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The Life of A Hollywood Extra

Life of a HollyWood Extra The following is an account of my experiences as a background actor or "extra" as it is more commonly known. I am doing this for a couple of reasons. First, to create a record of the experiences that began my acting career. Second, to hopefully educate others as to what it is like in the "business" of show biz, especially at this level.

FYI. I'm really not a "Hollywood" extra but rather an East Coast extra. I live in Maryland and most of the work I've done has been in DC.

It all started Sunday, September 15, 1999 . . . . .

Production: The Replacements (feature film)
Director: Howard Deutch
Studio: Warner Bros.

A few weeks before, I heard a radio ad for the shoot at PSINet Stadium in Baltimore, MD, that would occur this weekend in September. I couldn't go both days, I could only go Sunday. I got up early that morning as we had an 8:00 AM call time. I packed a small bag of reading materials, water, Twizzlers, sun block, a notepad, and my camera. When I arrived there were maybe fifteen people in front of me. I was determined to get there early and get a good seat (at least what I thought was a good seat).

They let us in the gate and ushered/herded (these two words are used interchangeably in "extra speak") us to the seats. We started out in one of the end zones, first level. They spread us out to get as much fill as possible. The were at least two seats between each of us. Some of us got props. I ended up with a pennant and a pom pom for the Washington Sentinels. We sat until they finished seating all the extras which wrapped around the end zone up to about the fifty yard line.

Down on the field all the equipment was set up, cameras lights, reflectors, wires all over the place. There were many actors dressed in football uniforms. I eventually found Jon Favreau and Rhys Ifes. They were messing around on the set. As an extra and a legitimate part of a production, I don't think you can get any farther away from the actors and crew than this.

We shot four scenes from the film each with about three or four takes. I know it doesn't seem like a lot of filming for a full days of work, but you need to take into consideration what it takes to move the filming equipment.

As for the actors, Gene Hackman, Jon Favreau, and Keanu Reeves all got the crowd going. I'm a huge Favreau fan. He was great ! He had a lot of energy.

As this was my first day on the set of a major motion picture, I enjoyed the experience. It was my first inside look at what goes on in movie making. The "bug" was slowly creeping inside. Oh yeah, and I I "forgot" to give back my props. Oops.

Alas, my big screen debut did not occur as I was nowhere to be seen in the final product. I expected this as it was unlikely for me to be seen in such a large crowd.

Production: Minority Report (feature film)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Production Co.: Fox/Dreamworks
Date: June 27/28, 2001

Okay time for some more "education" about the biz. For this movie, there was a general cattle call put out in newspapers and all over the internet. With this anybody who ever dreamed about being in a movie shows up to these things. Some just show up hoping to get the chance to see the star (in this case Tom Cruise). There is usually a designated time period in which the call runs. In this case all day. However, for a later production the casting call was only for two hours. We arrived with a half an hour left. The line was about 250 people long, and they wouldn't let us get on line. My recommendation is to get to the casting call early if it is one of those "cattle calls."

However, for Minority Report, I was picked out of more than 1000 people that signed up. I knew that the production was coming to DC since February, and I really wanted this gig. I had a two-day shoot. Due to a confidentiality agreement I had to sign, I am forbidden to speak about the specifics about what we shot. All I will say is I had to wear a tux. However, there are some things I can share.

The biggest lesson I learned doing this gig is that "extras" are just that and nothing special. What taught me that was the following. We were shooting at the Willard Hotel in DC, about a block from the White House. Supposedly it is one of the best (nicest) hotels in DC, so I thought we would have a GREAT holding area. That was not to be. Our holding area was a gutted store that was in the mall area of the hotel. Cramped, hot, and dank. This has become the worst holding area I have experienced so far.

That was the bad part of the two-day shoot. The first day I had a call time of 5:30 AM. After wardrobe, I got to holding at about 7:00 AM and had the first of what would be pretty good meals. I am learning that the food is usually pretty good on these big budget sets. Although I didn't get on set until 4PM that day, I did a lot of networking. Tom Cruise and Max Von Sydow were the actors on set that day. The most enjoyment for me though came as I watched Steven Spielberg work.

The second day was even more of a highlight. I was used right away as they needed the group that ended the shoot the day before. That lasted for about 45 minutes. I was back in holding until about 3 PM when we went back to the set.

We got to the set and the PAs placed us for the shot. Before our first take, these security types guys came into the room. They had been in the hallway since yesterday. A few of them formed a spread out line behind me. I looked to the area where Spielberg was set up and someone was pulling out a director's chair that read "President Clinton." I turned to the person next to me to show her. We both looked back to the director's area and low and behold who should be sitting in that chair - former President Clinton! The room was abuzz for a few minutes then the Assistant Director got the room settled down to do a few takes. In between one of the takes, Tom Cruise came in and sat next to Clinton. So, you had Clinton, Cruise, and Cate Capshaw sitting in a group. Man, if I could have had a camera. We were in there for about an hour. After that scene most of us were released.

