but let's think about it: imagine if you could be an extra every day and make the same kind of cash.
Let's see, $80 times five days per week would be $400 per week. So, that's $1600 per month, and you don't have to buy any food. That being the case, I guess if you could get this kind of gig every day, you could make a living at it - if you also picked up about 4 roommates.
Summary: Don't Quit Your Day Job
Anyway, I called my brother the next day and told him acting was not for me. I went back to school, hit the books hard, and never missed another day of school, going from a mediocre student to graduating at the top of my class. (Okay, not really, but you see my point.)
On a side note, I did steal a production sheet with my name on it, just as proof that I was actually in the film in case my scenes actually ended up on the cutting room floor - which is apparently what happened. Okay, not really, but even though I'm on the front row in one scene, you'd have to pause the movie and blow it up to really see that it's me.
And thus, after one brief film and one day of shooting, my illustrious Hollywood film career came to an end.
(To the extent you want to hear about some guys and gals with successful acting careers, please visit: Best Movies With Actors Playing Against Type.)