Sunday, 26 August 2012

Extra, Extra: A Day in the Life

When we signed up as extras for the local movie shoot, we searched the ‘net for info on extra etiquette and general info on how to be an extra. We found several useful articles, but none describing what a day on set was like for an extra. So without disclosing any details of the movie’s content, here’s what our 2 days on set were like, starting right from the beginning.


Shooting Day minus 12: Attended a local open casting call. Get good vibe that they wanted to use us.

D – 8: No word from casting dudes. Read in paper about 2nd open casting call. Now convinced they don’t want us. Call casting dudes, leave message. No reply.

D – 3: Receive call from casting dudes the day after 2nd open call. We are cast for a Friday shoot. General wardrobe is described. Some shopping on our part to make sure we had all that we needed, since we have read that extras provide their own wardrobe, and KC is to come in full hair and make-up.

D – 2: Receive call from casting dudes. They want us a day earlier, too. And our car. Maybe. Wash car. Polish car.

D – 1, 8:30 PM: Receive call from casting dudes. Cast call is at 6:30 AM. Full wardrobe instructions e-mailed. One small panic as a final piece of wardrobe is acquired in Banff (a black bow tie; mine is missing)

Shooting Day 1:

4:30 AM: Wake up call. Breakfast & dressed.

6:00 AM: Depart for the set.

6:15 AM: Arrive at Extras Holding. Find this place referred to as “the Circus” because of all the trailers for catering and other stuff not on the set. Check in, fill in paperwork (simple because we are non-Union). Breakfast is available. We do not eat. About 20 other extras are milling about. We later learn all have experience doing this (some more than others), most have agents, and a few are Union members. We are the only non-Union, non-agent people.

6:45 AM: Wardrobe looks at us and clears us dressed as we are, even though we have brought the requested 3 outfits. Takes ~3 min. We are sent to hair and makeup. We note that several of the other extras get assistance from wardrobe with some clothes (20 year old guys that don’t own a tie?)

7:00 AM: Cleared from hair & makeup with only a bit of work on KC’s face and hair. There are 2 makeup artists and 2 hairdressers; lots to get the ~25 extras done. We wait. With nothing to do, we eat.

8:00 AM: The 2nd Assistant Director (our boss for the shoot) selects us and 2 others to “ride in a carriage” – a special role for background in the scene. We wait and eat some more.

9:00 AM: The 4 carriage riders are taken to set for blocking. There, we are put in a waiting area. And we wait.

10:00 AM: The other 16 extras arrive at set. Good job us 4 were brought early. We all wait.

10:30 AM: All the extras head on to set. Real work begins. Actions are discussed. Actions are rehearsed and tweaked. Actions are rehearsed with stand-ins. The principal cast in the scene arrives. Actions are rehearsed with the cast. The “scene” is 30 seconds long with no dialog. We shoot the scene at least 6 times from one angle, another 6 times from another, another 6 times just with the end of the scene. We wait for the right sun, then the right shade before shooting. We are released to on-set holding.

11:45 AM: There is food; simple but good. The extras eat “lunch” (interestingly, the PB&J sandwiches go first). We wait as some other shots of the scenes (close ups, I think) are done with just the principal cast.

12:30 PM: A couple of extras (including us) head back to set as we are visible in the background of a close-up on the cast. Repeating our actions of before, we rehearse the 15-second scene about 20 times. It is an important – nay, critical – but brief scene, containing a tricky bit of action for the female lead to execute, and for the director to figure out how to shoot. We shoot it about 10 times to give the director choice. It is obvious the crew is getting tired. They forget to call “Action”, to call “Cut”, to get out of the scene. Between each rehearsal and take, wardrobe and make-up inspects and tweaks the principal cast, keeping a watchful eye on the extras, too. We pause repeatedly to adjust lighting and shadowing.

1:30 PM: We are released to holding. We wait as the director reviews all the shots.

1:45 PM: The director is happy. They move onto another scene. We are told by the 2nd AD that we are coming back tomorrow, and to look exactly the same. Photos are taken of us by make-up, by hairdressing, by wardrobe, by the 2nd AD and by about 5 other people to insure we look exactly the same tomorrow. We are released to the Circus.

2:00 PM: We are done for the day. A huge lunch is available if we want to stay for an hour, or we can leave. All the extras are tired, and fed well enough by the light lunch of 2 hrs ago. A few, like us, have been in the scenes, but even the ones who were not got up at 3:30 AM and are wiped, and many must drive 90 min to get back to Calgary.

Epilog of Day 1:

We can barely stay awake, and collapse into bed at 9:30 PM. Our backs and shoulders hurt from standing and sitting all day. The next day, the other extras would report the same; everyone bedded early or napped.

Be sure to read on about our Day 2 experience here.

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