Friday, February 27, 2009

My Life as a Movie Extra

First let me say that I am amazed that there are people who actually seek this type of work out with the hope that someone, somehow will notice them in a crowd and say, "Let me talk to that guy/gal over there."

In brief working as an extra for a movie means long hours (12 in my case) at minimum wage, an unpaid hour break for lunch that you have to buy and waiting and waiting to be called only to sit in the back of the scene where no one will ever be able to focus on your face.

I was fortunate to be right in the middle of two scenes with George Clooney for his upcoming movie, Up In The Air, scheduled to come out this fall. We were filming in the C concourse of Metro Airport's McNamara building which you access by descending a long escalator and then walking about 150 yards down a tunnel to rise on another long elevator to the C Concourse in the middle of the field. The first scene was shot on the moving walkways there. Clooney and a female actress who had stared in Twilight were approaching on one walkway while I was approaching on the other looking down at a newspaper in my hand.

If you have never been on a shoot (TV, video or movie) it is all about hurrying up and waiting while the crew and director constantly set and reset the lights and sound. In films this first part is done with doubles who are about the same size as the actors. All the while they are doing set up we extras were running through our routines time and time again. Then the actors step in and we probably do the same shot 12 times more. Then they change angles for another set up while we are all still in place and we go through it with the doubles and then another dozen times with the actors.

In all fairness to the crew, actors and extras, a lot of the repetition comes from stuff like the overhead announcements going off (this is a working airport), an excited woman yells out "George" just as he is delivering his lines or someone walks into a scene (Again its a working airport; can you imagine how mad you would be if you were rushing for a plane and a film crew stopped you while they went through their routine?)

A fun part of the experience is sitting around and talking with the other extras while waiting. They come from all walks of life Phys Ed instructors for grade school, an aspiring Miss Michigan who works for a PR agency, a liquor salesman, a former Channel 4 newscaster and, of course, an unemployed broadcaster. A funny and touching aspect of the day was that we had a group of 8 young men with closely cropped hair dressed in full military garb. They were so convincing that George Clooney came up to them at one point and asked them where they had served which lead to a little embarrassment and a lot of laughs. People were constantly stopping these young actors in military garb and sincerely thanking them for their service. One mother asked a couple of these guys to have a picture taken with her little boy and then told them that "You have made his day!"

My second scene with George Clooney was shot in the tram that runs overhead in the main terminal. I was standing 5 feet from him in the shot that featured him talking on a cell phone while seated in the bench across from me. If that scene is kept, look for the corner of a tan trench coat just off to his right in the distance...that's mine!

When you work on a set like this you see the incredible economic impact that a movie has on our area from Teamsters driving extras to the set, to catering companies serving the crew, 180 extras at a time (albeit at minimum wage!), lighting tech's, make up people, casting agents...the list goes on and on. There is a very real impact and we need to fight any fool in Lansing who questions the validity of this industry in Detroit. GM may be going bankrupt but Hollywood is far from it.

Ah well, it's all over for now and I will sink back into my well deserved anonymity, just another face in the real crowd. Lucky for me that I came home to a loving welcome from a very real family.