The end of the day brought some major highlights. Clinton left after the scene was shot and I got to shake his hand. I was released at 5PM. I was not about to play in DC traffic at the height of rush hour, so I decided to go back to the set and see if I could watch any of the final scenes being filmed. Since I wasn't actually working anymore, I could no longer get in trouble for seeking autographs.

The way the set was set-up, the video was out in the hallway. Many people had gathered out in the hallway both days trying to see who they could see. Me and another extra hung out and watched the monitors as they filmed the last scene. Right as I got there Cruise was going onto the set.

About an hour later they wrapped. Somebody that works for Tom Cruise made the hotel security clear the area. I went the opposite way of the group. I was on a mission! As I walked the other way past the set, Max Von Sydow came out of the room. I asked him for an autograph and he obliged (We share the same birthday!). I started to walk back the other way and then decided to go out the front of the hotel. As I started walking back the original way, I saw Spielberg and Sergio (Asst. Director) walk out of the set. I caught up with him just as he was about to exit the building. He too gave me an autograph. I was such a bumbling idiot as I tried to get the words out of my mouth. I felt like a kid again., but I got to meet one of the biggest icons in the industry today. Overall, I really enjoyed the two-day shoot.

Production: Sweet Home Alabama (feature film)
Director: Andy Tenant
Production Co: Disney
Date: September, 2001

I accepted this job from my agent with the desire to see if there is any real difference doing a film or TV show in DC/MD vs. NYC. There isn't. Also, this would be my first trip to NYC since 9/11. I was looking forward to it. I had a call time of 3:30. I took the train from my finace's parents house in New Rochelle. I arrived early since I had some walking to do. As I walked there were signs of healing, and pride everywhere. I had to walk down fifth avenue a street I had never been on or at least realized I was. I came upon a huge crowd and eventually managed to see that there were hundreds of police and firemen in the street facing a church. I eventually realized I walked into one of the hundreds of funerals for the emergency personnel lost in 9/11 and that I was in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. I caught the end of it and as I walked on I caught up with a group of fire fighters from Baltimore who had made the trip up for the funeral and were on their way to ground zero.

I finally arrived at my destination on 60th street. Our holding area was the basement of a church. There were a few people there, but then more people strolled in. By the time it was all over, there were over 600 of us in the room. That's the biggest set I've worked on so far. I found a table that just happened to have a fellow Marylander sitting at it, so we were able to connect.

We eventually went out to the set which happened to be the courtyard area of the Lincoln Center. There was a long "red carpet" that led from the street to the middle of the court. When I got there, one of the ADs assigned me to one of the video cameras near the beginning of the carpet. One of the female extras was assigned my reporter. We were to try and get the action as they came down the red carpet. The rest of the extras were lined up along the red carpet as either news persons like us or just general public.

We began filming the scene of Reese's, Patrick, and Candice's entrance into wherever they were going. We spent the night filming the walk and different dialogue scenes along the walk on the red carpet. I spent the time doing my best camera man imitation. UPDATE: I saw the movie the week it opened and this scene is at the beginning of the movie when they are actually at Lincoln Center and we film them going into the performance.

Production: The Recruit (a.k.a. The Farm (feature film)
Director: Ronald Donaldson
Production Co: Spyglass
Date: March 15/16, 2002

After seeing Tigerland, I had become a huge Colin Farrell fan. And to have the posibility to work with Al Pacino, well that would top it all off. I knew this production was coming to town since February 2002, and I was trying everthing I could to find out when and who was casting the extras. Luckily, the same casting director who casts "West Wing" was casting the movie, so I knew I'd get my chance to be an extra on this flick. I worked two days and they were pretty fun. I spent both days at Union Station in DC. Colin Farrell and Gabrial Macht were the two actors on Saturday, while Colin, Gabriel, and Bridget Moynahan, worked Sunday. Unfortunately, my time spent on the set of "The Recruit" did not include any time with Al Pacino.

Production: Head of State (feature film)
Director: Chris Rock (directorial debut)
Production Co: DreamWorks S.K.G.
Date: September 5, 2002

"Head of State" was filmed mostly in Baltimore with a week in DC, during the summer of '02. I was called four times to work the production, but due to my busy schedule at my 'real' job, I wasn't able to work until after Labor Day. Needless to say, this had to be one of the most interesting things I had to do as an extra.

Now, I would like to share my "extra" experiences so far for the BEST show on television -- "WEST WING."

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My Favorite Web Sites

My favorite West Wing hangout
Meet Dave, one of my counterparts in LA.
a really good acting resource, especially for beginners