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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre General Photography Talk 
Thread started 19 Jul 2012 (Thursday) 16:34
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Ever wanted to be a Movie Extra? Here's what it's like.

Cream of the Crop
6,428 posts
Joined Jun 2009
Jul 19, 2012 16:34 |  #1

So, a couple weeks ago my wife forwarded to me a casting agency's website and I applied. Being a teacher I have some time to goof around, and why not make some extra bucks as a movie extra (if they'll have me).

I applied. The first position (cop) I didn't get called, but the next day I did due to the fact that I have certain skills and equipment (diving gear, wetsuits, ability to paddle a boat, etc.), so they hired me.

To those of you who know all about the film industry and about extra work, I suppose my little essay will bore you, but to those who haven't ever been a part of it, maybe you'll enjoy what I write and want to do it yourself.

First, you simply fill out a form and submit it to the extra agency, including everything like your height, weight, shoe size, hair color, special skills, etc. The more info the better. And if you're the right size you might get to be a stand-in, which pays better and you get treated better (a stand-in generally is put in the scene and run through rehearsals and such for the director, camera crew, etc., and then when the shot is all set up and ready for real filming, the star kicks you in the arse and takes your place. ;)

So, they texted me and told me to bring dive gear and myself out to the place where they are shooting (Disclaimer: I'm not going to tell you where I was or what film it was until shooting is finished in two weeks.....and I'm not going to post any pics from the film set that I might have taken if I might have brought a camera until the film is released..... I want to respect their wishes). All I can tell you is that it's a major film with several big-name stars and it's filmed somewhere between the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans, with the Gulf of Mexico somewhere south of the set).

I showed up where they told me to go (after reading a long list of don'ts, most of which are 'don't freaking tell anyone where you are')." And so I haven't.

Anyway, I drive to the place, following my GPS and the very vague signs that are posted along the route giving directions that only those who understand the signs would get, and once I pulled onto the huge, private estate I parked where they told me to park.

I grabbed my gear and headed in the general direction of other people, and came to a big tent. There was a lady in there who signed me in and gave me a non-union work card to fill in that detailed my job, the hourly rate (8 bucks an hour....yuck...but I wasn't there for the money), plus allowances for equipment (they allowed me 75 bucks), and all the food you can eat (more about the food below....holy's good).

After I signed in they sent me to wardrobe where they approved of what I was already wearing (based on the directions emailed to me) and gave me a polo shirt to wear with the name of a law enforcement agency that is in the film. I looked like a million bucks (or at least eight bucks an hour). I got the shirt, a badge to clip to my belt, a radio clipped to my belt, and a pad and paper. No gun for me (I was a police diver).

Note: If, by some chance, you guess the film or the location, please be respectful and not post it. Thanks


Now, I had never done anything like this so I was pretty excited. After wardrobe and props I was sent back to the big tent and told to have some breakfast. Everyone kept saying "good morning" even though it was about 2:00pm.

I went to the tent and sat there for a while, and sat, and sat. I met some people (a ton of other "cops") and we chatted. Many had been doing extra work for years, months, or were first-times like myself. Most of them had worked on The Walking Dead, Drop Dead Diva, and a few other films/shows from the area. (Note: They call every job a show whether it's a movie or tv show).

Then the dude who is in charge of extras came up (he doesn't joke around...very serious) and says, "let's go."

We packed into a van and away we went (oh, and they had my driver's license in exchange for the props). We headed down a long road on the estate until we came to the set. There were about 70 people there working with various kinds of equipment. We were let out and told to try to keep out of the way. That was easy for me when I discovered the snack tent and learned that it was for anyone on the set...anything you want. They had all manner of soft drinks, sport drinks, chips, crackers, candy, candy bars, trail mix, slim jims, muffins, bagels, fruit, etc. Pretty cool. So I enjoyed that while watching them film a couple scenes with some big-name actors (this particular scene featured one of the main characters in the Sylvester Stalone film Cliffhanger). I watched them film for about two hours when the rumbling came (thunderstorms). All heck broke loose and they decided to break. Everyone got in vans (after covering equipment) and headed toward the big tents.

