The casting department gives us a phone
call a few days before they are scheduled to film and asks if we are available. Then they call the night before and tell
us the following:
> General circumstance of the scene or scenes, i.e.,
it's a party, a concert, shopping, etc.
> What type of clothes to bring, including a few changes
> "Call time", or the time we must be there and checked
> The city or town of the set location
> The address where we are supposed to park
Call time is usually between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Once we arrive,
we park at the deisgnated spot, and a plain white van takes us to "base camp". Base camp can be a building, or often a large
canvas tent pitched in a parking lot or driveway. If it's cold, there are super sonic heaters blasting hot air into the tent!
We check in, fill out paper work (which we have to do every single
time we do extra work), and go eat breakfast (see box to the right)!
After we finish eating, the wardrobe director comes by and checks
our clothing. They tell us what we can wear and what won't work. White is always forbidden. So is blue. Black sometimes won't
work, either. If it's a winter scene, we have to wear dark colors, not pastels. Filming of winter scenes has been done in
the summer, and some extras have walked down the street in gloves, hat, and coats when it's 85 degrees outside!
We wait until the assistant director and his assistants call us.
We are told what is happening in the scene. Die hard fans gasp at hearing critical plot twists, and it's all we can do
not to whip out our cell phones and call somebody! But we cannot and do not, because cell phones are not allowed on
a television show set! Not even on silent, because we can't answer our phones anyway, unless there is a break.
Depending on the number of extras, we are split up. When there are
150 extras, we are divided into groups of 10 and assigned a leader who will tell us where to sit, walk, and what to do. Each
group has a specific set of tasks to perform, whether it's to provide a sense of a crowd, busyness, or make a scene feel real.
Although our official title is "extra", what we really are is background.
So the director does not yell, ACTION and everyone starts moving. He yells, "BACKGROUND, which is our cue to move, and
we are moving about 3-5 seconds before he yells ACTION.
Everything is carefully choreographed, even something as simple
as a lady walking by. Very little in television is spontaneous. The actors with clout may depart from their lines, add
some, rearrange them, etc., but extras do not ever do what they want! We walk exactly the distance we are told to walk. We
pretend to talk on cue. We throw our heads back and laugh. We make the show feel real! We may walk a distance of 20 feet twenty
times. A scene that took 10 hours to film may be only 10 minutes in actual length.
Why? First, the rehearsals. At least 5 with actors and extras. Then
a number of shots with cameras rolling. They shoot from various angles with different cameras. Then they shoot background
only--both extras and inanimate things, such as buildings. They once filmed our feet! Often something will be wrong;
the lighting, someone misstepping, or maybe the director just feels it could be better. We all wait, with bated breath with
fervent hopes that the director will yell something that will allow us to rest. The word is not "CUT". The word is "PRINT",
followed by the words, "CHECK THE GATE". We know the scene is over, and we get to relax!
During a scene, it is very quiet. There is no talking, except for
the actors. Noisy scenes, such as music playing or a crowd cheering is pantomimed. The noise that clapping, club music, casino
bells, and the like is taped separately. Extras mime for many takes. The only thing you hear is dialogue. If the
scene is outside, the traffic is stopped. If a plane flies overhead or a train roars in the background or a police car's siren
is wailing, filming stops.
Just before the scene, there is a litany of yelling. You hear each
of these words several times. "Quiet please! Quiet on the set! Setting up!" A pause, and then, "Rolling!" This is shouted
to everyone in the building; each crew member shouts it all the way to the door, to the extras, to anyone and everyone. Once
the scene is over, we hear "Cut" and then usually, "Reset! Resetting!"
An average day for extras is 12 hours. We are paid a flat rate (sorry,
I can't tell you how much), but it's a pretty nice salary for doing next to nothing. If we work all day, we break for lunch,
but it's really closer to dinnertime. We are fed a banquet of many courses, as much as we can eat.
If the group of extras is small, say 10 total, we eat in the same
area as the stars. So, many a time, the extras sat at a table opposite Treat Williams, Gregory Smith, and Chris Pratt.
We discuss the show and our lives, but oh, do we star gaze!
At the end of the day, we get our forms signed, keep a copy for
our records, and approximately 3 weeks after working, we receive a check in the mail!