Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Hipster Sheep: My Day as an Extra

The Preparation

Being an extra is one of the single most ridiculous/eye-opening experiences a person can have, and if you ever have a chance, I strongly suggest doing it.

I was presented with the chance, a week or so ago to be an extra on 90210.  I had already been an extra on The Playboy Club, the terrible show that filmed in Chicago and was cancelled after three episodes, but I said "yes" anyway, because girl needs money and it can never hurt to spend a day on set.  

When you're an extra, you get your information by listening to "tapes," glorified recorded messages.  One tape has the instructions on how to get there, the other tape describes what you wear and how to dress, the third tape has the emergency information for the shoot.   According to my tape, I was supposed to be in Malibu (35 miles away from me) at 7:30 a.m ("don't be late.  They're very intense about start times on this show. You must have your voucher in your hand at 7:30") and I was to be camera ready, ("Hair beautiful, make-up perfect.  Ready to be on camera at 7:30").

So in the morning I prepared for my official  role as: Hip Party Guest, Group 2.  

The tapes demanded we bring multiple outfits for the costumers to choose from, so I packed my backpack and a small paper bag full of clothes.

Some thing that never occurred to me before I was an extra, is that on top of being paid less than minimum wage for the first 8 hours, you almost always have to provide your own clothes.  The company I'm registered with suggests always having a nice ballgown, cocktail dress, winter jacket, and Halloween costumes ready to go when a show calls for that dress.  The exception was The Playboy Club, because it was a period piece.

The Morning

I got there early, and stood around awkwardly with the rest of the extras near the breakfast food trucks; they sat in a clearing a few yards from all of the trailers hilariously named: StarWagons (so clunky!  Stars, in a wagon?  yeah right....that's like the clothing store DressBarn...whose terrible idea was that?) All of the girl extras were called to the costume trailer.  The backdoors of the trailer opened to reveal layers of clothing racks crammed into every space, a fold out ironing board, and shelves for jewelry and accessories.  The trailer was also equipped with carriage space near the wheels: roll out shelves holding crates of shoes, all labeled for gender and size.  

 I had gone dressed in what I consider to be my "hipster best" borrowed black boots, my blue and white striped high-waisted shorts and a black loose tank top.  The costumer didn't like any of it, and I changed into my heeled red boots and my sweetheart-neck, floral romper.   Something I have learned: DON'T BRING CLOTHES THAT YOU DON'T WANT TO WEAR FOR A WHOLE DAY.  WHY DID I DO THIS? I HAVE NO IDEA!!!   Like peasants farming near the castle, extras change in blue, Velcro-ed tents in the shadow of the trailers.  There were two, one for each gender.  

After that, I waited in line with the other girls to get my hair and make-up checked.  I do like this part of being an extra.  It's nice to get paid to have someone make you look good.  A man came out to check on the line of girls and see whose hair was truly "camera ready".  Seeing as all I had done to my hair was brush it, and my hair often resembles an unruly lions mane....I didn't make the cut. 

 The hair lady looked at it all, "gorgeous.  so thick.  Ash blonde.  What a great color.  Natural right" 
"Oh!  Well don't ever dye it.  You can't make this kinda color."
Well, that compliment alone made the whole day worth it!  Just kidding...but close.  All she did was straighten improvement that surely lasted about 2 hours, and then she sent me to the make-up side of the trailer, to a woman engrossed in a conversation with another.  I stood, waiting for her to check me....
        "Yeah, yeah.  Gorgeous.  You're good."

Then we were loaded into big 17 passenger vans, and driven away from our cars parked in the gravel lot, up to the top of a huge hill, whereupon sat a $25 million dollar mansion and vineyard, the place of filming.  The extras were dumped a little bit from the top, and were sat underneath more more tents and plastic tables and folding chairs.  Three fans were turned on, all of them with mist.  A lot of girls screamed.  "Oh my God!" cried one blonde. "Um...could we like, turn OFF the mist.  Jesus."  It's highly amusing to see an extra...literally the bottom rung, the dirt, the nothing, demanding things.  Also, I made sure not to associate with her at all.   

