6 Awesome Things You Learn As An Extra In A Movie

My first year at college (and first year living in the US mind you) gave me a whole ton of great experiences, ranging from eating my first sloppy Joe to being an extra in movies. I had the privilege of being a background actor (it makes me sound way more important than extra) on two movies. The first was The Forger starring John Travolta and the second was Sex Tape starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz. So throughout 14-hour workdays, getting thrown off set, eating too much craft service and meeting some pretty great people, I got my first taste of the film industry. Here are just a few things I learned.
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Shutterstock

1. Bring a book.

My first hour on set was like magic, as a film buff and someone interested in the entertainment industry, it’s kind of a dream come true. I got to see how a film set works, and for the first few hours I was in awe. I got my first glimpse of John Travolta, my first experience with craft services, my first take…. And then my first 500th take. They didn’t give us an end time for how long we were going to be on set, so I figured, Eh it’ll take two hours, tops! False. Eight hours. I sat, not being on camera, let alone even seeing where the camera was for eight hours. A few hours in, my phone died, so I resorted to spending the remaining five hours counting ceiling tiles.

2. Make friends!

In any other circumstance if a random stranger tells you, you look cold and should come huddle with her, the proper response is no. Because #1 stranger danger and #2, we live in Boston, you just don’t do that. On a film set though, that’s perfectly acceptable! Let me set the scene. The first assistant director tells you and 300 other extras that you’re waiting in line to get into a club, and that it’s the summer, so you’re warm and it makes sense that you’re wearing short dresses, high heels and no tights. Only it wasn’t actually the summer, it was late October and it was freezing, and much like before, we stood outside for two hours. So when a girl your age tells you to come huddle, you huddle and you huddle hard. Because as it turns out, that girl became one of my best friends. And while huddling, the casting director for the movie asked us if we wanted to be on set the next day and get paid. I had classes but lets be honest, intro to journalism, or getting paid to hang out with John Travolta. Yeah, it was an easy choice for me too (sorry mom). The best part – it was a smaller set and we were going to be two of only five other extras on set.

3. Craft services is both awesome and the devil.

At fist glance, craft services (or crafty, if you know the film lingo) is heaven. They have everything from soup to Parisian cupcakes. It’s also free. So for a student on a college budget, it was bliss. For lunch I had a ham and cheese sandwich, bacon, an ice cream sundae, trail mix, red vines, M&Ms, chocolate fondue, donuts, celery and a cake pop. It all sounded like a great idea at the time, until the makeup artist had to dust off the donut powder from my face and the assistant director gave me a bib. “Why do I need a bib?” I asked “Well, you’re going to be in a restaurant scene, having dinner.” She said. My first thought: “Wow, more free food.” My second thought: “I’m stuffed.”

4. Don’t gorge yourself on food while filming.

I was excited because I was actually on camera this time, and visibly in the shot. John Travolta kept passing by me to sit down at his mark and I giggled every time he passed muttering to myself, “That’s Danny Zucko.” He caught me staring at him at one point and smiled and gave me a small wave to which I immediately turned bright red, grimaced and looked away. Anyways, as soon as I sat down at the table, lobster, calamari and French fries appeared in front of me. The assistant director warned me not to eat it all in one take and instead eat it little by little, which I ignored.

After the first take, almost all my food was gone. Four takes later, all the food was gone, and they replenished my plate. Take after take, I had to eat this food that steadily grew colder — and cold french fries are awful. By the 20th and final take, I swore I would never eat french fries again, but as soon as we wrapped, I was back at craft services who had added french fries to the table. I ate the fries.

5. Take risks!

The second movie I did background work for was Sex Tape starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz and I got kicked off set.

At the beginning of the day, I felt like I knew my stuff, like I was legit. So I walked onto set like I owned the place, which probably wasn’t so smart.

Your first second on set they tell you, no pictures. On The Forger, they hadn’t cared so much, I have over a thousand blurry pictures on my phone of John Travolta and selfies with me and crafty, so I didn’t take their rule seriously. “I’m a journalist,” I screamed at them while they took me back to holding (fancy name for this is where we’re going to put our extras) because security caught me taking pictures (very sneakily gotta say, they should have given me points for ingenuity. I was being a great photographer) of Jason and Cameron on set.

Security told me I had to stay in holding, but did I do it? Of course not, and I’m glad I didn’t. I wandered around set and found the green room where the actors hang out. I hung out there for a little bit and passed Jason multiple times, making awkward eye contact and small smiles. I told myself to woman up and talk to him so I took a deep breath and when he passed me for the hundredth time I said “Hi Jason!” He had a mouth full of cereal, but asked me how I was and I told him I was a fan and he thanked me for working on the movie and then went back to set. I had a fleeting moment of victory before a snarky production assistant asked me not to talk to the actors as to not distract them, as if I had asked him deeply personal about his emotions with the How I Met Your Mother ending.

6. And finally, enjoy yourself.

I can’t think of a better way to have kicked off my freshman year. If you’re sitting with your arms crossed waiting to get paid and leave set, you’re not fulfilling your YOLO motto. You have to eat craft services, so you can brag to your non-extra friends that you don’t have to eat awful dining hall food. You have to sneak into John Travolta’s dressing room to find he drinks PBR and likes extra spicy salsa. You have to talk to actors you look up to (I’m serious, Jason Segel is really tall in person. I did have to crane my neck to look into his eyes!) and you have to make the best of those 14 hours, because when you’re done, you’re going to have wanted to make the best of every minute of it. TC mark

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