While in there I sat bored because I had nothing to play with and the breakfast buffet was put away. Everyone else had smart phones (which I had left in the car because it was in the notes to do so and I'm a bit of a rule-follower). Instead I read the twelve-page memo on "Critters," and how to deal with them if encountered outdoors. There was even a page on sharks and Octopi (sp?). Well, the ocean isn't too near this set, so I figured I should be mindful of the yellow jackets and snakes, rather than toothy fish.

Eventually I thought, "I'm going to get my phone." So I did. Not much more exciting but at least I could check the news, text my wife, etc.

Then they did something torturous: They started grilling ribs right outside the tent under a canopy. Oh, man, that smelled good. At about 5pm the storms were gone and we were brought back down to the set. We watched some more filming and then at 6:30 broke for lunch. Yep, they called it lunch.

If you're ever on a movie set be warned: Do NOT go out of order when you eat. Play it safe and WAIT. The crew eats first (per union rules) and nobody eats before them, and that includes the actors, directors, etc. And guess who eats dead last? Yep, the extras. But that's okay because there was no shortage of food.

FOOD: Now here's the good part, and I will not exaggerate the contents of this buffet: Caesar salad, house salad, tossed salad, pasta salad, Asian salad, followed by at least fifty canisters of anything you might want on a salad (Soup Plantation has less, I kid you not). Following that were several bins of breads, followed by tons of different heated and cold veggies, followed by the starches (different rices, corns, pastas, potatoes, etc.). And finally the meats. The first night was Asian sweet and sour chicken breast, Grilled mahi mahi, and BBQ ribs. All of it was grilled right next to the tent by caterers who were very serious in their work.

There was also lemonade, sweet tea, and a huge dessert table.

Everyone eats together, including the actors and crew (at least that's how it was on this set, the only one I've seen up close). The only actor there that didn't eat with us was the biggest name on the project, but she had really good reasons to stay private (I'll tell you in a couple weeks).

I sat with a couple guys I'd been "working" with (note, I had been there six hours and hadn't been in a single scene yet). To my left was one of the main producers from Los Angeles. He was trippin' on the storms from earlier in the day, which many of us ignored as we played on our smart phones. He asked, "Is that unusual?" We answered, "not really. This time of year you get those every afternoon in various places. You never know if you'll be hit by one or not...just happens."

He wasn't used to it and was pretty amazed.

So, after lunch (at 7:30pm) they put us in the van and took us back down to the set. We stood, sat, snacked, talked, stood, paced, sat, snacked, talked, etc. until the guy in charge of the extras said, "we need to get you back to base camp." So back again we went to the big tent. There we sat, talked, stood, paced, talked, etc. until at 9:30pm (nine hours after I got there) he said, "You guys are dismissed."

They signed my card, traded me back my wardrobe and props for my driver's license, and I drove home with a receipt totaling my pay (about 200 dollars for the day).

I was pretty bummed, especially as my wife didn't want me going back the next day. It wasn't about the money at all. I was hoping to be in the film (and it's going to be a doozy of a film....very controversial stuff.....more in a few weeks).

As I'm driving home a text came in from the extras agency: "Can you come back tomorrow?"

I didn't want to answer but knew it was impolite to wait too long, so I texted back my decline: "sorry, I'd love to, but plans came up. My wife wants us to go visit her parents, but thank you so much for today."

It was the truth and I was really bummed. I didn't do the job for the money (although I'll take it). I wanted the experience of making a movie.

I got home and my wife was finishing getting the kids to bed, and another text came through: "Please reconsider. This happens sometimes in the business (they were referring to me not really working) and it can't be helped, but we REALLY need you tomorrow. We can pay you more and we REALLY need you."

They put the REALLY in caps, not me.

So I texted back, "Let me talk to my wife and I'll let you know."

I talked to my wife and, although annoyed, she said we had no plans. I texted back, "I can be there for sure tomorrow with equipment. What time?"

They told me 2pm.

I arrived the next day with my dive gear (pretty much most of what you need to dive except a tank which another guy provided) and got signed in. They said (remember, it was 2pm): "Go ahead and get some breakfast." So I did. They had every breakfast food imaginable. You name a cereal, a cooked food, a meat....they had it. I ate very well.

