"Well, the way they make shows is, they make one show. That show's called a pilot. Then they show that show to the people who make shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they're going to make more shows. Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don't, become nothing. She starred in one of the ones that became nothing." -- Samuel L. Jackson, as Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction
Okay, so I'm not starring in anything ala Mrs. Mia Wallace, but yesterday I was an extra in an overnight shoot for a new ABC pilot, "The Unusuals". I fear this pilot may go the way of Fox Force Five, but I figured what the hell, I may as well give it a try.
I got a call on Thursday from C and G Casting about a shoot on Saturday night (note, I didn't realize at the time that it wasn't just a shoot on Saturday night, it was an overnight shoot, starting on Saturday, ending sometime as yet undisclosed on Sunday. On Friday I called in for more details and was told to wear a spring casual outfit and bring a change of clothes that were more business appropriate. I was then told to call back on Saturday morning for call time, location, etc. Saturday morning I find out that this is an overnight and that I need to arrive at 6pm at 4 West 43rd Street (aka the home of the Unification Church, otherwise known as the Moonies, who apparently rent out their auditorium space for extra cash...) our "holding" area.
I show up at 6, fill out my pay form, and proceed to pick out a table to sit to await further instructions. I sat with two older women (one easily in her sixties, the other probably seventy-- then again we all know that seventy is the new forty). After a little bit another older woman joined us (who was also easily in her seventies), as she knew the other two from previous jobs. I took this time to do some work for The Job (because nothing says "waiting as an extra" like drafting a Loan Agreement) and listen to the conversations all around. After a bit, I joined in the chatting asking about waivers and the union, etc. The ladies were Vicenza Terrence and a third who's name I didn't catch. Both Vicenza and Terrence live in the Village and have been on Law and Order! Most recently, they've been extras for Rescue Me. They were a hoot and very fun to chat with. After a bit the wardrobe lady came and assessed all of us. Luckily I got the thumbs up for my outfit, while unfortunately one of my table mates had to change out of her striped blouse and put on a sweater she had brought-- downside? it was cashmere and our holding area was decidedly not air conditioned. I was really a bit surprised that this whole extra thing is much of a "do-it-yourself" affair... the outfits that people had on totally ran the gamut. I guess in a production the director doesn't mind leaving certain things to chance!
After about an hour and a half or two hours the PA's called for extras number 26-77 (all of us non-SAG folk) to go on set. There had been rumors that we would be at Grand Central, but instead we were sent over to the subway station for the Shuttle. It was pretty neat-- the film crew had closed one of the subway entrances and had two subways and one platform cordoned off. We were put on a car (with A/C!) and told to await further instructions. Everybody was very sociable and chatty and I met a nice man from Brooklyn in his forties that just decided to give the whole acting thing a go. After a bit we were joined by Teddy (who I think must have been an AD) and told what the scene was going to be and what we would be doing-- a hand full of us were chosen to go out and populate another subway car where the shot would be taking place. Our group was cut in half, with the first bunch of people going in the car. Then the rest of us kind of felt like the kids who don't get picked for dodge ball on the playground. After a few more minutes though three more of us were taken into the car. A couple, and me. The couple followed Teddy into the car and were told to sit down, I was standing behind Teddy and when he turned around he asked me: "Were you brought in here?" I quickly said, "Yes". Then he told me to stand near the door, holding on to one of the poles. Turns out I got to be placed right next to the action of the scene-- I'm sure that when its all said and done my head will be cut out of the frame, but just so you all know-- I was wearing tan linen Eileen Fisher pants and brown Prada pumps. If this thing ever airs, you'll know those linen pants are me!!
We even were told to act! When the action of the scene took place those of us near the actors were supposed to react--- but Teddy specifically told us *not* to overact. When we were doing the rehearsals I specifically didn't really change my facial expression too much and one of the other extras made a comment-- to which I noted that there was no way in hell that I was going to be considered to be "overacting" and manage to get myself thrown off that subway car before we actually filmed anything! Noting that during all of this, one of the guys next to me kept talking to the "talent" which I had read before was strictly verboten. I kept waiting for one of the PA's to come and tell the guy to knock it off, especially when he started asking Harold Perrineau where he is living these days, and then started giving him suggestions on how to play the scene. We ended up shooting the scene four times, two different ways and then were sent back to holding!
Upon going back to the holding pen, Vicenza and Terrence had been joined by some other new faces and they wanted to know the details... one big detail to note is that by this time (after nine pm) we still hadn't been fed anything... but I guess that's all par for the course. I'll know in the future to certainly pack my own snacks.
We were all shuttled back to the subway station once more before we did get dinner (which was surprisingly good-- I certainly didn't expect to have mussels, clams and shrimp as part of the buffet) and then we hung out at holding until about 12:45 when it was back to set. During dinner the Sag Rep on set was hanging around by our table and answering questions-- one of the most surreal discussions of the evening was about the pay rate, union rules and availability of parts for playing the "victim" on Law and Order. Apparently, if you're in full body make-up it means an extra whole $18.00 per day. One of the other extras had driven up from Philly and she brought her dachshund with her. Vicenza noted that since we hadn't been asked to bring pets, the dog wouldn't be getting any money out of this "gig".
I can honestly say both that I have never spent so much time in one day on a subway car nor have I ever spoken to so many random people all at once. Everybody was amazingly nice (and a bit kooky, but I think that's to be expected... especially when you're sitting around underground watching stunt men do their thing at 3am). Also, on a funny note, there was one girl from Hightstown and Eugene, a Russian gentleman from East Brunswick. Eugene was in the scene with me on the subway car and at the end of the night we were instructed to walk up and down the platform for an "establishment" shot. When I asked him whether he was a full time actor he said that he wasn't-- he works for a mortgage company here in Princeton, but he did say that he'd like to pursue acting because, he "has a look". He said that "I don't have to be Robert DeNiro, but a few lines would be nice" (all said in a bit of a thick Russian accent). Eugene would be perfect as a Bond Villain (much like Dr. Gamburg) though a little on the short side.
Overall it was a neat experience, even if all I'm getting paid is about $100 for 11.3 hours of "work". It was great to see how the production happens and I do have to say I was a bit envious of the crew when craft services came around at 3:30 or so with a giant tray full of cannoli.
I finally got signed out after 5:00am, as the sun was coming up and got home by 6:45. It was kind of like overnight jury duty, except the pay was slightly better.
I will say, if nothing else it was an experience. If you're in New York, you have some free time and you're looking for a unique evening social event I say go for it, after all, somebody has to be that person in the background riding on the subway car-- why not have it be you?