The following is part of what I hope to someday turn into a magazine article on my experiences as an extra on a movie set. Hope you enjoy it, I plan to have more installments at irregular intervals.
"Ya'll doing okay?" asked the baby-faced production assistant.
"Fine," I replied, with considerably more heartiness than I actually felt. It wasn't every day that I stood on an open platform eight stories up, hanging on to a "railing" made of 1-inch metal rods, and where the "floor" was a metal gridwork that did nothing to hide unpleasantly long distance to the ground.
That was bad enough. But when the director yelled "Action!" (they really do that) my companion and I had to climb up another flight of stairs and end up a nine-story platform, this one without walls of any kind or even the impression of a roof. As small a comfort as those things seemed down on the eighth floor, they were sorely missed on the ninth.
But it wasn't so bad sitting down in between takes, where I could look at the clouds and pretend I wasn't all that close to them.
"Pictures up!" said the PA, scrambling to his feet. With a groan, I did the same.
The internet has almost certain made it much easier for people to find out about movie shoots and get involved. Its what I did. A site called AustinActors.net has a place where people can post casting calls for all manner of plays, commercials, student shorts, and feature films. The governor's office also has a website that lists major productions in the state of Texas. It was on the governor's site that I found the listing for a Sandra Bullock movie about Truman Capote with the working title ""Every Word Is True" (most pictures have a working title that may or may not be the one that goes up on the theater marquee). I printed my acting resume (very scanty), included a couple of pictures, and sent it in. Some weeks later, I got a call, not from the EWIT people, but for another movie, "Revolver", starring Sarah Michelle Gellar of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame. This is also fairly common, when a single casting company handles extras for several movies, for you to get a call for something you didn't even know was going on.
The caller asked if I was available for three days the next week, and if I was afraid of heights. I said I'd have to check back on the availability, and fudged on the fear issue by saying "not really". "Not really" was not really true. I am scared of heights, although it doesn't rise to the phobia level. I figured if I could handle being on a ski lift, I could handle whatever they were likely to have me do (extras don't "Tarzan from a vine" as Lee Majors once sang in the theme for his "The Fall Guy" TV show). As it happened I was right, but I surely did not enjoy it.
Next was a call to my wife, who is thankfully very supportive of my occasional forays into the acting world. This was important, as my life as a stay-at-home dad made it easy for me to show up for acting, but harder for us to have a place for our son to go after school. Arrangements were made, however, so my gig was on.
The next step was wardrobe. I showed up near the old airport with several combinations of "work clothes"; jeans, t-shirts, heavy boots, etc. I tried a couple combinations, put on a set of coveralls, and that was it. They labeled the overalls with my name, and sent me home to wait for a call time.
The "call time" is what time you are supposed to appear on the set or, more commonly, some gathering place nearby. My call time turned out to be 6:30AM Monday morning, at a park near downtown. The night before I packed my bags with stuff; extra clothes, some bottled water, a snack, a book, my notepad and a pen. I was ready.