At 2:30 they gave me the same outfit as the day before and some cop props. Then they loaded us in the van and took us to a slightly different location from the day before.

After getting out of the van they put us under some trees and we stood, sat, talked, paced, talked, stood, and sat some more. But I was told that today would be different.

And so it was......

About 3:30-6:30 I worked my butt off and loved every minute of it. In total I got about eight scenes, and was told, "You were burned in," meaning that I got a scene in which I took up the whole frame and it's most likely a keeper.

I was filmed walking through a forest (from several angles several takes), and then came the best part:

Only two of us out of about twenty cops were dressed in the specific outfit you see above. We are "marine divers" for the police, and since there were only two, the other extra (Kevin) and I got to do every single boat scene. It was great. We literally paddled a small fishing boat up and down a slow-moving river over and over again while pretending to be looking deep in the woods. It was killing me not to look at the cameras as I looked at the river banks a few feet to either side and below the various cameras. The routine would be like this:

1. Director says get ready and several workers yell, "Stand By."

2. Then the director says, "rolling," and a bunch of the crew yell, "Rolling". When they say that everyone gets dead quiet.

3. Then the grip comes in and announces the scene and actually snaps that little thingy in front of the camera.

4. The Director yelled, "aaaaaaand...........A​CTION!"

I started paddling slowly, pretending to look in the woods and I was working my butt of not to smile from excitement. It was just two of us, me in the front, and almost a hundred people watching us, including the actors, etc.

Then the director yells, "What's your name?" I yell, "Mike," and he then starts directing me (this is a scene in which sound is added later so it wasn't a big deal). He directs me for about ten to fifteen minutes and then we return to shore.

I thought I was done and I was really excited. I'd done about six scenes so far, which is more than I thought I'd get. Three scenes walking and three paddling.

Then, a little while later they ask me, "Do you mind getting wet?" I'm like, "Heck no."

So they took six of us and put three on the bank and three of us in the water up to our waists. Then we did two or three scenes (it's hard to remember because I was so excited) of me wading through the river, searching and searching. The water was warm and I didn't care a bit about snakes, and certainly wasn't worried about sharks. ;)

After about ten to fifteen minutes of that, I was brought back to shore and went to get a coke and some crackers. In the meantime, a couple guys I worked with (also extras) climb out onto a structure placed in the river to do another scene with one of the big-name actors. It was the one actor and three extras and they got an amazing scene. The scene was so good that the official photographer (Canon 5D3 and some kind of prime all in a water housing) took tons of photos (poster and promotion potential) and when the extras got back to shore one told me, "This is amazing. I've been doing extra work lot and the amount of scenes you and I are getting is not normal. This is fantastic."

Well, I was just stoked and on cloud nine thinking it had been a great day when all of a sudden they pull me off cloud nine and lift me to cloud ten. Woohoo.

They tell me, "Okay, we need you for one more scene." (who am I to complain?).

The scene involved me paddling the small boat while one of the main actors is literally sitting right there next to me probing the water with a pole (we're looking for something in particular....can't say just yet).

There was an extra behind me also probing the water, but the cool part was that I was the only one with an oar and got to control the boat alone. As luck would have it my previous paddling experience worked and I was able to keep the boat going very slow and steady and they recorded with sound this time. It as a really good take (well, two takes actually because we paddled up and then down the river), and there wasn't a single sound except the paddle in the water, the sound of the wild animals (mostly insects, frogs, etc.) and the consistent sound of near thunder. After I paddled past the three cameras the director yelled cut and they all got really excited when the director got excited. He liked the take and then asked us to do the exact same thing, but going back the other way (downstream).

I got lucky again in that it was fairly easy to keep the boat going really slowly, even though we were going with the current. Again it was recorded with sound and I felt like I was in the film Deliverance. When the take ended they were excited again because the light was really good (overcast, rumbling thunder, nature sounds, spooky-colored water---the director was thrilled with the whole thing).

This time when they called cut again I was really done. They pulled me to shore and for the next half-hour I watched one of the main actors do a very dramatic scene in which he doesn't talk but has to do something that would be extremely difficult for anybody to do (it's a pretty graphic film in terms of blood, etc.). I would love to say what we were filming specifically, but I can't yet. Too soon. Nevertheless, if any of us had to do what that actor was pretending to do, it would be horrifying, but he did it with grunts and groans, making a really good show of it.

