----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: No More Extra Work!

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

No More Extra Work!

I was a sucker.

That's the only way to explain it. After my frigid 14 hours on the "Memoirs of a Geisha" set, I had vowed that extra work wasn't worth it and I would not do it again. That was last January. But lo and behold, when the people at Beau Bonneau came calling, I allowed myself to be sweet-talked.

I was in Florida, on vacation when it happened. They got me while I was having dinner at a delicious Japanese restaurant, where I was eating shabu shabu and drinking some fruity mixed drink called a "Lotus Blossom" or some such. Anyway, I was relaxed and receptive and in an agreeable mood. So when I got a message saying that I had the look they wanted for a "skybox" scene in the new Will Smith movie, "Pursuit of Happyness" (no, I don't know why they insist on spelling it wrong), I was eager to return the call.

Me: "Hi, I'm returning a call about extra work for a skybox scene in the Will Smith movie?"

Them: "Oh, great. Thank you so much for calling us back. We've been looking through a bunch of pictures, and we think you have a great look for this scene. It's set in 1981, and it's an upscale group, shooting in a skybox at a 49ers game. Are you available?"

Me (feeling reckless): Sure!

And it was all downhill from there. First, I reported to the wardrobe department for a fitting, where I was given two outfits to wear. One included my own black slacks, a tasteful, if '80s-ish blouse, and a bright red belt. The other was based around a pair of the world's ugliest pants--they were tight at the hips, wide at the legs, made of some scratchy material, and printed in the loudest of loud red-and-green plaids. I was also to wear a tie-neck blouse (again, '80s chic!) and a shapeless red cardigan. This was supposed to be for the tailgate scene. Tailgate scene? It was the first I'd heard of it.

Aside from simply being in an expansive mood, I decided to do the extra work because I figured, how many people can they fit in a skybox? I thought it would be a small group and that I might have a better chance of being seen on screen and that it might not be a very long shoot day. When I heard about the new tailgate scene, that was my first indication that things might not be going exactly as I had hoped. But it was too late to back out now. Beau Bonneau also works with agents to bring people in for commercial auditions, and I didn't want to get a reputation as a flake. And I tried to be philosophical. Even if my face wasn't visible, the world's ugliest pants would make me easy to spot in the movie!

Things went from bad to worse the night before the shoot. I was instructed to call a certain number between 7:00 and 7:30 to get my call time. I called at 7:00. The call time was not yet available. I called at 7:15. The call time was expected to be posted between 7:30 and 8:00. I called at 7:35. Still no call time. I called at 8:00. Nope, nothing. Finally, at 8:15, I got my call time, which was for 5:00 IN THE MORNING! I had to be on set with hair and makeup already done, and even with no traffic, it's an hour's drive from my house to Candlestick Park (I still call it that, even though it was renamed 3Com Park and now it's Monster Park...who can keep up with the changing corporate sponsors?) Anyway, that meant I had to wake up at 3:30 in the morning. Normally, I need eight or nine hours of sleep a night, which clearly was out of the question. Nevertheless, I tried to get my things together and go to sleep immediately, so that I wouldn't turn into a bitchy, sleep-deprived maniac on the set the next day.

The smartest thing I did amongst all this stupidity was go to Target and buy some silky long underwear. It is mighty cold at 3:30 in the morning, and it's not much warmer at 5:00 when all you have to shelter you from the elements is a plastic tent. No heaters. Just a tarp, basically. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs (I hate eggs) and greasy hash browns. And then it was time to put on my outfit. I stood in line for wardrobe with more than 100 other extras. So much for the small group scene. But wait! The world's ugliest pants and I were not to be reunited. We were just wearing one outfit all day, so it was the somewhat tasteful blouse and black slacks, with the addition of the baggy red sweater. I was glad of that. It gave me some much-needed warmth.

By 10:00 or so, we started shooting the tailgate scene. What did we do from 5:00 to 10:00? Waited around, basically. Ah, the joys of being on a movie set. At least the real actors get to hang out in their heated trailers, not in an unheated tent! Anyway, someone from an acting class I took recognized me, so I started chatting with him a bit. And then he quickly managed to piss off the "extras wrangler" by trying to throw himself in front of the camera during every shot. Finally, she told him that if he didn't cut it out, she'd send him back to the tent. It was time to distance myself and make some new friends. I met up with some new people who told me that they were given the same song and dance I was...skybox scene...small group...great look. We were all fools. Fools, I tell you!

After lunch, we were finally ready to shoot the mythical skybox scene. And it wasn't just one skybox. Oh, no. We filled multiple skyboxes. Of course, the only one you'll see on camera is the one with Will Smith and the other stars in it. The one that magically had no extras!

Once we wrapped that scene, I thought that maybe it would be time to go home. Oh, how wrong I was. We were all herded down into the stadium, where we stood on the sidelines and cheered for the same three plays we'd just seen over and over in the skybox. Was it over then? Oh, no. Then, we went up into the stands, where for the next THREE HOURS, we proceeded to sit in every section of the stadium so that the cinematographers could then "tile" the shots to make it look like the place was sold out. Every section. Over and over again. And after every section, they kept telling us that we'd do "just a few more. Just a couple more. Hang in there, guys! We're almost done." By this time, they'd sent the football players (also extras) home, and we were cheering for a couple of guys tossing around a water bottle.

Finally, 14 hours later, it was finished. Yesterday, I got my check in the mail. With straight time, overtime and double time, minus taxes, I made a whopping $134.72. That averages out to $9.62 an hour, about what I could make working at Starbucks, but infinitely colder and more tedious. And there's no "tip jar" movie sets.

So this is officially it. I am denouncing extra work. I will do it no more. My family and friends are under strict orders to put me on lockdown if I ever consider doing extra work again. I am done. Finished. Finito. The end.


  • At 3:24 PM, Blogger Alexandrialeigh said…

    Granted, I don't know much about how show business works, but don't you usually have to do extra work to get better gigs? I mean, we all have to start somewhere, right?

    Please tell me I didn't intern for free for nothing...

  • At 8:02 PM, Blogger Astera said…


    Opinions are split about the importance of doing extra work. Most people agree it's usually good to do it once or twice to get to know your way around the set and pick up some of the lingo.

    HOWEVER! There is also the risk of doing too much extra work, and being pigeonholed as "just an extra." I also did extra work in L.A. (it was kind of a thrill to be in the Peach Pit After Dark on Beverly Hills, 90210), so I feel like I've paid my dues, as it were.

    My agent actually discourages her clients from doing extra work, because although you can sometimes catch the director's eye and maybe get a bit or a line, usually it leads to absolutely nothing. And my experience is right on par with that.

    Internships are different. You can put an internship on your resume. In acting, if you put extra work on your resume, you'll probably just get laughed at.

    In L.A.--this is true--some homeless or semi-homeless people pick up a couple of extra bucks doing extra work. Any look, any type, can be an extra, as long as you've got the $25 to sign up with a casting agency. Thus, there's no real cachet to it.

  • At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You only wore one outfit the entire time? Were other extras doing the same? Do they do this througout the entire movie or just this scene? Wouldn't the filmmakers worry about people spotted the same people throughout different scenes? Why do I ask so many questions? :)

  • At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am in complete agreement. Extra work absolutely sucks. I refuse to do it anymore. It is like being held captive, except I think we may be treated worse.


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