Today, I took a deep breath, my meds plus a back up beta blocker and ferried myself off to an unknown destination in search of fame and fortune on stage and screen.
Well, to be honest (and realistic), I decided to try being an extra for a day. After all, I’d made a pretty good stab at pretending to be someone else for decades, so really, how hard can it be for a couple of hours?
Besides I like dressing up and having my make up done for me, plus a friend earns a fairly good living from it, so I was looking forward to a really jolly day.
Where do I start?
The start was actually quite good really. I got there on time, found a parking space OK, met the crew who seemed nice, as were the other extras, and went to get my make up done. I had to sit on the floor because there weren’t enough chairs for everyone, but it wasn’t that big a deal.
Little did I know that this would set the tone for the day.
After a quick primp and preen (I’d already done a basic au naturale job so only needed ‘topping up’) I went off the find the others who were sat outside the shop were the filming was taking place, enjoying the sun. Except big black clouds were forming above and there didn’t seem to be anywhere to shelter. Oh well, we should be called inside soon, I reckoned.
One of the crew came over to dole out bottles of water, and there were some crisps and cheap biscuits on the tables. Hmm. The hospitality wasn’t as nice as I was led to believe, but I guess it would do until lunch arrived and in the meantime, I’d be working and chatting to the others.
As you probably know, I’m not great at small talk, but everyone was lovely, most had lots of acting anecdotes to tell and it all seemed like one big, happy family.
An hour passed, and three of our group got called in to shoot. We carried on chatting, I carried on slucing out my kidneys with bottled water and tried to avoid eating the crap junk food.
Another hour passed. We all circulated, getting to know one another and killing time as best we could. My face was aching from smiling so much and the sun beat down on our unprotected heads and skin. I had to keep repositioning myself to avoid going beetroot before I had to go and be filmed, and ended up draping someone’s fleece across my tingling neck which only made me hotter.
Another hour passed. The chosen three returned and excitedly chattered about what they had to do, who was there, and how it went.
I was really trying hard to be patient, but when I saw that even the experienced extras were also looking a bit peeved, I started to get twitchy. Everyone else was quite a big younger than me, were they actually planning to use me at all?
One of the crew appeared with a big ‘please don’t be shitty with me’ grin on his face and came over to ask how we were doing. Everyone, including the ones who were previously complained about the wait, cooed and smiled, saying they were fine, and everything was lovely.
Me being me, I couldn’t follow suit though.
‘Jeremy,’ I began politely, ‘do you think the rest of us are going to be used today?’
Jeremy dropped his eyes to the table and everyone around seemed to mirror him.
‘Well,’ he replied, they’re just about to finish this bit, we’ll then have some lunch and I reckon we’ll get you all on set later this afternoon. Sorry about all the waiting!’
The beaming smile had returned.
‘Oh no problem,’ I responded, ‘I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to hanging around all day if you don’t need me.’
Dropped eyes again.
I seem to be making everyone awfully uncomfortable.
Including myself. I don’t like being in environments where you have to watch your ‘p’s and q’s’ and are not able to speak your mind.
Deja vu anyone?
After Jeremy left to go back on set, one of the first three piped up rather excitedly that she overheard that we’d be having some delicious food from the local Italian deli she’d passed on the way to here from the station.
Wonderful, I thought. I’ll feel so much better with some good food in me. I’d resisted the cheap junk food so far and I was starving.
After about fifteen minutes, one of the runners came over with a few cheese and tomato pizzas for us all to share, along with more water.
No salads, no fruit, not even any napkins to wipe our greasy fingers on.
It was then that I saw all the crew sloping off indoors with some large boxes and carrier bags branded ‘Albertinos’.
The cheap bastards. They were getting our services for the day totally gratis, but not only do they give us the cheapest pizza they can buy but used the money they’d saved to fill their own bellies with delicacies from the best deli in the area. I don’t like being in environments where I’m treated like a second class citizen.
There’s that deja vu again….
I ate only sufficient pizza to stop my tummy from rumbling, and just as I’m finishing the second slice, I’m called onto the set.
At last! No matter that my make up had slid off my face from being in the blazing sun for five hours, and that I had pizza crumbs around my mouth, I was actually getting to do something.
Not that it mattered.
I was told to browse the shop rails as if looking for something to buy and had my back to the camera the whole time. I could have drawn lipstick all over my face and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference.
The highlight of the day was when one of the producers set off some kind of alarm on the till and couldn’t turn it off. I watched him for a good five minutes trying to figure it out, getting more and more flustered under ‘the talent’s’ gaze, until I could take it no more and strode over to the check out and pointed to a key in a lock.
‘Hi, have you turned this?’
He didn’t even look at me, the wanker.
‘I TRIED that!’
I reached over the table, turned the key and the alarm stopped.
‘Thanks,’ he muttered crossly, then, sotto voce, ‘for making me look a knob.’
I raised an eyebrow rather archly. You made yourself look a knob love, and you’d have looked like an even bigger one if that thing had carried on bleeping for the rest of the afternoon.
No one looked at me, thanked me or said anything to me.
It was almost as if I didn’t exist.
