Excuse me for this extremely long post, but it’s been a while since I’ve written anything about the entertainment industry and this subject contains a LOT of information. I hope it’s helpful for those of you out there that are in–or want to get into–the world of background acting.
“Are we ever going to the set?” If anyone has ever been on set as an extra, you know there’s a lot of “hurry up and wait”. If you’re unfamiliar with that phrase, it’s when you get rushed through hair, makeup, and wardrobe just to sit around for hours waiting for the crew to be ready for you. Just when you’re bored out of your mind and about to fall asleep, they let you know it’s time to work. Yay! If you’re fortunate, they give you a 5min warning to get to the bathroom, touch up your makeup, and head to set. Other times, it’s just “Let’s go! We need you guys on set NOW!” The worst is when you finally decide to make yourself a plate of food–if you wanna call it that–and right when you sit down, you’re rushed off somewhere. Oh, and right after you do that, they say “Nevermind, you guys have 15mins before we need you.” Really?
“That’s our food?” Eating is a whole other issue. If you’re a background actor/actress it doesn’t take long to realize that you’re at the bottom of the food chain on set. Yes, pun definitely intended. Not only are we looked down upon, it’s as if we’re monkeys in a cage that you can just throw some chips and soda at to keep happy. I recently worked on Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” music video where there was a full set up of nice food that I thought was for everyone. I was browsing through and the craft services person said, “Oh, you guys have food over there in holding.” I’ll let you know what prison–ahem, HOLDING–is in a minute. I walk over to holding and see a small bucket of chips, corn nuts, fruit snacks, and gum. Seriously? This is our food. It’s one of those things you get used to dealing with after being on set a few times. It is what it is and you might wanna prepare a sandwich or toss some fruit and trail mix into your overpacked bag of clothes when you’re prepping for work the next day. I’ll talk about the crazy packing you have to do in a minute too.
“When’s lunch?” Please please PLEASE don’t ever ask anyone when your next meal is when you’re on set. They already think we’re a pack of savages, so don’t feed into their stereotype. I try to ask the crew the least amount questions I possibly can because they’re all pretty overworked anyways. No need to make their job any harder. After all, we’re just a bunch of monkeys who sling poop at each other, right? When you do end up getting a meal, it might be as little as a few slices of pizza or as much as a steak or salmon entrée with a salad bar and desert options. Don’t count on the second option. I’ve noticed that music videos and low-budget productions are the worst and television shows that have been on the air for a while are the best as far as food choices. You’ll get pretty used to the kinds of sets there are and you’ll know if you need to bring food from home or not. It only takes a few weeks in the industry to figure out what to expect when you get booked.
“Should I pack my whole closet?” NO! Please don’t. You can tell who’s a newbie when you see how large their bag is. When you get a call from the production office telling you what wardrobe to bring, it might be descriptions like “A rave in San Tropez.” or “Cool, suburban, hipster.” What the heck does this mean?! Fortunately, I’m slightly into fashion, but for someone who’s not, The Gap and American Apparel might look the same to them. Pardon me if that’s you, take no offense to what I just said. I used to overpack, bringing every option I could as if I was preparing for a month’s trip on a surprise vacation. I learned from one guy how to really save yourself time and headaches. He never brought more than two options. In fact, he would just have on one outfit with layers. If they don’t like the jacket, he didn’t have to wear it. If they asked for more, they’d be forced to use their own wardrobe. This actually works, but I don’t pack that light. I’ll bring a tank, a shirt, pants, shorts, a skirt and maybe another pair of shoes depending on the description I’m given. I can fit everything I need in a small gym bag and it’s easier to lug around and keep an eye on. You never know who you’re working with, and by the end of the day your belongings might be in a dark corner under a tent somewhere.
“Should I invest into some gear?’ Remember how I said you can spot a newbie? Well, you can tell who’s a veteran when you see them flip out their camping chair in holding. Hahaha. There’s hardly ever enough room for everyone they hire, so it’s crowded and you might not get a seat. That’s why some people bring their own. I never have, but to each his own. Holding is a place where they stick all the extras together so that everyone is accessible at the same time when background is needed for a shot. My best holding experience was for a TV show called Mad Love and we were placed in an air-conditioned building with a few rooms that had couches, a place to hang your clothing, and coffee tables. The worst was for a Taio Cruz’s “Little Bad Girl” music video where we were under a tent, on the beach, in the freezing cold, at night-time, in summer attire, and it was raining.
“Maybe I’ll get discovered. This is my chance!” No, no it’s not. And no, no you won’t. There are those one-in-a-million moments that happen to some people, but it’s not likely. Just go there with the mindset of working. If you focus mostly on being in the shot and getting your face featured on camera, it becomes a frustrating competition between you and the other two people who are vying for attention because no one else really cares. Just stay out of trouble, never question the crew’s ideas, and pay attention to the details of your role.
This insight isn’t meant to scare you, but if I had known this stuff before I started doing background acting I don’t know if I would have done it. This if your career–if you choose to do it–and the good days come with the bad. It’s totally worth it. What other job do you know of that you can get paid to sit around for most of the day and socialize with people? It’s as fun as you make it. Some people do bring cards, games, guitars, etc. to help pass the time. I worked on Lady Gaga’s “Judas” video and we had a full band going on while we were in holding. You also meet some pretty amazing people who you end up working with in the future and it’s cool to grab friends from different sets and stay in touch. Mostly, just know that anything can happen, and you have to make the most of each day. It’s exciting to know that no day of work will ever be the same, and if you don’t like a certain director, don’t work with them anymore! It’s one of the most flexible and laid back jobs I’ve ever had, but it’s not for everyone. Maybe I’ll see you on set one day! Until then…
❤ K. Love