Adventures as an Extra: Untitled Kimberly Peirce Project

My latest adventure was playing a soldier on the new Untitled Kimberly Peirce film. We were playing the other soldiers in the platoon with the lead actors, Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum,and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It started with a costume fitting where I was outfitted with 5 different costumes for 9 different days of filming. This was definitely cooler than most “extra” gigs since most of the time you’re just bringing your own clothes and don’t receive this level of attention.

On our first day of filming, I drove to the location about 45 minutes outside Austin and waited in line to check in in the morning, then went to the costume tent where we waited in line to give up our vouchers so that we could then proceed to the costume tent and get changed into our fatigues. Many of the extras were actual military or ex-military, and some had their own actual uniforms. We then met the military advisor on the set who was a former marine and would be the one in charge of us for the duration of filming. From this point on we did everything much like an actual Army unit. We followed commands, marched in formation (or our best effort anyway being that many extras were non-military), etc.

This day we were supposed to be filming a bus scene. After breakfast and the requisite waiting that is part of the life of an extra, we were shuttled over to the set location where we waited in line at props and were outfitted with guns and other gear. The sun was coming out now and temperatures were rising. We waited a bit before they started loading us into two separate buses. The front bus had the stars and one group of extras. They then loaded some of us onto the second bus, but then did some shifting around and then took some of us back off the bus. I ended up being one of the lucky extras who ended up not working at all all that day. About half of us just ended up sitting outside in the heat all day until we were released and then got to change back into our clothes, wait in line to get our vouchers back, then wait in line to get them signed. Apparently life wasn’t much better for those on the hot buses with no A/C (or at least, A/C that didn’t appear to work very well). I drove the 45 minutes back home to enjoy the weekend before my Monday call time.

Now I must take this time to make a slight side journey here. This kind of experience is not at all unusual. Many times you will end up not being used at all when you work as an extra. Part of the reason I write these posts is to hopefully inform people about what being an extra is really like. I don’t think I’ve ever worked a single extra gig where there wasn’t at least several people who started getting disgruntled or unhappy about all the waiting, or any of the other less glamorous aspects of being an extra (which is in all actuality not at all glamorous). Most people come in with completely unrealistic expectations of what they are about to experience.

On Monday, I again drove the 45 minute journey, but this time we parked in a lot and were bussed to the location. Again there was the usual line for check in, line for costumes, then breakfast. Today was a parade. We would be marching down the street as if we’d just returned home. The streets were lined with hundreds of extras as we made a few passes in the buses waving to the crowd who cheered wildly as we passed. What was to follow was one of the hardest days of work in my life. We spent the next 12 hours or so marching up the street in full Army uniforms in the Texas sun. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. At least they make sure that there is plenty of water and other drinks being constantly distributed.

All the stars were friendly enough, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Since we were all in the same platoon together, they mostly stayed with the rest of us soldier extras. Unfortunately some teenage girls along the side of the streets mobbed Ryan and Channing a few times. They were all very gracious in granting pictures with extras though, even though extras are absolutely not supposed to ask for pictures or autographs. The stars are there to do a job and it’s not very cool to bother them while they’re trying to work and get in character. Never the less they were very nice about it all.

Some of the military guys had gone through a simulated ‘boot camp” with the stars and therefore had a bit of rapport with them . A few of them liked to kid Jospeh about his “Angels in the Outfield” days which he took in stride.

Since there were hundreds of extras this day, there was another another nice long wait for the lunch line. After 12-14 hours of marching and sweating, we were released to once again do several rounds of waiting as before, with the bonus round of waiting for the shuttle back to parking. Naturally, with so many more extras, the waiting game was on a much larger scale.

Another 45 minute drive and I was collapsing in my bed to get some sleep before the early call the next day. Tuesday was a continuation of the previous day and so again we were basically out in the sun for 12-14 hours in full uniform pretending to stand at an awards ceremony, and then later pretending to meet our families and girlfriends, etc. They rounded up all the female extras playing “sweethearts” and let them pick their man. Of course this left many of us unpicked and feeling like the kid no one wants on their dodgeball team. After the sweethearts, they started grouping the rest of us with “family members”. I ended up without a girlfriend or a family. It was very sad. Eventually I met up with some of the other soldiers and parade extras who had not been grouped up and we formed our own impromptu family. We had a lovely fake reunion. At the end of the day we were all happy to be released, but then, of course, just when you psychologically think you’re done, you start the gauntlet of lines and waiting, so you’re really not done for at least another hour.

After having Wednesday off to recover, we reconvened on Thursday for a scene at a bar. Yay! Inside and air conditioned! We were all in street clothes instead of uniforms. They took extras who said they could dance and paired them up to be two stepping on the dance floor. I do not dance. The military adviser made sure that the tables closest to the stars’ table were filled with the real military folks, I guess as a sort of reward for serving our country. I, meanwhile, was at a far back corner table where I would never be seen. Since we were working inside, the Assistant Directors had to keep constantly telling everyone to be quiet so the crew could hear and work to get set up. This part drove me nuts. Not because they kept telling people to be quiet, but because the idiotic mob seemed to have a memory of about 5 seconds. They would be quiet for maybe 30 seconds and then instead of remaining quiet, would start murmuring, which would soon turn to talking, which would soon mean the room was loud again.

If you are ever going to be an extra, please, PLEASE, just follow the simple directions you’re given. If you are told to whisper, then whisper. If you are told to not go to a certain area, don’t go there! Sadly, there’s always at least a handful of idiots, and therefore all the extras end up getting treated like children because a few ass-hats ruin it for everyone else.

It was a late night of filming before we were let go. We came back the next day to continue more of the same. It was another 14 hour day for about a 2 minute scene before we were once finished. I met a lot of really great people, extras and crew alike. I completely threw my healthy eating ways to the wind and gave in to the various devilish snacks provided on the snack table. It was some of the most grueling work I have ever done, but as usual, I felt at home. The set is where I need to be. Sadly they rescheduled the rest of the dates to a period when I wasn’t available so I didn’t get participate in the rest of the shooting days. I wasn’t entirely disappointed though, as since I’ve mentioned before, it’s a very strange experience that both feeds and taunts the hungers and desires I have. It simultaneously sooths and inflames the itch. A bit placating and a bit torturous. Hopefully, I’ll at least be able to relate some “adventures of a bit player” instead in the near future. “Adventures of a lead actor” would of course be even better…

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