Deja fucking vu again?
It was all over in ten minutes, then I was back outside in the blazing sun again.
Jeremy was sitting at the table.
‘I was just saying Sista, how you lot are the nicest bunch of extras we’ve had in ages!’ he beamed happily, ‘ you’re really patient, you didn’t moan about the food and you’re really good in front of the camera!’
I smiled back, trying hard not to let a cynical little sneer creep into my expression. I knew that he said this to every single group of extras he worked with, just to ensure that they didn’t get impatient or complain, and oddly enough it seemed to work, as our group all assured him that we were having a whale of a time, loved cheap pizza and would never complain at such a great opportunity to work with whatsisname and that woman from that one-hit-wonder band from the eighties.
I sat and swigged more water as I listened, bemused at their enthusiasm and obvious reluctance to piss him off by voicing their true feelings. Anyone with a single iota of common sense would know that whilst tolerance and acquiescence were valued traits in anyone in this industry, they would not, on their own, guarantee further bookings, let alone, the holy grail, paid acting work.
You could kiss ass all you want, but if you don’t look the part and/or don’t do well in front of the camera, you are toast.
Pretty soon, the first three extras are back on set again, and I chat to the others about what else they do with their time. Some had jobs, some were students, but most were broke and did this stuff for the money, which is pitiful to say the least.
Oh the irony. They want to do this for the money, I want to do it because I don’t want to go back to the kind of ‘good job’ that I used to have.
Am I missing something?
And just for one creepy, chilling, ‘goose walking over my grave’ second, i questioned my decision to stay out of the corporate world and do my own thing.
Was it a mistake? Is it a mistake?
No. Maybe this ‘extra’ malarky isn’t for me, but neither is acting on a daily basis, from 9am to 7pm, no matter how well it paid.
I’ll find another way.
An hour past.
I knew deep down that they weren’t going to use me any more that day, and that they probably wouldn’t use the footage that I featured in earlier.
And I honestly didn’t give a shit. i just wanted them to admit it and let me go home.
The sun went in and all of a sudden it got rather cold.
Not expect to be there that long, I had not brought anything warm to put on.
The runner came out again.
‘Can you lot move out of shot and stand down there?’
He pointed at an alley full of bins, junk and rubbish.
Animals would have been treated with more kindness and respect.
Everyone huddled together muttering bitterly.
‘Why can’t we wait in the shop?’ I asked with irritation, ‘We’d be out of shot and if we’re quiet we won’t disturb them! Let’s ask!’
The muttering was swiftly replaced with a wave of undignifed back peddling.
‘Oh no, I’m not asking, it’s best not to upset them, they might not like it, they….’
‘Oh I’ll fucking do it.’ Losing patience, i went over to the make up artist and made my suggestion.
‘I”m not sure, they might not like it. If you stand behind the bins,’ she points vaguelly in the direction of some hideous, overfilled skip, ‘you’ll be out of the wind?’
Seriously, WHAT IS EVERYONE AFRAID OF?!
They can fuck the hell off. I’ve spent the best part of eight hours of my life waiting around here, frying my ancient skin in the sun, eating food that was probably manufactured in 2003, sitting on some manky bench that makes my back ache, but if they think for one moment that I’m cringing behind a fucking bin for another ninety minutes they seriously have another thing coming.
I strode over the one of the crew.
‘Can we wait inside out of shot? It’s freezing out here and that alley is filthy!’
He immediately looked alarmed and bit his rather pallid, chapped lips.
‘Oh I don’t know. Can’t you just….’ he tailed off, looking at me beseechingly.
For fuck’s sake love, why don’t you grow a pair?
‘Erm, no,’ I say, feigning a look of sympathy edged with steely determination, ‘I’m not a fucking animal!’
Actually I didn’t say the last bit. But I think he got the message, as he gazed at me reproachfully and shuffled off the the shop.
They all seem to be absolutely terrified of one of the producers. Maybe it’s pudgy ‘Till Master’, he’s the only one who seems to have kicked off so far.
Twitchy returns and tells me that they are actually done with me now and I can go.
My request for warmth, shelter and a comfy chair was clearly a major faux pas and something of a liberty on my part.
How very dare I?
But I can go! Hurray!
As I prepare to leave, I bump into Jazzy Jezz.
‘Oh erm, thanks for everything!’ he grins, ‘we got some great footage of you and you were right in shot!’ the grin widens as if to depict just how much in shot I am. ‘So, erm, look out for the ad!’
I grin back.
But my grin says Bollocks! We both know I’m not. But I don’t actually give a flying fuck.
‘Thanks Jeremy! It was a very interesting experience!’
I have never been so pleased to see my comfy, warm little car. Even the traffic en route doesn’t bother me.
And by the time I arrive home and settle on the sofa with a glass of wine, I have come to the conclusion that the world of Extras is not for me, as I would be surrounded by people all wanting to be famous and putting up with all kinds of shit to ‘make it’ whereas I was only really there because I quite fancied dressing up and having a laugh.
‘Hi diddle dee dee, no actors life for me.
Hi diddle dee dum, they can stick it up their bum.’