The Glam Life of a Movie Extra
By Sara, age 25, Pennsylvania
Ever wonder about the extras in a movie? You know, the people in the crowd James Bond blends into to escape the bad guys? I had the opportunity to be an extra in the movie The Next Three Days, starring Russell Crowe. There was a casting call, and basically the only requirement was that you were able to show up. They wanted the extras to seem realistic, so they had people of all ages and backgrounds.
I had to be in the designated parking lot at 5:00 am on the day of the shoot. There was a bus that shuttled the extras to and from our parking lot. The bus was crowed because there were a lot of extras. Everyone had a suitcase, as we were all instructed to bring four or five different outfits from home. We needed a winter look that included coats, hats and gloves, a fall look, and two or three business casual ensembles.
The bus took us to a church; the basement was our "base camp." First, we had to meet with the two ladies from wardrobe. They looked through the clothes we had brought and told us what to wear. I was chosen for two different scenes, so I had a winter and a fall outfit to wear. I needed to wear the winter outfit first. We had to take turns changing in the church bathroom.
There was a big rush for everyone to get changed, and then a lot of sitting around and waiting. Luckily I had thought to bring a book with me because it was pretty boring. We weren't allowed to bring our cell phones because they didn't want anyone filming any part of the movie or taking pictures of the stars. We had strict instructions NOT to take pictures or ask for autographs if we happened to see one of the celebrities. If we broke one of these rules we would be asked to leave and would face a fine of $200. The movie stars were not in the church basement with us, of course. They each had their own private trailers. I didn't actually see their trailers but I am guessing this was the case.
There was a yummy breakfast spread set out. It had made-to-order omelets, pastries, fruit, hash browns, and other breakfast items. I couldn't wait to pig out - the waiting around didn't seem so bad if we were going to get food. I was surprised there wasn't a line for the buffet yet, but I wasn't shy and didn't mind being first. I grabbed a plate but someone quickly walked over to me. I was informed that this spread was meant for the crew; the food for the extras was along the back wall. Much to my disappointment, the food provided for the extras left much to be desired. We were given frozen waffles, what I think was scrambled eggs, and orange juice. See what I mean about the glam life of a movie extra?!
Finally, the director was ready to shoot a scene that included me. Before we went outside, all the extras who were going to be part of this scene had to line up. The wardrobe lady inspected our outfits. She told some people to take off their hats or to add a scarf. When everyone was looking good we were led outside. I was supposed to be looking in the window of an apartment that was for rent. That was all they told me. I had no idea what was going to happen or if anyone famous would be in the scene. There was a lot more standing around only for the director to decide this wasn't a scene he wanted to include in the movie. So it was back to the church basement for the extras.
Some of the other people there had been extras in movies before and said this was very common. One lady told me some people wait around all day and never get to be in a scene, but even if they don't use you in the movie you still get paid. I was bummed thinking I was going to have to sit around all day and not even get a chance to be in the movie. There was a lot more sitting around interrupted only by a lunch that was equally as gross as breakfast. Then I was told to change into my second outfit.
This time there was a group of about fifty people. This is what we were told about the scene: We are at a train station, the train station is closed, we don't know why the train station is closed, and we are upset about it. We shot the three minute scene over and over. The cameramen wanted to shoot the same scene from different angles. It took about three hours to shoot this one short scene.
The best part about the whole experience was Russell Crowe was in the train station scene and I got to stand right next to him! I was very nervous. I kept thinking about the big speech we were given about not bothering the actors while they were working. There was one point after the director yelled cut that we made eye contact and he said hello. I said hello back and quickly turned around, embarrassed and excited that Russell Crowe had just said hello to me.
It was neat to be behind the scenes and see some of what goes into making a movie. The second best part of the experience was watching the movie in the theater. I did get into the movie for a total of about one second. I may not have gotten my 15 minutes of fame, but one second is better than nothing. :)