What an interesting couple of days it has been! On Tuesday I got a call from Extras Only to be a refugee on a TV show -– on Wednesday. (Note: Extras must be ready at a moment’s notice.) So Wednesday, instead of my usual routine of breakfast and sewing with Mary Jean in the morning, then Chrysalis in the afternoon, I showed up Wednesday morning on site with three refugee-appropriate changes of clothes (so the dressers can produce the right look.) My first look was acceptable, so I didn’t even have to unpack my carry-on. Extras Holding area was a big tent with tables and folding chairs. They provided coffee and tea. We chatted. What a fascinating variety of people do this extra work!
After a while, the hairdresser showed up and tousled several heads. I pulled my hat on with a few curls sticking out at the edges and she approved with a smile. Then makeup came around with a bottle of black powder and some cosmetic sponges. We each got our faces smudged. I had on a layer of sunblock which really caught and held the black, and with my pale skin, I looked like a diesel mechanic Who had run through a coal mine.
Then one of the dressers showed up with a jar of coffee-colored powder and a pair of leather gloves. She began smearing “Dirt” on our clothes, carefully shaking about a tablespoon of powder onto one gloved hand, rubbing her hands together, then rubbing her hands all over us, with special attention to hems, knees and elbows, backsides, and shoes.
I am SO glad I wore a pair of comfortable shoes with cushy padded insoles. We spent a lot of time standing on cement floors in an abandoned warehouse basement, looking cold and miserable. Luckily, the warehouse was very cool, since the outside temperature eventually got up to the low 90s, and we were bundled in layers of clothes with hats, scarves, and gloves.
I can’t give any spoilers about the episode yet. It’s for a series on the scifi channel. I might show up in one scene, and I’m background in another. It was very interesting to see how these things actually get filmed. They have stand-ins to walk through the scene a couple of times to get the microphones, lights and staging right. Extras get re-arranged and coached on their movements. Cameramen and soundmen move things around. Someone starts the smoke machines. The stand-ins go through it all again. Then the actors walk through to rehearse it. Finally, the cameras go live, the director hollers, “Rolling,” is echoed by his assistants at various points around the set, and a take is done. “Cut” echoes out through the building, and various technicians discuss with the director how it could be better. Then again, “Rolling,” and everyone drops into character, miming chill despair as the actors walk by. It’s important to stay in character while avoiding the soundman with the microphone on the long pole, at the same time, staying out of the cameraman’s way. And never, never look at the camera. Even when it seems logical that you would look at the passing actors, don’t do it! Remember that you are wallpaper and should not be noticed.
And then the scene is run all over again while it is filmed from a different angle. And again. And again. And the actors stay in character and deliver their lines as if they have never spoken them before. Keeping the act fresh has got to be the gift of a real actor!
Finally, we heard, “Cut. Print.” And mild cheers erupted around the set. Extras were returned to holding. Do NOT wash hands! Filming continued in the smokey, dirty warehouse basement with all the grips, gaffers, best boys, actors, seconds, soundmen, lighting techs, and cameramen going through the whole thing for scenes that don’t use extras. They have my admiration for their stamina!
Then there was a break for lunch. Actors and directors get fed first, then crew, then extras get the leftovers. The food was fabulous! I had steamed baby zucchini, grilled salmon, a chopped tomato and cucumber salad in basalmic vinegar dressing, and a slice of carrot cake. There was also grilled tofu, a ravioli in cream sauce, halibut baked in a lemon-butter sauce, tossed green salad, and any number of other things I don’t remember. All set out like a buffet at a high-end restaurant. Other extras assured me that this was exceptional treatment. Often, extras get a box lunch with sandwich, chips, and applesauce. Sometimes, they get nothing. All the experienced extras brought a bottle of water and a couple of granola bars, just in case.
Our tent got warmer and warmer. We began wandering around to nearby shady locations that got a breeze. Then we were called for one final scene and after only nine hours on set, we were released. Then came the process of checking out with proper ID so the company could get us properly paid. The darling ladies in makeup provided a package of pre-moistened towelets so we could clean up. There were a couple of students who were planning on taking the bus home, and were reluctant to travel looking like homeless bums. Since we had each brought 3 changes of clothes, we all had something clean to change into.
And so ended my first day as an actual extra. Next time, I am taking a deck of cards and a book. Extras are not allowed to be raucous or make noise which might be heard on the set. No sitting around telling jokes and howling with laughter. (Frowny face.)
I did get in one good compliment, though. There was a young man, very buff, in a sleeveless t-shirt, displaying oiled, rippling muscles. I sidled up to him and said, “I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but Smith and Wesson would envy those big guns of yours.” He laughed hugely, but silently. What a sweet boy.
Then home to MY sweet boy, and a hot bath. The next morning, we got up, loaded the RV and motored down to Champoeg (pronounced, "shampooey") State Park for an overniter. This park is splendid, and if you get a chance to visit, it’s worth a look-in. We walked two miles along the river to a nearby store, had a cold beverage, and walked back. It was shady and delightful the whole way, though the temperature out in the sun was rapidly climbing toward the 90s again. We lazed around for the rest of the afternoon, watched a lovely sunset, with barn swallows swooping from shadows up into the sun, and back, and took our tired selves to bed. (I had 13,325 steps!)
In the middle of the night a big thunderstorm blew through with heavy rain and almost continuous flashes and rumbles. A couple gusts of wind rocked the RV on its jacks. I was glad to have a warm dry bed, and felt quite sorry for the campers in their tents. I hope they got through it all right. There are many families camping here, with one big tent, then several satellite tents for the kids to sleep in, Bet everyone wound up sleeping with mom and dad.
And now, we greet a day with heavy overcast and a fresh-washed face. Check out is at 1PM. I wonder what today will bring.