On the Glamorous Life of a Hollywood Extra

Know this now and forever: an extra (Background Actor, Background Artist, et freaking cetera) is the lowest form of life in Hollywood. Everyone on the set, from the director to the caterer, to the guys who clean up the debris on location to make sure that the production can rent the location again, EVERYONE has more status than an extra. If you, Hollywood Denizen, are not an extra and you think I am exaggerating, think again.

[Pauses for response. Hears crickets chirping.] That’s what I thought.

Most extras bitch about this. Extensively. Most of what goes on in that dank corner of the set designated as Extras Holding is kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.

The truth: By our behavior, we extras deserve some of the [lack of] respect we receive. The rest can be explained simply by Paragraph #1 above. This simple principle, which I learned shortly after I stopped being a student (never mind how long ago) and started earning a living can be expressed simply: Crap Rolls Downhill.

As a non-union extra, I am the lowest of the low. Even my agents, whom I HIRE to find work for me, treat me as not very bright and exceedingly flaky, with threats to stop representing me (or my fellow extras, in a broadcast email) if I (we) don’t stop being stupid and unreliable.

I am neither stupid nor flaky, but I know why this reputation exists. The bar is not very high for extra-hood. One has simply to be breathing, show up on time, wear/bring the appropriate costume, and walk where one is told to walk. Low as this bar is, not all my would-be colleagues can clear it.

So why do I bother? I like being on a movie/TV set. I like it a lot more than I ever did being in an office or a lab. There is always something happening, and I get to watch a lot of it. I am delighted with all the antlike activity of numerous persons, and even more delighted as I discern its purpose.

So, I do not seek an equally lucrative position in my local coffeehouse or grocery store, nor yet do I look to get back into engineering/computer science/IT. Instead, I hustle, hire more agents, call in to make myself available for “rush” calls, and in general present myself as someone who wants to work, shows up on time, follows directions, and listens carefully to recorded instructions the night before a call.

After NaNoWriMo, I will start blogging my on-set experiences. I will NOT publish anything before a film is released, or episode aired. Nor need you expect celebrity gossip — I observe precious little about celebrities, and bluntly care less. No, what you will read is the experience of the lowliest cog in the entertainment industry, as it churns out its product.

Good times.

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