 A man named Louisiana, bearded, with sunglasses, a baggy shirt and jeans, addressed us.  "Welcome, everybody, to MY show.  If you have a problem on MY show, you tell me.  If someone's harassing you, and they're below me on the totem pole, I'll sort it out.  If someone's harassing you, and they're above me on the totem pole, you tell your agents cause I can't do shit."   (there is face looks more like this)  


"Here's how it's gonna work.  You wear sunblock.  You stay hydrated.  You stay quiet.  There's a woman up there, it's her job to yell at you.  I can't control what she does up there, just follow her instructions.  If you are fired on my show, I am the last person that you are going to see. If you have a problem, if you have a question, if you have an anything.  You come to me.  Alright, we got it?  It's gonna be a good day, folks. Just hang tight, I'll tell you when you're moving up."

When we do "move up" we have to walk the steep incline to the house, which was absolutely beautiful.  Three car garage, everything made of wood, stone and brown siding, a patio hugging the 280 degrees of the house to overlook the vineyards, all lined with glass fence, an outdoor living room and bar, an infinitely pool, a helicopter pad, and room enough for 100 people to throw a fake celebratory dinner.  Pretty damn impressive.  While the stars all hung out in the master bedroom upstairs (with their own patio, we could see them coming out from time to time) the extras were given plastic chairs and tents to stay under on the smallest slice of patio.  I didn't make it under the tent, so I wound up moving my chair 10 times to catch a shrinking shadow.

Then we met the yeller: the woman: Cathy.  "Okay!  Ladies and gentlemen!  Yesterday! We had a damn big problem on set.  People having glasses, forgetting glasses, putting down their glasses.  When we put you on set, you go get a drink.  When you get off set, you go over to those numbered tables over there.  You put your drinks down on a number.  We call you back on set.  Don't take other people's glasses, because then it starts this waterfall effect and suddenly, no one has the right glasses?  Get it! Good."

The Work

The first scene we were all giving a toast, but we instructed not to repeat any words of the actual toast, so I mouthed "Mischief managed."  I stood next to a small twittering blonde, an 18-year-old on her first day: "Oh my God!  I had no idea that the people on set were actually like...not talking."  She had a strong aversion to looking me or anybody in the eyes.  The guy in our trio was a ripped brunette who interpreted his instructions to "mime talking" as a chance to pantomime wild gestures to still communicate effectively.  Waving his hands around, pointing vigorously at different places we could walk, making a huge point of tapping me and the other girl on the shoulder and gesturing that we all clink our glasses together in a toast.  My reaction to him looked a little something like this:


Much like your family, you don't get to pick who you stand by on set, so you might as well be amused by them.

Afterward, we returned to extras holding, where I buddied up with a gay Black man, and instead of reading our respective books, we wound up discussing the life of extras.  I, as usual, wound up on my little doubt-filled rant about acting.  "But like...doesn't it freak you out that everyone thinks they're the one.  Literally, all of the people in this extras holding, think they're it, they're going to make it."

His response: "No.   Because I'm more than that.  I'm not just 'it,' I have something unique to offer to the world.  Something really different."

I almost debated with him; I almost took his sentences and throttled it: CAN'T YOU SEE IT'S THE SAME THING!?  YOU'RE JUST CHANGING THE WORDS! THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THINKING YOU'RE 'IT' AND THINKING YOU'RE 'SPECIAL' EQUATES TO NOTHING IN ACTUAL SUCCESS! And then, in what I like to think was a burst of trying to be a respectful, kind adult, I thought: You know what?  Whatever helps him sleep at night.  Maybe he is more special than everyone else here. and wound up responding with.  "Oh yeah, sure.."

Later in the day, a man came out.  "Hey everyone.  Just wanted to let you know that someone left their glass on the floor, and that if had been knocked over it could have been a lot of damages. So please, don't do it again.  I know it was just one of you, and really guys, you've been doing a great job so far.  So just keep it up and please try to be a little more careful."

Thirty seconds later, Cathy came storming onto our patio like a bat out of hell:  Well!  It just takes one bad apple to ruin a whole bunch, doesn't it?  Someone, and I don't know who it was, but if you know who it was, come tell me, left your glass on the floor and it was knocked over.  That's thousands of dollars, people!  Come on!  Be professional! I feel like I'm working with a bunch of 10-year-olds!  Jesus Christ!