So then it started to rain and they called lunch (at about 7pm).

I went up and discovered a buffet that was the same as the night before, but with different meats this time. Steak, on the grill, served to request. It was soooooo good, followed by lemon cake and then more sitting and waiting.

We were told we might do a night scene, but the director changed his mind and called it a wrap for the extras. We all gave our uniforms back, I put on dry clothing, turned in my props, got my license back, and then did something I wasn't supposed to do.

As I was at the prop truck, the biggest-name star comes onto the lot with her convoy (big, dark SUVs, just like the president, but not as many vehicles). Everyone knew it was her and the vehicles pulled up next to her trailer (the biggest one on the lot). She gets out of the vehicle and goes straight in, not even two seconds for the transition. This is an oscar-winning actress who usually gets about 20 million per film. I was there for two full days and never met her. Oh well. They guarded her because you never know what kind of creep could be trying to get a funny photo or whatever.

But back to what I'm not supposed to do: I had printed out two nice photos of her (the movie star) because my two girls are big fans. I put the two prints (4x6) in a box with a sharpie and went toward her trailer (I was dressed normally and ready to go home).

I was not going to knock on the door (a huge no-no), so I used the restroom trailer nearby and walked out slowly, hoping for some kind of opportunity. It came in the form of her bodyguard who had checked us for weapons the day before (not an easy job considering there were dozens of "cops" with realistic (yet fully rubber) guns in holsters. (note: the guns are fashioned after real models and look real, but you can bend them into a complete circle).

I said to the bodyguard: "I'm sorry to ask this, and I know I'm not supposed to, but is it possible to get two autographs from ____________ _______________ for my daughters? I have two pictures printed and......."

He said, "Yeah, yeah. Hey, don't let the pictures get wet (it was still lightly raining and I was showing him the photos) and we'll make sure she signs them and we'll leave them in the office for you."

I said, "But I won't be back after tonight."

He took me to the office trailer himself and they were all really nice. They told me to write my address and they'd mail the signed photos.

I thanked them and apologized again saying, "I didn't promise my daughters autographs but I did promise that I would ask."

Hopefully they'll send them. My youngest daughter will be over the moon for a personalized autograph (they asked me to write the names of my daughters for the actress. Famous folks actually appreciate giving personalized autographs because they know your really want it instead of a generic autograph that you can put on Ebay. So if you ask them to address it to someone specifically, they are much nicer about it).

So, for me that whole experience was awesome and I can't wait for the film's release (2013). I'm going to knock over old ladies to get in line for the first showing (just kidding), but you know I'll be there as soon as possible.

Of course, there's no guarantee that a single scene of mine will be in there, but I can only hope. And either way, I got to be part of something I'd never done before and it was a lot of fun (and very educational).

(Note: As mentioned before, if you figure out the name of the film, the movie stars, or location of filming, please don't say anything on POTN. Eventually I'll be able to release details, but not until it's okay to do so. Thanks).

Thank you. bw!

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Monstro ­ 66
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Joined May 2012
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Jul 19, 2012 16:57 |  #2

Sounds like you had a great experience, look forward to hearing the name etc of the film and hoping you get onto the big screen!!!

If something makes me giggle for more than 15 seconds I'm to assume I'm not allowed to post it!!

148 posts
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Jul 19, 2012 17:15 |  #3

Congratulations! I've enjoyed both my film experiences immensely and greatly regret one huge missed opportunity now. I'm sure that first time getting to see the movie will be incredibly gratifying. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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Jul 19, 2012 17:38 |  #4

Sounds like you had a great time, thanks for taking the time to write it all down. Post the name od the movie when you allowed, will definitely be looking out for it

CoRNDoG ­ R6
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Jul 19, 2012 17:46 |  #5

Wish i knew the movie name and the actors you saw. Sounds like you had an awesome time! Congrats!

This makes me regret not trying out for the extras casting they had here in Palm Springs. :( It was for an HBO film of "Liberace" staring Micheal Douglas and Matt Damon.

