Recently, I had the opportunity to be an extra in a major motion picture. I signed a non-disclosure agreement, so I can’t divulge the title or any other details of the movie here, but it will be in theaters sometime in 2014 and I’m definitely going to be there on opening night to see if I can catch a glimpse of myself!
The casting company did general casting calls. I responded a couple of times with no results–but then I changed my headshot and tried one last time. This time took, and I was asked about availability. Once I got that information to them, I was booked for a costume fitting.
The day of my fitting, I was a nervous wreck, and I couldn’t figure out why. Maybe because I felt that they could see me in person and go “YUCK!” and send me home. I always knew that could be a possibility. But that didn’t happen. In fact, the costume person told me how cute I was and how good I looked in the costume. The hair and makeup guy asked me to wear my hair the same way when I got to set.
I had a lot of fun at the fitting, but I still wasn’t convinced I was actually going to be booked to shoot. But now, I was definitely registered with the casting company and could possibly do work for them in the future if this didn’t work out.
A couple of hours later, I got the email that I was booked to work the next weekend! I told them that I’d definitely be there, and I waited eagerly for my call info. I was so excited. My heart was pounding every day, and it was hard for me to focus on day-to-day activities.
It wasn’t even about seeing or meeting movie stars. It was about seeing the ins and outs of a major motion picture filming. Seeing the sets, the details, how things fit together. The night before I was to go on set, I googled a day in the life of an extra, just to get an idea of what to expect. I knew there would be a lot of sitting and waiting, so I was ready for that.
I was pleasantly surprised that my call time wasn’t as early as I’d expected, but I was so nervous and excited that I was there way before my time anyway! So I waited and chatted with some folks until it was time for me to check in.
This was the first of lots of waiting, lots of standing in line, lots of exercising a tremendous amount of patience.
I got into costume, went to hair and makeup, and managed to scarf down a danish and some water. Then I joined the groups heading over to set. They gave us covers to wear over our costumes to keep some of the “magic” alive. We dumped them as soon as we got inside.
I was shaking when I got to set, but I *think* I played it cool. Everyone had a great attitude and seemed friendly and excited. I was having a great time watching the set up. They are so particular. Everything has to be just so. Every little detail matters. I had no idea how much. I thought it was fascinating and amazing… and I kept thinking to myself, “Everyone who works in the movie industry must be pitta. These are my kind of people.” Just very particular. I really was intrigued by how exacting everything was.
When the principle actors arrived, my heart did a little flutter. Because holy cow: this was real. This was really real. But it still seemed SURREAL during rehearsal. (Maybe from lack of good sleep, adrenaline, and crappy contacts.) It started to seriously hit me once they started rolling the cameras.
But I still have this way of kind of separating myself from what’s going on. Being present is hard for me in the best of times. I was very present there, but it still didn’t seem REAL. It seemed like we were playing pretend–and in a way, I guess we were; we were acting, after all–but I had to keep reminding myself THIS IS A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, RONNI. DO NOT MESS THIS UP. THIS IS THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME, AND IF YOU WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN, DO NOT FUCK UP. JUST DON’T.”
We were on set for many hours that morning. Here was my exercise in patience, watching them film take after take. Watching the director (who is amazing) give such specific direction, and watching the actors take the direction and yet, keep infusing their own flavor into the roles.
We broke for lunch, which they provided for us. Nothing too exciting, but adequate none-the-less. Definitely no complaints. Then I waited in holding (the place where extras go when there is nothing for them to do) a while because they didn’t need me on set just set. I relaxed and checked my email, and I read a bit and got to know some of my fellow extras. Then we headed back over for more filming.
I spent a LOT of time on set that day and not a lot of time in holding. It was actually really nice, seeing so much of the action, having the lead actor smile at me (twice!) and just being part of this amazing experience. By now, my contacts were killing me, and I’d been sweating so I was worried I was getting stinky, and I was getting tired, but I hung in there.
When I got home that night, I shoveled in some dinner and then collapsed. I don’t remember much about that evening, except Aidan asking if I wanted to play Wii Sports and me being like “wot.”
The next day was more of the same, but I was clued in. I didn’t show up quite so early–just about 15 minutes before call time. Some people had been disenchanted by the waiting, the long, long day (12+ hours), the repetition, the “herding”, etc., so they just didn’t show up. Too bad for production, but OK for me because that meant shorter and faster lines! I flew through wardrobe, hair, and makeup, and was on set a 45 minutes after I checked in.
Set wasn’t nearly as comfortable this day. In fact, it was HOT. And I don’t get hot, yo! But I knew that was part of the package. Sitting for long periods of time in not-so-great conditions. Some people got cranky. I remembered my shitali pranayama and that helped a lot. I also kept reminding myself what an amazing thing I was experiencing, and that kept me strong when I wanted to close my eyes and sleep. I also kept telling myself that I was a professional, and professionals did NOT sleep on the job!
The morning filming took FOREVER. Lots of time on set, lots of time in one holding or another as things were finalized and tweaked and perfected. I took the time to relax, eat some snacks, and continue to get to know my fellow extras.
It goes without saying that cell phones with cameras are not out allowed on set. EVER. So, I didn’t bring my phone with me at all the first day; the second day I brought it but kept it in my pocket so I could use it when I was in holding. There was something very liberating about not having my phone with me and not being allowed to take it out. I was forced to BE PRESENT and actually TALK TO PEOPLE. To actually EXPERIENCE what was happening! I was embracing that, let me tell you. I think we all stare at our screens too much. We’re missing LIFE. Even when I had my phone while we were in holding, I limited my time with it out because I really wanted to live in the moment.
That day of filming was an even longer day, so wrap felt especially satisfying. It was my last night, and I felt excited and proud and energized (even though I was exhausted). I felt my soul stirring. I was immediately missing everything about it when I was heading back into my normal life as Ronni once again. I was missing all the neat people I’d met. I was missing the set and the actors and the cameras and the lights and the directions and the “do it agains” and the “cuts” and the “resets” and the chance to have those do-overs to get it just right.
About a million years ago, I harbored dreams of being an actor. Of moving to Hollywood and starring in movies or on a TV show. I was even a theater major in college. (Not gonna lie, sometimes I still have those dreams.) But I let people, and myself, talk me out of it. It’s too hard. It’s not realistic. I need to do something real. I don’t have the look for a leading actor. I have the look of NO actor! I mean, HAVE I SEEN MY NOSE?
Adam would tell you that I spend most of my life acting. “I almost never talk to the real Ronni,” he always says. I have a hard time grasping reality. But I don’t know if I’m cut out for Hollywood or even Chicagowood.
But I do know this. The days were long. I could tell the principle actors got special perks that the extras did not (like being allowed to use their phones and have food on set). At times, the conditions were not so comfortable. Sometimes I got frustrated and annoyed. I was tired and half out of my mind at some points. But. I loved it. I felt my soul stirring with every single new thing I learned. I couldn’t get enough of watching them set up the shots, the lighting, the cameras. I liked the manic hope that I might get selected to go above and beyond. I was just so thrilled to BE THERE in the presence of people who did this for a living–with people who are known all over the world, with people who were literally pros at what that did–that it never occurred to me to complain. Well, not too much anyway.
So…I’ll keep doing background work to get my fix in the entertainment industry, and if something more happens from that, GREAT. I’d love to be a featured extra, or have a bigger role, even if it’s not a speaking role. Stand-in would be cool, too! You really never know what might happen. Either way, I’ll be OK. I’m very grateful I had this experience and I’m very, very eager to work on future projects! And if something more is meant to come from this, well, bring it universe!