The other day I was an extra in a new Dave Christiano film called Power of the Air. The cast and crew of this film was great. You should definitely check it out when it releases the end of this year.
I had never been an extra before. I had always been on the other side of the camera. Last time I acted in anything was high school.
Having never worked with the Christiano Brothers before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But people always say that the best way to learn the business is to spend time on the set. So I was happy to be an extra. I was warned before I showed up that it would be a long day of shooting. There were a couple of crucial scenes to capture, and I was going to be a part of them. My day lasted from an 11:15 call time to about 8:00 PM.
So, here are some things I learned as an extra:
Time is, well, not money exactly, but precious. Even the best planned shoots can have delays. On the production side of things, you do your best to minimize those, both for paid cast and crew and for volunteers. As an extra, expect to wait.
Picture right: Waiting area for extras. Picture below: Craft Services table.
Information alleviates all concerns.
-Knowing where bathroom and craft services is. Two of the most important locations on any set.
-Knowing what is going on and what we are supposed to do. I knew what we were waiting for, where I could wait and generally everything I needed to know.
-A quick word about what’s happening, and how long the break will be. During shooting, sometimes there is time between takes. A quick word about the gear moves and how long we have lets people know if they should stay pt, or make a quick trip to craft services or the bathroom.
Bring something to do. There will be down time. Bring a small book, or tablet. Even needlepoint. Something small in size that can help you pass any time you have to wait, but can quickly be put away and out of sight.
No set is glamorous. Don’t expect a catered trailer. You will be finding a seat wherever you can. People will be moving quickly, and it may seem chaotic, but everyone has a job. It will likely be cramped, hot and sometimes noisy. This really isn’t something I learned yesterday, but it’ still true.
One thing I did learn… the Red Epic has loud fan. I had no idea how loud. The crew had to shut it off during takes, and then back on in between to keep the camera cool. Speaking of sound, faking words without saying anything can be hard.
In general, acting as an extra can be hard. You don’t have lines, or extremely specific blocking. But you do have to be in the moment every take. You are acting, trying to feel and react like you would in that situation. After several hours of the same scene, that can get pretty hard. And tiring. It’s definitely harder than I expected.
I think every person involved in production should spend a day as an extra. Just for the experience of seeing from that side of the set.