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Cream of the Crop
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Jul 19, 2012 17:59 |  #6

Sounds pretty amazing, congrats, look forward to watching the movie when it does come out.

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Jul 19, 2012 18:00 |  #7

That is so cool! Thanks for posting - I thoroughly enjoyed it :) I'm gone for a couple weeks and will be looking forward to hearing what movie it is when I get back!!

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Jul 19, 2012 18:12 |  #8

That's cool, thanks for sharing your experience.

Can I have your autograph? :D


Eric ­ Xu
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Jul 19, 2012 18:29 |  #9

Ah stuff like this is why I love the film industry. Course indie film is a lot different, but I strive to achieve that type of atmosphere on my shoots.

Love it! Hope I get a chance to do that someday, if anything just for a chance to see the set.

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Jul 19, 2012 19:11 |  #10

very nice piece, Mike. Looking forward to the follow up. Will have to see the film to say, "hey, thats mike from POTN! "

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Cream of the Crop
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Joined Jun 2009
Jul 19, 2012 19:23 |  #11

At one point yesterday everyone was paused between takes, talking quietly, and the crew was setting up the equipment for the scene I was in. Like I mentioned before, when they are about to film they yell either "get ready," or "Here we go," to let everyone know it's going to happen soon (the take). They yell it one at a time down the line (about five crew members) and they're all connected like the agents in The Matrix with little head pieces. It's pretty cool to hear the shouts from various areas.

Then they yell, "rolling" and you get quiet. After the scene the directors yells cut and then each of the five or six crew members yell it too, which means you can talk again, but you're always mindful that you might have to stop doing what you're doing (I got caught right in the middle of getting Advil and had to hold still with an open bottle tilted for about a minute).

Anyway, between scenes a work vehicle tipped over in the mud and landed in the creek with a huge bang. Scared everyone. Luckily nobody got hurt, but those folks were efficient. While filming, pausing, filming (and while continuing to set up the next shot) they brought in a big truck and pulled it out.

The level of efficiency was amazing. They were prepared for everything. It was like a mobile Edison's workshop.

When filming is finished I'm going to ask if I can go back to the estate and photograph it. It's spectacular. I asked, "Wow, I didn't know this park was here. It's beautiful, and huge."

There were waterfalls, old mills, little bridges....stunning. Then someone told me, "It's not a park. It's somebody's place."

Somebody has some serious dollars to own a piece of property like that.

Thank you. bw!

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Jul 19, 2012 22:20 |  #12

I hope you enjoyed my property. I can't wait to see you in Anaconda 2 with Jlo.

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Jul 19, 2012 22:27 |  #13

That's a great story, Mike! I'm glad that it worked out well for you.
So... how many pounds do you think you gained over the two days? ;)

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Cream of the "Prop"
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Jul 19, 2012 22:36 |  #14

"Craft Services" (the official name for catering in the TV and Motion Picture world) is something you have to be very careful with...

We had outstanding CS on the NASCAR tour for FOX and NBC/TNT and I usually ended each season about 10-15lbs heavier than when I started in Daytona.

Glad you had an enjoyable acting experience. Lord knows most movies that have cameramen or photographers in scenes woud benefit from having experienced shooters as extras. Usually, the way they're shown holding cameras is ludicrous.

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Cream of the Crop
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Jul 20, 2012 00:41 |  #15

It's funny that you mention how extras hold cameras. This film, a crime drama, is set in a specific decade, so they had to find cars, guns, radios, and more that was accurate to the period. They said, "Please dont let your phone be seen on camera because nobody has one."

I saw a producer carrying a really cool camera and I though it might be a Leica or Fuji. I asked, what is that?". She told me it was a prop. Funny stuff.

Some of the extras looked pretty cheesy in the outfits they had to wear.

After the experience I have more respect for actors, but less respect for the institution of fame. It just doesn't make sense that we humans will make such a big deal out of other humans as though they aren't just humans.....same primates but with a bunch of worshippers.

Is there such a thing as fame in the animal world? Is there a blue whale out there that all the other whales are talking about and who they all want to meet?

Why are we into fame? What's the meaning behind it?

Thank you. bw!

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Ever wanted to be a Movie Extra? Here's what it's like.
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