Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ellie's Brutal Guide to Being an Extra

Comic book movies are more prevalent today than ever. And where there's a comic book movie, there's a casting company needing to fill scenes with extras. And where there's a casting company needing extras, there's a horde of geeks ready to strike.

It's like "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie," but far more annoying for working professionals in film.

With Captain America choosing to shoot in my town of Atlanta, the geek community has been blowing up my Facebook and email. With that comes all manner of annoyance at the attitude being an extra is being treated with. So time to air some grievances, and give some tips for those of you insisting on applying.

Being an extra is a JOB. It is a professional JOB. Yes every geek in a hundred mile radius is going to want to apply for a role in a comic book film. And you will all think you are capable of being an extra. And you want to do it because it is 'fun'.

First off, extra work has it's fun moments, but it is work It is a lot of sitting around and waiting. A lot of standing on your feet til they hurt. A lot of repeating things over and over and over again, perfectly every time. You have to be able to hit a mark to not screw up a shot. It is not easy. It often can take a very heavy toll on you. I've gone home many times after 15 hours on my feet in pain so bad I could cry. It is a job you need to be dedicated to because you are willing to put in hard work. It is not something to take lightly simply because you're a fan.

Not to mention the biggest thing, a set- especially a Marvel one- is a secure and secret thing. Your phone needs to stay in your car or where you will never touch it. Your mouth stays closed until after the film's release. These are very real and very severe situations that productions are taking less and less lightly. If you talk, you will be breaching a contract with serious legal consequences. You can be fined, sometimes more than you will make in a lifetime. The biggest recent example would be the extra who leaked Batman pictures. They were looking down the barrel of a $5mil fine.

Acting is one of those jobs that for some reason anyone thinks they can show up and do. Even moreso with being an extra. No one walks into a CEO's office and goes "it's cool I got this, no worries." No one walks into a surgeon's OR and takes over for them. As with any job, you have to learn how to do the job and do it within the company's rules. Being an extra is no different.

But since I'm certain comic book fans will apply for every single casting opportunity they can, regardless of my warnings, let me clarify some things so that you can be more educated and be less of a headache on the casting department and production. Film is a tight knit community, and you can (and will) be booted off a set with a black mark that will never let you return. Alternatively, if you follow these rules and don't screw around, you may find yourself with the chance to do more of this in the future.

So here is my brutally honest guide to being a good extra...

1) ONLY APPLY FOR THINGS YOU ARE 100% QUALIFIED FOR. Do not apply to portray a guitarist if you own a guitar, but you've never played. Don't apply for blondes if you have black hair. Don't lie to yourself or them about your measurements. Casting directors often are asked to fill roles in a specific way, and lying will hurt the production as they are then stuck with something they didn't ask for. Imagine if you ordered a steak and were instead given a a loaf of bread. You'd be really annoyed, and you'd send it back. Now imagine every second of waiting for that steak to come back costs you thousands of dollars. Film is a fast-paced environment. Nobody has time to replace you because you lied.

2) BE QUIET AND LISTEN!!! This is the biggest annoyance on every single set I've ever been on that extras don't understand. Especially in scenes with stunts, being able to hear each other on a set is crucial, not only for the production but for safety. If a stuntman can't hear his partner tell him when he's going to land the hit because you were too busy chatting; you may have just caused a severe injury. If they can't get the shot they need before you're talking, you're wasting time, and I don't need to tell you how much we hate that. Unless you have been injured, there is no reason to speak on a set. No socializing. No asking questions. Just do what they ask of you and stay quiet while doing it.

3) DON'T FIND THE CAMERA. STAY WHERE YOU ARE PUT. I have watched people step in the way of stunts and key scenes just to try and get some screen time. You are not there for your screen time. You are there to enhance the screen time of the lead actors by filling the world around them. If you are told to walk from A to B, you ONLY walk from A to B, no detours. Yes, it would be nice if they got your pretty face in a scene. However, chances are you will be blurry, cut out, blocked by a lead actor, or any other manner of your face not being seen. You are there for the production, not yourself. So do your job for the scene and leave ego out of it.

4) NO PHONES. Jesus H. Christ NO PHONES! NO PHONES! NO PERSONAL PHOTOS OF ANY KIND! NONE! ZERO! ZIP! ZILCH! NADA! You are not going to be the first person who thinks they can get away with a clever selfie with someone in the background. You are not going to be the first person to think 'I'll just keep these pictures just for me". Phones are forbidden. This is not a hard rule to follow. Leave it safely locked in your car. The end.

5) DO! NOT! TALK! TO! THE! ACTORS! You are not there for a chance to say "Hi" to a lead actor. You are not there to ask to take a picture with them. Some actors will be really sweet about this and oblige, but it is insanely unprofessional and in some cases will get you kicked off set without pay. It's not worth it. The actors are there to do their job. Job. (Yes i'm going to keep repeating that word until people respect it as a profession) They are working and they need to focus on work. Do not distract them. If there's an actor working themselves up mentally for an emotional scene and you pop in to ask for a picture, you have knocked them out of their job and have wasted their time and the production's time. And at the end of the day they are tired. For all the work you did, they have done more. There is never an appropriate time to ask for a picture on set. Again, you are there for the production, not yourself.

(Editor's Note: There are times - very, very rare times - that an actor will come over and spend time with the extras of their own violition. These people are awesome, and yes, THEN you can talk to them. But ONLY then.)

6) FOLLOW THE RULES! Every set has different rules. Whatever they are, you learn them, and you respect them. That's it. No flexibility. I don't need to elaborate on this because it's a pretty simple thing.

7) DON'T INVOKE ANYONE'S NAME! The whole reason I began writing this all is quite a few of my friends have asked for me to recommend them for casting, or asked if they could put my stage name on their application because I've worked in film. The answer is and always will be: No. I'm sure the same goes for anyone else you may know that works in the film industry. We work in a job everyone wants to pop into for fun. If we allowed everyone right by, our careers would be at stake and we'd be miserable. If you're someone a film worker wants to recommend for something, trust that they have already done it, or will. I don't appreciate people trying to use me to get onto a project, and I know I'm not the only one. Unless a person has specifically told you "When you apply, put my name in your email" then do not ask them. It's disrespectful and shows a lack of concern over your friend's job. For many this is our career. If we recommend you, we're responsible for you, so helping a friend who may screw up on set can ruin everything we've spent our lives working for. Not to mention, as much as we may love our friends, not all of you can be an extra. Don't put your friends in the position to say that to you. Don't ruin a friendship for your ego.

If you insist on applying for Captain America, or any other comic book film, do it because you are willing to work hard, follow the rules, be quiet, and respect the production and the NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) that is apart of your paperwork when you start. Don't work on it because it's 'cool'. Work on it because you want to help a production fill the roles they need to make scenes look how they want. Do it because, as a fan, you want to help make this movie the best it can be. Don't do it because you want a piece of it.

If you can't NOT be a fan about it, do the production a favor and don't apply. Just watch it when it comes out and support its box office numbers.

Ellie Collins is a working actress and an author who's had roles on The Originals, and is soon to be starring the webseries Donors. You can find out more about her writing at http://www.empirevalleyseries.com/

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