Last week, I spent two days in a night club getting incredibly hot and sweaty, slightly bored and having to dance every now and then against my wishes. However, whereas I normally have to pay an entrance fee for this sort of experience, this time they were paying me, because I was one of about two hundred background artists being filmed as part of Ricky Gervais’ latest venture into the world of film.
Working as an extra is a lot of fun and I’d recommend it to anyone, regardless of whether you’re interested in the industry or not, because it just gives you such an appreciation of just how much work goes into these productions. The two days that lasted approximately twelve hours each probably constituted at most around five minutes of the film. The longest scene included one and a half pages of dialogue, which should equate to one and a half minutes. The number of times the retake scenes to get the best one possible is staggering, when they filmed the short fight scene that took place it took an entire afternoon so that they could film it from several different angles and mash it together afterwards and it was just unbelievable just how much time and effort the crew were dedicating to the project. What I can’t get over is that after those two days I was on the set, the rest of them carried on going with similar schedules the next day, albeit without two hundred extras, most of which behave like slightly arrogant sheep that are desperate to one day become a shepherd, or at least a supporting sheep dog.
This leads me to talk about some of my co-extras. That last statement I’ve just made probably makes it sound like high levels of contempt are being held on my behalf, but this isn’t the case. I honestly felt like most of us, myself included, at points in the day were like arrogant sheep. They still follow where they’re directed, but they complain about it a little bit and are under the delusion that their actions will lead to bigger and better things. Everyone I spoke to was very friendly and all of them interesting people. I got a few laughs when I said what I did for a living and did suddenly feel it a little absurd that I’d chosen to take two days holiday to go and stand in Koko at five in the morning until five in the afternoon when I was talking about how I wasn’t really intending to try and become a professional actor and it was very clear that I had one of the most stable day jobs there and almost everyone else worked in the industry or were at least desperately trying to.
But in fairness, at the age of twenty-four, I was one of the older extras there. Almost everyone else had just finished university, some had just finished college and were thinking about going to university, and a lot of them were saying something along the lines of “I’m going to move down to London soon and find work down here as an actor/actress” as if they hand work out at the job centre. I think what hit me about these statements is that shortly after university, that was probably my plan as well, however unreasonable it might have been. I’m not sure if it was a roomful of naivety, potential, or just sheer hope, but it was something that I felt surprisingly alien. I want to share that hope again, that idea that everything will work out by just being in the right place at the right time, and I honestly hope that some of these wild theories pan out for at least some of my co-extras. They were nice people and deserve a decent break.
All in all, it was a fun couple of days out that wore me out something stupid, but was completely worth it. I’d recommend it to anybody else, if only to experience that odd mixture of being incredibly excited and bored out of your mind at exactly the same time.
The film in question is called “Cemetery Junction” and should be out in 2010. I am wearing tight brown flares and a slightly-too-tight green tee-shirt and dancing horribly, so maybe you’ll be able to spot me quite easily.
Stranger things have happened: Apparently Harrison Ford was a carpenter on the set of Star Wars when he was pulled in to play Han Solo. I mentioned this to one of the extras I was talking to by way of conversation that had steered itself in that sort of direction. I don’t think he was really listening because he immediately dismissed this as “not a terribly effective career move”, as if I had been deadly serious in suggesting that the way to become a supremely successful performer was to train in carpentry.