I got a call late Saturday night from the casting director of “First Snow” asking me if I could work as an extra on Monday, the first day of filming. For one or more reasons, they had decided to either use me as a janitor cleaning the floors, or as a random shopper walking around inside Winrock Mall. Of course I was willing, otherwise I would never have gone to the audition. I also had no conflicts with my schedule. After all, where on earth could anyone possibly have to be at six in the morning?
So I arrived at the mall a little before six AM, and began the process of looking for someone who could either check me in, or direct me to the extras area. In this case, we were being held in an abandoned store inside the mall, just beyond Bed Bath & Beyond. For those of you not familiar with Albuquerque, Winrock Mall is one of several nails driven into the economic heart of the downtown when it was constructed conveniently close to I-40 back in the early 1960s. Forty some odd years later, the mall itself resembles some sort of futuristic ghost town more than anything else. I heard rumors that it is due to be renovated and possibly converted back into an outdoor mall. At any rate, a total of 10 people were brought in as extras. Half were ladies, the rest… dudes. Interestingly, 9 of the 10 people had been told during the extras audition that they would likely be used in the “pub scene.” Whatever.
Every group has one- the guy who will talk to anyone, and ends up talking to everyone if given the opportunity. No, I’m not that fella! In this case, ours was a Wal-mart employee who also claimed to have had a bit part in the HBO series “Band of Brothers.” I never saw an episode of that show, so I really have no idea if he was telling anything even close to the truth. However, I suppose anything is possible. The guy I’m talking about looked almost exactly like Greg Brady. I don’t mean the young Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch television series, but the middle-aged actor who played Greg Brady in the most recent Brady Bunch reunion show. I would say that the best thing about this type of person is standing back and watching the crowd part as he entered a room full of people.
As I typed previously, Monday was the first day of filming for the movie. If pressed for a description, I would have to call it as I saw it from my perspective, “organized chaos.” It seemed like most of the crew were frantic trying to learn how to communicate with each other, and as expected, there was a LOT of hurrying up and waiting to be done. The caterers were behind schedule. The lighting crew appeared frazzled. People with clipboards seemed both angry and tired.
The stand-in for Adam Scott (one of the principal actors) was late, so I was pulled out of the extras pool and asked to serve as stand-in for the stand-in. Basically, I spent the next 20 minutes shadowing Adam as he rehearsed a scene with Guy Pearce. In the scene, Guy and Adam were walking through the mall discussing personal current events. At one point, Guy squatted down and said something along the lines of “Looks like someone’s been pissing on your floors.” Adam responded by blaming it on the Garcia brothers. Pretty dramatic if you ask me!
I was impressed by the fact that Guy Pearce’s character was supposed to be carrying a drink in his hand while he walked, and even though he didn’t have the required prop, he held his right hand as if he was actually carrying a Styrofoam cup. Now, THAT’S acting my friends. Guy’s stand-in and I watched carefully, and took notes about body movements and hand gestures the actors made. Our job would be to recreate the scene as closely as possible for the lighting and camera crews while Guy and Adam were off to wardrobe and make-up. It was pretty entertaining. I think I would definitely enjoy serving as Paul Reuben’s stand-in for the next Pee Wee Herman movie, especially if Tim Burton were directing it.
Nevertheless, eventually the original stand-in arrived, and I was directed back to the extras holding pen. Frankly, I can’t imagine arriving late for the first day of work for even a crappy job. But as one of the first waves of Generation Xers, what do I know about today’s kids? This slacker didn’t appear to be hung over, so I suppose he thought it was more pressing to stop at Einstein’s and grab a triple lima bean sprout latte with chive than it would be to make a good impression by arriving on time. The project assistant who had selected me from the extras pool indicated that they might send him home if he ever arrived, but this kid really did resemble Adam Scott- not just in height, but also had a similar body type and hair style. I would assume that these were the qualities the camera crew really needed more than punctuality. Besides, there was no way I could have committed to giving them 12-hour days for the next six weeks as I have to many things to do to get ready for the baseball season, and with my other graphics work.
Once back in the extras tank, I did my best to answer everyone’s questions about where I had been and what I had seen. Soon after my popularity wore off, it was time to fill out paperwork to ensure that everyone (including Uncle Sam) would get paid. Then I was sent to wardrobe. It was determined that I was too tall and/or skinny for the janitorial costume, and would be used as a random mall shopper. It was strange how the two extras dressed to portray janitors looked more like “real” janitors than did the people actually janitoring at the mall. The clothing technicians present decided they couldn’t do anything to make me look more like a random shopper than what I was wearing (unbuttoned dark green flannel over a brown sweatshirt, Levi’s, brown belt, and my work boots), so they sent me on to make-up. The cosmetologists remarked that I looked perfect as is, which made me suspect that they were working for tips.
Thus, it was back to the extras holding area for me, where I spent the next 45 minutes watching an old man and his wife attempt to finish filling out his W-4 and W-9 forms. I would venture a guess that this man had every single legal document that had crossed his sixty-some odd year path stuffed into his wallet EXCEPT for his Social Security card. Eventually, the movie people decided that he wasn’t going to be able to take direction well enough to serve as an extra, and was sent packing- reducing the pool to only nine people.
By now it had to be around 8:27 am, and the time for prolonged waiting had arrived. There are many ways to pass the time in situations like this, so feel free to print out my list and stick it in your billfold in case you ever need suggestions.
1. read magazines or books (personally, I find the atmosphere too distracting for reading, but then again, I am easily entertained)
2. eat/drink/smoke (besides being served a large breakfast and lunch, the catering wagon is always open for snacks)
3. watch the crew scurry about
4. take notes for your blog
5. rank the other extras based on who you feel is the greater BS artist
6. sleep (good luck on this one!)
7. try to look important (this game gets exponentially more difficult as the day progresses)
8. even further embellish your resume
9. compile a list of players for your pending fantasy baseball team
I think it is worth mentioning that the mall walkers were quite agitated by the film crew having moved into their turf. Although the entire production resulted in a substantial shock to their normal routine, I noted that it wasn’t enough to make even a single blue hair stray from the path worn into the carpeting. Certainly the event would have provided much in the way of conversation later that afternoon as the seniors gathered for dinner at Village Inn.
A thought crossed my mind as I watch these old-timers doing their best to prolong the inevitable. Why hasn’t anyone opened an oxygen kiosk in this mall, or in malls all across America? I would think that in addition to selling oxygen, you could do a pretty decent business if you stocked designer tanks, heart monitors and other related accessories.
Eventually, the production assistant in charge of keeping tabs on all the extras broke the news that the director had decided against using any of the mall shoppers, and we were sent home around two in the afternoon. As I drove home, I thought it would be awesome if someone would roll into downtown Albuquerque and cast a bunch of the homeless people as extras in a movie. After all, the homeless are well-suited for hanging around all day, and could benefit from a few square meals and some cash in their pockets.
So, you might be wondering if I would agree to work as an extra again in the future, or if it seems like too much hassle without a guaranteed return. I would say without question that I would, even if the movie seems like it will be tragically awful. It isn’t so much that I fancy myself being discovered and getting a chance to “act” professionally, but more along the lines of I wonder how I would look on the silver screen. Besides, if I ever make it into the final cut of a movie, it will make Christmas shopping for friends and relatives a snap for a change.