My day as an extra on Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married Too"
Late Wednesday, July 29, 2009, I got a message in my Facebook inbox. Apparently, there was potential work for extras on Tyler Perry's upcoming sequel Why Did I Get Married Too. Aside from being a pretty cool experience for anybody even remotely interested in film, there was some decent pay for a day's work ($60, to be exact).
I had gotten the message at around 11:55am, and I didn't send my resume and photo until sometime after 5pm. I kind of figured with a big name like Perry, anybody hoping to be an extra had already filled all the slots. But what could it hurt to at least try?
Well, it didn't hurt at all, as it turned out. Around 9:20pm, I got a message from the casting site, thinking it would be a quick "Sorry, all gone." Instead, what I found was a pretty lengthy list of what to bring and how to conduct myself. And spelled out in simple English, the message read: "Congratulations, you have been selected to be an extra as a college student for Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too."
The only real problem was once I figured out I would have to go buy some jogging pants (I was to be a "runner"), I would only have a few hours of sleep, seeing as how I was in Athens, Ga., and the studio was in practically downtown Atlanta for what looked to be a 7:00am call time. I decided that night to put a pretty rare opportunity ahead of my sleep.
Thursday, July 30 - 4:30am: I get up, totally not wanting to move anywhere except maybe deeper under my covers. Last night, after I printed out the directions and packed up my things, I had gone to sleep at 12:15am, so I had gotten just barely 4 hours of sleep. It's hard for me to operate a lot of times with just 5, so this was going to be difficult.
After leaving the apartment and picking up the pants, I had to come right back to get some items I had forgotten. In the process, I cut my finger pretty badly, and some of the blood got in my (relatively new) car. So things were looking good now. I was about thirty minutes behind where I wanted to be, I was already deathly sleep-deprived, and now I would have to drive with this huge band-aid on my finger.
7:19am: Despite the horrid weather and the equally bad traffic, I arrive at Tyler Perry Studios. It's one of those places so conveniently tucked away, you could easily miss it a hundred times. I pull up to the security entrance. Suddenly that moment you remember seeing in a thousand movies and TV shows pops into your head: your name won't be on the list.
Of all the films and television series I've watched where this happens, the example that immediately pops into my head is Plucky not being allowed onto the Warner lot in Tiny Toons. I blame the lack of sleep and loss of blood. Also, the countless times I watched that show as a kid, and that episode in particular (though don't ask me which, because I don't know the name).
When I pull in and hand over my driver's license and social security card to one officer, another one holds a clipboard and asks for my last name. "Montaque" is what I tell him. He shakes his head as he goes through the list. I knew getting confirmed at 9:20 last night was too late.
After a short moment he looks at me and asks, "Freeman?" I said yes immediately, and it's fortunate that Freeman actually is my name, because I would have said yes if he had asked if my name were Megan. I think I answered him before he actually finished his one-name question.
So I drove into the lot, and it turned out the call time actually was 7:30am, not 7:00am. So, naturally, I was the first one there. And the first to finish my paperwork. And the first to get my wardrobe. And the first to be approved. Nice as that might have all seemed at the time, it didn't help move things along any quicker.
Ever hear people in the movie industry say the most boring place on earth is a film set? They weren't kidding. Two hours I waited, in a semi-heavy blue hoody, no less. I found out that not only was I one of the few to have never set foot on Tyler Perry's studio lot, I was also the only person who had never worked as an extra. Ever. Be that as it may, most of the people there are aspiring actors. I'm just a would-be screenwriter seeing what it's like to be on a film set.
10:19am: Finally, we're ready to shoot. Our guide (I don't know his actual title) brought us all outside and told us to pantomime our scenes. I hate that, personally. That's such a theatre thing to do. You can always tell when people are pantomiming because every person in a circle is talking, and it looks extremely fake. Fortunately, the guys I was with actually talked with me while we were in our little huddle, so that helped.
While we were gathered, our guide told us not to freak out when we saw Janet Jackson, who I had no idea was in this movie, and I definitely didn't think she'd be on set today. In addition to that, the scene we were all participating in would be a part of a crane shot, meaning basically everyone would be shown on screen. That doesn't mean your face will be easy to make out, but it's something.
We started to walk down the path to shoot and, of course, it started to rain. Hard. Back inside we went, where six other guys and myself had to change, because the weather had somehow transformed us from track runners to basketball players. . .who didn't actually play basketball. We just held one. It's an extras thing. You wouldn't understand.
We waited for about an hour and a half. Most people slept, some pretended to type on their out-of-service cell phones, and one girl even had the foresight to do her summer homework. Lame.
12:05pm: Showtime. You heard people on the microphones say "Cue the actors" and "Cue the background actors." Felt kind of official now. We walked to our spots, blocked a few things, and rehearsed. And rehearsed. And rehearsed. We must have practiced a good twelve times. The rain held off, but the problem now was the sun, torturing us track--I mean, basketball players, with some intense heat. Twelve rehearsals was fine, but doing it wearing a pretty thick hoody was not exactly fun. Still, I have to say, the idea of acting as an extra in a real movie definitely outweighed that little issue of wearing fall clothes in 90-degree heat.
You started to feel like an actual legitimate actor after a while. And it was pretty cool to be in the thick of frantic assistants yelling "Rolling!" and "Background action!" After one of our last rehearsals, a lady who knew one of the guys I was pantomiming with stood pretty close to us. He asked her if she would be in the actual shot. She said that she was only a stand-in for an actress.
That actress was Janet Jackson. Suddenly you forget how hot it is outside. Not only because this is Janet Jackson, but also because she smelled like baby powder. It kind of overwhelmed everything else you were feeling. I don't mean that as an insult or anything. Baby powder smells good, especially if you're famous.
When Ms. Jackson came to her spot, it was all very professional. There wasn't an "Action Janet!" One of the directors would say "Action Patricia!" I thought that was interesting, to cue a celebrity by their character's name instead of their own. None of us greeted her, and she didn't talk to any of the other extras either. This wasn't because we didn't like her or anything. Our instructions were to not talk with any of the actors or Mr. Perry unless they talked to us first. And in case Ricky Gervais' show Extras didn't stess this enough, you're not entirely important in the grand scheme of things. You're just furniture for the pretty people to walk by and ignore. Be that as it may, at least you're furniture that gets a paycheck at the end of the day (really, at the end of two to five weeks).
Once this was over, we retired to our original area, or our "holding cell," as one of the assistants put it, which I thought was lovely word usage. There we finally got to eat, and our meal was chips and water. Had we all been anorexic, this might have been heaven, but it was actually good enough to get through whatever other stuff we needed to do.
1:06pm: Earlier we were told to expect a 12-hour shoot day, but shortly after our break, we were informed that it was a wrap for all the background actors. I could have gone all day if necessary, but with my head starting to throb from not really eating, I wasn't exactly depressed it was over.
Being an extra was a fun and interesting experience. I don't think just film people and actors should give it a shot if they have a chance. I think this is something anyone could enjoy. I mean, how terrible could it be to get paid to basically stand around, especially if you're right next to a major celebrity? The next time anything like this comes around, even it means sacrificing sleep, I won't hesitate to do it again.
But right now, it's time for me to finally make up for about three hours I gave up last night.