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And so it was that I was scheduled to be an extra for Crooked Lane on a sunny Monday morning on the 6th of July 2009. I was to be a waiter, so the role called for me to wear a black button-up shirt and a pair of black slacks. So there I was, with about twenty other souls on Commercial Alley in downtown Portsmouth; ready for my close-up or, if you will, my fifteen seconds of fame. The scene was to be shot in CAVA, a nice tapas restaurant that was closed especially for the cast and crew. Lights, equipment, cables, boxes and what-have-you filled the interior of the establishment where, just last night, diners sat and ate mouth-watering dishes with tasty cocktails.
Lest this turn into an advertisement for CAVA’s wares, I need to stress how much time, work, care, and detail goes into the making of a motion picture (no matter how short said film is). I feel that the vast majority of people who go to the cinema are completely unaware as to how much sweat goes into the process!
And it was a sunny Monday morning. One thing prospective extras need to keep in mind is the fact that, true to the job title, one is an extra. One shows up at the time specified. One either wears what they’re told they need to wear, or they bring a series of clothing that might be called for during the shoot by the coordinator. One signs in. And, inevitably, one waits. That is, in essence, what an extra does. They wait.
“Extras. They’re so patient. They sit, and they wait. That’s what these people are: Extras. Extra people,” noted Peter Falk in Wim Wenders’ seminal film Wings of Desire.
Patience is a virtue. But – but! – sooner or later during the shooting, a coordinator will glance in your direction, give you the much-sought-after thumbs-up, and you will receive your instructions from the assistant director, in this case, one Scott Kirkley. This is one of the aspects of filmmaking that a lot of (actually, most) movie viewers take for granted. Sometimes, in a dark theatre, watching the action unfold in front of you on the big screen gives one a sense that it was just put there, and that something akin to magic had put together all the action, acting, lighting, editing, music, dubbing, and sound-mixing. Being an extra on the set of even a short film will disabuse you of that notion, once and for all!
Alas, my fifteen seconds of fame were not to be – such is the fickle nature of being an extra. HOWEVER, as I sat in the hot July sun (getting a little sunburn on the side as well), I had the opportunity to witness an amazing scene unfold before me in the middle of the packed and quite busy alleyway.
The scene in question featured Jessica Webb and Ann Cusack, who play sisters who find themselves in the midst of a supernatural kidnapping. The sun had started its wayward dip over the lip of the alleyway, and the breeze kicked up a little, cooling us down. Director Chase Bailey had set down a large flat piece of wood, and delivered a beautiful, emotional scene where, after Ms Cusack’s character thinks she’s seen her long-lost daughter outside a restaurant, she has a breakdown and collapses into the arms of her sister, played by Ms Webb.
A dolly was set up to circle the actors in a 180-degree arc and was manually controlled by D.P. Patrick Ruth.
This scene was filmed at least three times, each take ratcheting up the emotions the scene called for from its talented actors.
It was breathtaking to witness – the magic of movie-making encapsulated in this one particular moment in time. Hell, I’d even forgotten about my missing fifteen seconds of fame, I was so impressed. Even better, when I got a chance to watch a rough cut of the film, I was able to see the scene in question. I thought to myself, I witnessed that scene being filmed, and it looks bloody awesome.
So anyway, if you ever do get a chance to be an extra on a production, I would recommend that you jump at the opportunity. You might not end up being able to see yourself on the big screen for your fifteen seconds, but something more important than that will be realized.
Keep your eyes and ears open, and you too can witness the awesome power and magic of the movie-making process. And that, my friends, is fun!
From the casting agency press release:
CASTING FOR THIS FILM IS CLOSED-THANK YOU
Seeking Extras for the short film, Crooked Lane, starring Ann Cusack. This film will shoot from July 6 – 10 in Portsmouth and Barrington NH. Extras are needed for various scenes in general public areas (restaurants, park, sidewalk, Market Square…).
25 Extras on July 6th in Portsmouth NH (men & women)
10 Extras on July 9th in Barrington NH (men only)
20 Extras on July 10th in Portsmouth NH, some of which can be repeats from July 6th
Age Range is 20 years or older.
This is a non-paying gig. Food will be provided on set.