Friday, May 29, 2015

Behind the scenes

A friendly post on FB about an open casting call for House of Cards reminded me of my one time working as an extra on a film, so I thought I'd share on this blog why I haven't jumped at the chance to do it again.

I worked as an extra back in 2008 on the film State of Play. The movie stars Ben Affleck, Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, and Helen Mirren, along with Robin Wright, also of House of Cards fame. In early March of that year, I heard from my aunt that a film crew was going to be using the church where she worked as their base while filming for a couple of nights at the Metro station adjacent to it. Well, having heard of this film previously, since it starred people I was a fan of, and it had been filming all over the DC area for a couple of weeks, I immediately asked if there was a way she could hook me up with a gig as an extra. As a recovering People magazine subscriber for many years, and a pop culture fanatic, I am quite easily impressed with celebrities and am always on the alert for potential celebrity sighting opportunities. Anyway, she delivered, and I worked as an extra in one scene.

I completely geeked up about the opportunity, my first "acting" stint since HS, so I got a haircut in preparation, and spent way too much time thinking about what to wear. On the night in question, I show up at the church, and stood in line for a bit waiting to get into the holding area. While in line I get a once-over from wardrobe (I was to be part of "background" so wasn't supposed to be wearing anything bright or flashy), and got a thumbs up. After making sure my name was on the list of approved extras or whatever, I sat around for awhile, and listened while the SAG-member extras caught up with each other and bragged about what work they'd gotten as extras in different movies and TV shows filmed in the DC/Baltimore area, or their featured roles in straight-to-DVD films viewed by their closest friends and family. After rolling my eyes at the boasting and delusions of grandeur, I caught the attention of the makeup artist, and I immediately jumped at the chance of talking to a potential kindred spirit. She told me I needed some blush 'cause I looked a bit to pale (what else is new) and she and the hair woman told me my hair looked great - so the haircut turned out to be a good investment. Also, they shared some of their own delusions of grandeur stories about extras who thought they were stars (wanted their nose hair trimmed, gray hair covered, hairs removed from moles - all thinking, although the call sheet listed them as "background", that they would somehow get a close-up). We had a couple of laughs, and I was feeling pretty good.

Once everyone was checked in and people had changed into suitable background wardrobe, we all headed down to the set - which was the Metro station. This was at about 8:30 on a Saturday night. So while we were standing around waiting to be told where to officially stand around, there were real Metro riders gawking at all the cameras and equipment, wondering what was going on, and hoping to catch a glimpse of a famous person. (It got worse later in the evening when the riders consisted of drunks coming back from partying in DC.) After about an hour of standing around, and getting excited every time a production assistant came around to pick a group of extras for a specific role (one of many times during the evening it felt like being back in elementary school) I was finally picked to do something: walk from point A to point B, crossing the path of the featured actor. I was feeling pretty good that I wasn't the last kid to get picked, and maybe making it on camera for a split second.

After some rehearsing with a stand-in, the featured actress comes down, and gets touched-up by hair and makeup. I finally catch a glimpse of her - and don't know who the hell she is. Oh yeah…all those stars mentioned above? Not one of them was involved in the scene I shot. Turns out the scene I was in featured an actress named Maria Thayer (I found out after filming wrapped - I spent the whole night trying to figure out why she looked familiar and where I'd seen her before. She had been in Will & Grace and Accepted and a few other TV shows and movies I’d seen.) In the movie, her character dies under mysterious circumstances, setting up the whole chain of events in the film. We didn't film that part. We filmed her walking to the train platform and looking pensive and sad. Over and over again. From different angles. Using different cameras. But that was all we filmed - her going down the escalator, walking to the train platform, looking pensive. A couple of shots involved her watching as a train pulled up to the station, so that was a little variation on the theme. I crossed in front of or behind her several dozen times, and actually saw myself during a couple of the playbacks, so I thought there was a chance that if they used one of those takes, my hair & coat would be in the movie. I also walked around her, went up the escalator while she was going down, and spent a lot of time standing around behind her.

So after walking up and down escalators (no one told me it was going to be a workout and I was not prepared), as well as all around the Metro platform, and generally standing around from 8:30pm to 8:30am, I ended up sore and tired, and didn’t meet anybody I had hoped to see. It was cold and windy in the station, we didn't have any benches or chairs to sit on, and there was no dialogue or interesting action during the scene – pretty boring overall. We had a "lunch" break at 2:30am, and a couple of snack/ bathroom breaks. Towards the end most folks were so tired they sat down anywhere - on a stopped escalator, on the floor...we were one sad-looking bleary-eyed dirty lot. All that – for a sliver of a chance of perhaps seeing me as background for a split second. At the end of the night, I went out to breakfast with my aunt, heard her side of the story which was even less exciting than mine, and then waited for months to see if all that standing around and stair workouts had resulted in me being on screen.

The scene was in the beginning of the movie, and although I have seen it on the big screen and played it real slow on my TV and computer at home as well, I am nowhere to be seen in the final product. All that time, and you don't even see my perfectly styled coif. Maybe as a fellow redhead, they couldn't use any of the takes with me, because it distracted from Maria. Yeah, we'll go with that. At least I got a story out of it.

Hollywood glamour it was not, but if Clive Owen or Colin Firth come to town I’d gladly do it again. Not for Kevin Spacey though.

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