Tuesday, 18 January 2011

5) Be an extra

On Friday the 19th of September in 2008 from 7:30pm until about 5am I had my first expeience with being a 'background artist', or for everyone else who doesn't take it overly serious, an 'extra'. If you can suffer my write-up, there is a video at the bottom.

I had decided I wanted to be an extra earlier in the year, when I found myself getting bored by sitting around being a student.

I think it was my girlfriend at the time, Tara, who had found a website that advertised for extras. The particular one I applied for was a 'Northern Soul' film, originally named 'Souled Out', later renamed to 'SoulBoy'. It featured upcoming actors Martin Compston, and actress Felicity Jones, Jo Hartley (This is England, Dead Man's Shoes), and the unknown brother of famous singer 'Lily Allen' (he say's his name is Alfie). I may sound a bit bitter about Alfie Allen, and rightly so, but we will come to that.

Me, Tara and Rhys went to a church, across the road from a local cinema it was going to be filmed outside. It seemed quite a big affair. They had hair and makeup people, who loved mine and Rhys' out-dated, long, studenty hair. After the hair they gave me weird trowsers and a long trenchcoat. Rhys' was told to wear his own clothes (that still makes me laugh).

A couple of hours later they were ready to start filming. We had moved to the front of the cinema and started filming a variety of things such as walking off the bus, standing around talking, etc. Each time they started a scene, they moved me and Rhys' to the front, or asked us to come off the bus first, much to the annoyance of Tara and the type three extras.

Before I continue, I will talk about the types of extras.

Type-one, or "Just for a Laugh Extras"
These are the people that hear about something being filmed and just go for fun. They don't care if they are seen, it's just the experience. At this point in time I was a type-one extra.

Type-two, or "Serial Extras"
These are the people who browse sites and are maybe in an extras agency. They still don't take it seriously, but continue doing it for fun. I slightly became a type-two extra.

Type-three, or "The Background Artist"
To these people it is more than being someone nobody can see. This person makes the scene. This type of extra will volunteer at every opportunity and they will over-act in hope that they, while standing down the road holding an umbrella, be noticed by Darren Aronofsky who happens to be looking for his next star. Nobody likes this type. They don't even like themselves.

We had annoyed some of 'The Background Artists', who silently questioned how someone that probably doesn't even have a GCSE in drama (which I do, so ha), is being allowed to hold the 'best bag'. I thrived on their passive-aggression.

Anyone who has been an extra will know the majority of the time is spent doing nothing. It is actually very boring. Even the novelty of the filming wears off once you have done the same thing 5 or 6 times. You must find a way to entertain yourself. This realisation hit me at around 2am. Which is where 'The Background Artist' fun comes into it.

Thankfully, as an extra, nobody cares what you do, and as such you are given very little direction. For example, "Go and greet those people, like they are your friends, hug, do what you want". Perfect. Earlier in the night I had noticed one eager 'Background Artist', who didn't care that he was maybe 15 years too old for the scene, and stood talking only to other 'Background Artists', or possibly the most attractive of the 'Serial Extras'.

Before this scene started he had agreed with his friends how he would greet them. This is serious business. For him this cannot go wrong. His career depends on it. Me and Rhys had other ideas.

There was a shout of Action. Me and Rhys walked, alongside two other girls, towards the group of people. The Background Artist walked out, through the crowd, arms wide, ready to greet the girls. Me and Rhys, with a jump in our step, intercepted The Background Artist in a loving embrace, like we were his long lost children. The girls had to walk past to another group. I have never seen a podgy middle-aged man look so disappointed.

Two or three more takes were filmed, each time he tried to avoid us. We used different tactics each time, from cutting off the girls, to making strong eye-contact, maybe with a noticeable wave. A man so serious about his work he had to play long. I could have pulled out fake guns and shot at him and he would have dropped, in a semi-realistic manner.

I promised I would say a bit about Alife Allen. Looking at his manner, he looked like he saw himself as quite the star of this film. The other actors joked around together, but not Alife. Alfie complained about how cold it was. Not only was it cold, it was cold enough to make him have to lie down with paramedics around him. As a spectator, it seemed like he had perfected a fake cough. Maybe he has hope yet. A few other things he did was annoying, but I don't want this to turn into Alfie-bashing. Well, I do, but I will refrain.

In the 10 hours we were there, we filmed quite a lot of scenes. We were also asked to buy drugs off the director in his cameo, but by that time Tara had got tired and wanted to leave. It was quite the experience, and I was excited to see the outcome. I'm sure you are too.

So as you see, it's a pretty thankless job!

Ps. I have since done a government training video, where I was in a court as a prosecutor, and had lines (though I think they were going to be silenced out with information over), but have little interest in doing more now.


  1. Dude who knows! One day you might go from being MORE than an extra...It can happen!

  2. Wow, I think I need to watch this movie now, where can I get it?

  3. I don't think I'd want to be more than an extra. There is no guarantee that you will keep getting work.

    As for where you can get the movie, I'm not sure. Maybe somewhere will sell it. If not, type 'Soulboy' into Google, and see if you can download it. It's not the best thing i've seen. I'd say the video above is the strongest few seconds ;)

  4. Even though I've never had any inkling to want to do this, I find myself jealous.

    How does that work?

  5. Brilliant background artistry. The way you carried that bad made me laugh, and cry, feel hope and love. Bravo.

    Also, they told him to keep his clothes. Hahaha. Makes me laugh too.


  6. I'm quite impressed, good job :) And I'm happy for you, that you've crossed one thing from your 100 Things To Do list. =)

  7. I think I liked super-slo-mo best, even though I caught you on the first take.

    Oh and that bag handling was genius!

  8. Wow. I think I might try this out.