May first: lights. camera. action!
i know i’m a few days past the first here, but Hollywood simply won’t schedule their activities around my posting schedule. gaaahh. who do they think they are?
anyway, you got it, guys. earlier this week, my monthly first was being an extra for a movie! mum’s the word about what or where or who until it’s showing in a theater near you. what i can say is that thanks to some sweet state tax credits (among other factors) Atlanta’s TV and film production industry is completely booming and it is amazing to see the sheer number of shows and movies that are in production here at any given time. in 2013, their production budgets totaled nearly $100 million.
for folks here, that means a lot of jobs. i mean a lot. according to the WSJ, there aren’t enough crew members to work on productions. and according to one woman i met at the call, the demand for extras also outweighs the available bodies. she said she pretty much has her choice of assignments whenever she wants them, but just can’t do the 12 and 14 hour days 5 days a week like some people.
even folks not directly related to the industry benefit, as services like technology, lodging, real estate and food service get a boost. Disney alone paid $696 million to 4,066 vendors in Georgia in 2012. it also means cool perks like celeb sightings and gossip about who’s shooting what where, which is always totally exciting.
what’s not totally exciting? being an extra on a movie set. i’ve been on lots of shoots for work before and know they’re boring. there’s a lot of waiting around for shots to get set up with props, lighting and cameras in exactly the right place. then testing and testing again. then adding actors and doing take after take, re-setting in between, until you’ve got that one shot just right — or think you at least have enough good footage to piece it together. the difference between doing that for a 30-second spot or a 2-minute web video versus for a full-length feature film has got to mean thousands of hours of hours of people standing around waiting for shit to happen. for work, i’m also on the other side of the camera, as it were, making sure everything looks right and is happening the way it’s supposed to happen, fielding questions and making decisions. on the contrary, last night was mostly just a lot of standing around. at times, the monotony and the lack of control or even knowing what the plan was seemed excruciating (along with the chilly weather, lack of caffeine and my old-lady back).
anyhoo, while i was standing around wondering why the hell i had signed up for this in the first place, i had a lot of time to observe and reflect on the experience. so since everyone loves a list, here are a few of my takeaways from the experience:
1. dressing for your film debut is crazy hard. call time was 5:00 p.m. don’t even get me started on the work/babysitter sitch i had to finagle. but i got that worked out, then schlepped like half of my closet to base camp. “casual summer attire” sounds easy, but it’s like when you get a “black tie optional” invite and you’re like totally confused about whether your man’s actually supposed to wear a tux or not and if you should spring for a ballgown or just throw on your LBD of the moment. what’s worse is that you’re basically trying to dress for some wardrobe assistant you’ve never met whose idea of cute is probably totally not yours. and as part of a bigger group of people, it’s not just about you. that wardrobe assistant has to consider whether there are too many girls in dresses versus pants, too many patterns, too many solids, too much orange . . . god, i’m glad i don’t have that job. in the end, i netted out in a cute skirt and top with shoes i would never ever have worn with that outfit in real life. with several cute combinations in tow, my girlfriend ended up in an outfit that looked like our daughters’ school uniforms. none of it made sense.
2. oh, the people you’ll meet. wow, so this was an education. of about 70 extras last night, they seemed to fall into 3 mostly cliquey categories (real life is still always like high school, right?):
the neighbors — some of the folks there were just the people who lived in the neighborhood, have regular day jobs and just wanted to see what this whole thing was about (and get to see the actors up close since they have been wandering our ‘hood for a couple weeks). these were my peeps. i thought it would be mostly just us. not so.
the theater kids — you could just tell these guys had been to film school or acting school and actually want to make a living in the industry. a show tune or pirouette was bound to break out at any time. they might get a break in a show or film, where they are extras on the regular, but you just know they are also into writing and producing and music, too, and are trying to make connections in every facet of Atlanta’s ever-growing entertainment industry so that one day they can be a star. there is an air of drama about these people — from how they gesticulate in conversation to how they never take off their sunglasses (not once) during the course of a 10-hour, mostly-nighttime shoot. you know who you are.
the semi-pros — these guys are on the extras circuit. (i mean. i didn’t know that even existed.) they all know each other from having been on-set together time after time. Walking Dead . . . Tyler Perry . . . i mean, i think everyone with a pulse is involved in those productions, but when names are dropped it’s more for like street cred and acknowledgement of battle scars than actual name dropping like the theater kids do. the semi-pros rub elbows with the theater kids, but don’t have their same ambitions. these people are (from what i gathered) retired or in school or out of work and making ends meet with odd jobs. they have time on their hands, so they might as well get paid to stand around.
3. settle in. have fun. like i said, there is a lot of waiting around. the theater kids brought cards. the neighbors one-upped their spades game with Heads Up. after a few hilarious rounds, the theater kids were dying to join in. what ensued was a semi-raucous and semi-raunchy few rounds with new semi-buddies. pretty much never has such a thing happened around here without booze involved. just sayin’. point being, you are going to be there a while. make the best of it and bring something to read (like your blog feed!), work, a game . . . and be open to meeting some people who are totally not like you. they can have some really interesting stories.
4. don’t be a dick (in general, but especially with crafty). apparently the extras who came before us in the past few weeks ruined every single thing about being an extra. craft services or “crafty” as it’s known <wink>amongst insiders like me</wink>, is the part of the production team that provides all the food. depending on where you fall in the hierarchy of the production, your food may be nicer than others’. kind of like life, right? for non-union “background” talent (like me), you pretty much get cold gruel while everyone else is snacking on filet mignon and Chateau Margeaux. okay. not really, but there is a difference. and there just seems to be something about free food that makes seemingly normal people (background talent) act like maniacs. do you really need to grab 6 bottles of Coke from the crew cooler? we live in Atlanta for god’s sake. that shit comes out of our kitchen faucets. so whatever happened in that tent before we got there meant that for a night shoot scheduled to last until possibly 3:00 a.m., there would be no coffee. no. coffee. i almost died. at some point, i was hallucinating Starbucks smells. when we had a 30 minute break, i considered running home to brew a pot. in the end i didn’t. but in the end, i also cursed the a-holes who tortured punished us for our forebearers’ sins.
5. don’t do it for the money. i mean, if you are in clique 2 or 3, there is obvs some financial appeal or you wouldn’t even consider this. the check that i will receive in 2-3 weeks for 10 hours’ work won’t even cover what i paid my amazing, awesome babysitter for staying until 3:00 in the morning. hell, my real job bills me out at like twice that for one hour. but i can see at a different time and stage of life, this would be a cool income supplement and way to meet people/get closer to that ideal entertainment industry job. so there’s that.
6. don’t count on seeing celebs. i was kind of bummed it’s the time of year for me to get my eyes examined and my contacts may not totally be up to snuff for celeb spotting! like i said. i can’t name any names or tell any of the plot here. but. just know that even if you know who could be on set with you, don’t count on seeing them. turned out that of several main characters with recognizable real names, only a couple were around and involved in scenes being shot when i was there freezing, falling asleep and not getting paid (much). and in all likelihood, y’all ain’t gonna get close to ’em at all.
overall, i am 1,000% psyched that i did this. at the time it mostly sucked. no lie. but with some time to reflect, i love that i had the experience, saw the production details (which i haven’t bored y’all with and is more interesting as a work thing than anything) and also had some good bonding time with some really cool neighbors. and feel like it gave me a good story to tell (to you and to Spy, who finally got home tonight!).
when i can give any more detail, i will! y’all can expect timecode level info. no doubt. ha! have any of you ever done this? i would love to hear your story!