As a writer, I can’t help dreaming about someday seeing one of my novels on the big screen. Therefore, when I heard that a Hollywood movie being filmed in a nearby city was looking for extras, I couldn’t resist sending in my name and a headshot. It sounded glamorous and fun, and of course there was the chance that I’d meet some bigwig who’d want to turn my book into a film.
Then I got the casting call! My family was in the process of adopting a dog (a blog post for another day) when my cell phone rang. The woman on the other end wanted to know if I could be at a fitting the next day, then be on set for two days the following week. The timing wasn’t great—to say the least—but my amazing husband told me to go for it. He said he’d work from home on the days I’d be busy, and would take care of the kids and the dog.
So what happened? Well, I can’t disclose any details AT ALL about the film, or the location, or any celebrities I might’ve seen and/or interacted with. One of the first things I did as an extra was sign a nondisclosure agreement, promising I wouldn’t share any information about the project with the press or online world. But as interesting as the project was—and this was a good one to be sure—I was even more fascinated by the other extras, and the nature of the job.
Job? you might ask. Oh come on. How hard can it be? Well, let me just say that I consider myself an active person. I jog a couple of miles every day; I keep the house clean; I do the laundry; I walk the (new and somewhat wild) dog; I handle most of the food shopping and all the cooking in our house; I run errands; I transport the kids to their various weekend and after-school activities. Oh, and I try to write books too. But after two twelve-hour days on the film set—in three-inch spike heels, no less—I could barely even move, let alone think. I have no idea how other parents manage to do this kind of work, but plenty of my coworkers were parents.
I also developed a tremendous new respect for actors, and I’m not just talking about the famous ones we read about in People. Because in addition to the job being extremely physical and demanding on the body, I can’t imagine what it must do to your head after a while. Mainly because everything about movies has to do with image, and image—by nature—isn’t real. There are seemingly endless touchups to hair and makeup, hundreds of wardrobe adjustments, thousands of attempts to make everything look and sound perfect. And then, after the final cut—usually somewhere around midnight—you walk out the door, get into your car, and drive home to your real family and real problems.
It definitely altered my perspective for a few days. In some ways, being an extra in a movie is like taking a brief vacation from actual life. For this particular movie, everyone waited in line for over an hour each day to have their hair and makeup done, which resulted in dozens of conversations with complete strangers—some of whom became new friends—about our lives, dreams, and families. And I think working as an extra encourages an openness rarely found in most other fields. I can honestly say I learned more about some of my movie coworkers than I know about many people I see and talk to on a regular basis.
Would I do it again? Hmm. Certainly not for a long time. Being entirely absent from my family for two twelve-hour days—no cell phones were allowed on set, and cell reception in the holding area was spotty at best—felt really stressful to me, and the pay’s not great (non-union workers get paid minimum wage or something close to that). On the other hand, I’m extremely grateful for the experience, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a new adventure. Sure, you could fly off to some island or hike the Appalachian Trail, but those things require much more serious investments of time and money. All you have to do to be a movie extra is find a casting company in your local area and send them a photo and some basic information about yourself. Then wait for that call. Oh, and there’s always the chance that a director will see you and ask you to audition for a speaking part. Or that you’ll meet some bigwig who wants to turn your book into a movie…
Note: if you are such a bigwig, or if you’re a reader who likes women’s fiction, please check out my book, LIVING BY EAR, on Amazon. And feel free to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your feedback!