- Entertainment and Media
A Working Extra
A working tv extra -but an unemployed engineer
My chosen profession as an engineer began during a severe recession of the early 1970's. Nonetheless, I have always been able to survive by landing at some job that led to a better one -although experiencing some downtime in between searches. Whenever the stock market plummets, the large corporations that I've worked for, begin their downsizing routine -and soon I'm applying for unemployment insurance and shotgunning my resume out to the black-hole of the internet that we've come to know as "job boards". Oh the frustrations!!!
So in order to escape the vicious circle of uselessness, I've stumbled upon a way to "get out of the house", stop annoying my productively working wife, and become social again: I registered with Central Casting!
I got the idea from having worked at Citibank in the 1980's when they posted a request for employees to participate in a Citibank commercial... with pay. Well, I just had to see what that was about -and so I signed up. I was assigned to a group of people who were taken by bus (on a sweltering salty summer day) to the top of 111 Wall Street in Manhattan -and I mean the TOP i.e. the very tall building's rooftop. We were pseudo-symmetrically arranged while constantly being reminded of not going near "the edge" (Duh!). Soon a helicopter was hovering around us with a cameraman hanging off it's "edge", taking repeated swooping-shots of us shouting "We're Citibank!". Exciting. But it didn't end there....next stop was Pier 17. The lot of us were lined up on the cobblestones, once again shouting.... yes, you guessed it: "We're Citibank!". And so I was stricken by showbiz.
But I was in mid-career at the company as a Chief of Staff (or as my colleagues called me Chief-of-Stuff) and put off my "big break in showbiz" for another time. Of course that time came when Black Monday struck in October of 1987 and a year or so later I was laid-off. Oh boy... time to renew my avocation! So I took acting classes and got to know what to expect at auditions. But before I could go out there and show them the goods... real-life jobs came along with real pay. I was back in the saddle with the big companies again for a number of years, this time it was Merrill Lynch in the World Financial Center... which was just across the street from the World Trade Center...which got destroyed on 9/11/2001... which caused a huge downsizing at many companies...which eventually put me out of work for some time.
Now it's 2003 and my resumes are being sent back to me from head-hunters who have gone out of business. Hmmmm.... what to do? Is showbiz still an option? So I started to audition for student films at NYU (New York University), SVA (School Of Visual Arts) and other unpaid gigs with independent film makers to build up my showbiz resume. Once I had a few items to list, I took a digital head-shot of myself (several dozen in fact), customizing my grimaces to the roles advertised in showbiz periodicals like Backstage and other trade newspapers; and sent them to a couple of casting agencies. Suddenly...BAM! I scored. I was asked to be an extra on Sex And The City... standing next to Sarah Jessica Parker and Kristin Davis at a Barney's department store -doing the first episode of the show's last season... how cool is that!!!?
While getting free food and being next to popular stars is a real giga-volt-charge in itself, the downside of doing this work is that you have to accept: making very little money for a long day's work (usually 10 to 12 hours... and occasionally overnight -under apocalipticly bad weather conditions), being a second-class citizen (SAG-AFTRA union people always eat first)... and being referred to as an "ND" (non-descript). There is also a lot of waiting around -one certainly learns zen-like patience and humility doing this job. But the real benefit is that you are among all types of people: rich and poor, old and young, obscure and famous, haughty and humble... as well as every flavor or sexual orientation. And all these aspects of the job are what is most appealing (and useful), primarily because you learn to hone your social skills while developing respect for a network of people that you would otherwise rarely encounter. In fact, in my observation: You become indifferent to seeing the stars flub their lines a dozen times, and you come to realize that the "real show" goes on backstage... namely, the chit-chat among the extras!
I've been able to get on several TV shows during what I've come to call my "alternate career" -mostly during my laid-off periods (recently worked 8 episodes in Boardwalk Empire... brag, brag) and have put together a blog about each stint from my past. If you're interested in my background adventures, you can read about them at the following link: Acting Strange (it has pictures).
Such is the state of the economy these days in June 2012: I'm a working actor -but an unemployed engineer.