First of all, there seems to have been some confusion in what actually happened, second of all, if there's anything I despise, it is being unnecessarily yelled at.  It reminds me of the years in K-8 where teachers would just lose it, on a day to day basis, yelling at everyone for this, that an the other, and as a're just not really sure why you're getting yelled at, because you're pretty sure you put your name on the paper, so you kinda zone out and work on your math homework so you don't have to take it home later.  So what I would want to say to Cathy is, "Well, if you don't want us to act like 10 year olds, dont treat us like 10 year olds." And that was the clever retort I created after a week of thinking about it.  HaHA!

The Lunch

The stars of the show were driven down the hill to get food then driven back up before we even were ent to walk down.  There's  lots of food on film sets, and I enjoyed my salad and my pasta and my grapes, there's always nice grapes.  And like the rest of the day, I wound up sitting with a bunch of random people who all spent most of their time talking about strip clubs.  When the conversation lulled, I asked:  "So?  Anyone watching the Olympics?"  Who knew that that was a terrible conversation starter?  How could anything bad possibly come from the Olympics?

Jonny Depp looking British guy with dark wavy hair and completely opaque sunglasses: "What's interesting about America, is that they only talk about their own athletes.  If you watch the Olympics in another country, they talk about everyone."

Ruddy-skinned guy with bulging eyes and muscles to match: "No. That's not true."
          Well, where have you watched them before?
             Did you watch them in German?
             Well then....see, it's very different.  In other countries the talk about everyone.
Well, why would Americans want to hear about anyone but Americans?
               See, you're just being like the stereotype.  Being what everyone thinks Americans are.  Self-absorbed, think they're the best.
 Well!  We are the world champions of not one, but two wars.

Natural blonde girl with slight accent on my left: "yeah...I don't really want to talk about that because I'm Russian."

!!!!!Well.  Awkward pauses plagued our plastic table.  I had certainly gotten us into this mess, so I had to get us out.

"So...has anyone seen The Dark Knight Rises?"  Thankfully, everyone took the thing.

The Work Again
Then, we returned to set, and got set to work again.  I was chosen to be one of the dancers in front of the musical guest of the week.  Although it would have been a great opportunity to show off my Liz Lemon impression, I decided to TRY to look cool, but I have a feeling that I will have failed miserably.   The direcrtor came out to fight with Cathy.

"We want to move one." He said, pointing to the three of us.  I knew they meant me, because they had already been whispering back and forth and pointing at me.

"Which one?" Cathy demands.  "That one?" she points at a different girl.

"No," the director counters, "THAT one!"

"Me." I say.  I am there, after all.

"SHH!!" Cathy cuts back.

Well, damn it!  At that point I was pissed.  And that was the moment that I felt reduced to a hipster sheep.  Forced to let yappy little dogs keep me on my path, make me feel like I wasn't anything but another sheep waiting to be sheered for my coat, instead of retaining my own, individual sheepiness.  This metaphor kinda works...but I'll admit it kinda doesn't.  I'll let you fill in the blanks!

The day passes, my Black friend further convinces me of his ultimate uniqueness.  Cathy yells at us to be quiet, and the extras are the ones making the least amount of noise.  One of the main girls on the show wearing a long white dress spends a good ten minutes flopped, butt in the air over a chair.  I beatbox for two of the guest stars, one of whom starts rapping.  Some guy asks if I'll try to be a couple with him to get on CSI New York.  Can I send in a picture of myself to his manager?  Although our heels are never filmed, we're all wearing them, and the heels have to be taped so we can cross.

One of the last conversations my guy friend had was with a knowledgeable Asian girl, dark hair wrapped in a ponytail.  Sensing her understanding of the film world to be greater than his own, he closed in.  All of him, leaning forward, converse shoes painted like the U.S. flag, jeans, a nice top and a headband wrapped around his head, he asked her how he could get an agent, and if she could explain to him what SAG really was.  

No comments:

Post a Comment