Adventures as an Extra: “The Hitcher”

Last week I got the call to be an extra on “The Hitcher“. They wanted me to be a paramedic. Being the considerate guy I am I told them that I was pretty sure they had my out of date headshot where I was 60 pounds heavier and since I recently shaved my head for a role I wanted to send them a current snapshot to make sure they still wanted me. I emailed the snapshot and got the call back that they did still want to use me, but I would instead be a prisoner. Fitting, since I called this my “Prison Break” hair style, but kind of a bummer since I think the paramedic ended up getting used a lot more and got some good camera time. I’m not sure why they changed me since the paramedic didn’t look all that drastically different from me.

The location was down in San Marcos, about a 45 minute drive away, so I got up at 5:00 a.m. to be on set by 6:00 a.m. I was told that I’d be a “new prisoner” being brought in after having just been arrested so I should bring 3 changes of clothes for wardrobe to pick from. The location was the Hays County Law enforcement center. It was interesting filming there since they obviously couldn’t shut the place down, and periodically everything had to stop while an inmate was brought in or taken out. I parked my car and hauled all my stuff across to the catering tent they had set up outside where we’d be hanging out. I signed in and got some good food for breakfast from the table. After a few minutes I was taken to wardrobe. I told them I was a “New Prisoner”, but instead of keeping me in some of my clothes, they put me in the black and white striped prisoner clothes. Hair and make up looked me over and gave their approval, and I was off to the tent to wait. And wait. And wait.

For anyone who doesn’t know, being an extra is 99% waiting usually. You may wait all day and never even get used, so be prepared. I encounter so many extras who have a bad attitude when they end up getting treated not so well, or get bored. Well get used to it. Extras are cattle. You are a prop. You are the absolute lowest step on the ladder. In fact, you’re more like the floor mat under the ladder. You may get used, you may not. Even if you do, your scene may never make it into the film, and even if it does, you probably won’t be visible in it. The people who enjoy being an extra enjoy it because they just like being a part of the whole process. You sometimes get to meet some cool fellow extras or some cool people on the crew. If you have a laid back, casual attitude and just want to make very little money, generally get fed fairly well and be peripherally involved on a movie then do it. If you have anything other than the most tiny expectations, you will be disappointed.

About halfway through the day, they finally brought some of us on set. There were extras as uniformed policemen, detectives, prisoners in blue prison clothes, and prisoners in black and white stripes (like me). My first job on set was to walk by a door way holding a broom. The guy playing the paramedic got to enter right into the scene I think. Bah! It could have been me! Anyway, after one take, someone didn’t like the prison stripes look as they thought I looked more like I should be in “O’ Brother Where Art Thou”. I actually think they had a point. I was released to go wait in the tent some more. At least they had some big air conditioner blowing cool air through two huge tubes into the tent. It helped, but you could only really feel it if you were right in front of tubes (though they did blow pretty far and powerfully). I waited, I napped, I read. Some of the other various extras got used (police and detectives mostly). Ants would periodically bite my slippered feet so I decided to put my own shoes back on until I was needed. Eventually at about 7:00 p.m. we were released to go home. I changed, got my papers signed and drove the 45 minutes back home where I collapsed in a tired passed out heap on the couch. Eventually I mustered enough energy to go to bed.

The next day my call time wasn’t until 7:00 a.m. I got up at 6:00 a.m. and made the drive back to set. Once again I brought my clothes just in case. Sadly I went to get breakfast and they were out of eggs so I ate some cereal instead. When I went to wardrobe, I explained that I was told I should be a “New Prisoner” with my own clothes so I brought them again. Wardrobe said they like me in the striped better so once again I got all Coen Brothered up and went to the Tent of Eternal Waiting.

We all taken over to the garage area outside the main building where filming was going on. This was waiting area stage 2. Again someone decided that they didn’t like the stripes and sent us striped people to get changed. I went back to wardrobe and was give some prison blues, but the only shoes they had left were 2 sizes two big. They were slip on slipper type shoes so we put some insoles in them, and stuffed the toes with paper towels. I went back to join the others where several other noticed my clown-like shoes. Ah well. While waiting, I noticed some of the cast chairs. One said “Sean Bean“. Wait…Sean Bean? Like Boromir in “Lord of the Rings” Sean Bean? Sean Bean from “Equilibrium”? Yup, that was him. A few times he came out between takes to have a smoke and read from a huge book which I believe was titled “Disciples”. Well that was pretty cool. Standing mere feet from the man who took all those hefty orc arrows in the chest. After a good amount of waiting here they decided they didn’t need us and sent us back to the tent.

Lunch came and went, and as the afternoon wore on we were again summoned. The paper towels weren’t really working as toe stuffing, so I devised a clever method where I used my own socks half-way on my feet with the other half acting as stuffing. More waiting, but also more Sean bean sighting. Eventually they again sent us back to the tent. As it was approaching 7:00 p.m. we were once again brought back onto the set.This time we actually went inside and got used a little. Pretty much no chance of any of us being recognized if we can be seen at all. a little while later (and after more Sean Bean close encounters) we went back to the tent. Finally at about 8:00 or so we were let go.

This whole experience has made me wonder if I should stop doing extra work. I pretty much did this only because I needed the money. I have a resume full of acting experience as a lead performer so extra work has no benefit for me there. It’s really more taunting for someone like me. You are so close to everything you want to be doing and yet you are still on the outside, not really a part of it. For me it’s double-edged too, because not only is there the acting angle, but I’m trying to really make a career out of film and television crew work, so I see all these people on the crew and wish I was working too. I at least got to talk to a few of them over lunch about how they got there, but man it’s frustrating to know what you want to be doing and not be doing it. I love just being there on the set, but I really think that’s it may be more disheartening for me in that capacity than it is enjoyable.

I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just going to ask them where they’re goin’, and hook up with them later.
-Mitch Hedberg

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