An Extra Life: Ya’ll Makin’ a Movie?

Character: ND Pedestrian

Check-in Number: 49

Call Time: 8:00am

Wrap Time: 8:00pm

Coffees Drank: 4

P.A. Score: 3 out of 5

I received a casting notice for a show that stated the shoot for the next day was dependent on the weather. They were hoping for clear skies, but when I checked the forecast it said that it was supposed to rain all day. I was excited, I was hoping that we’d get to holding and it’d be raining and then they’d send us all home and still pay us. The call time was at 5:48am, which is the most specific call time I’ve had as a background actor. They’re usually in 30 minute increments, but that day we were supposed to be there right at 12 minutes ’til 6. I woke up at 3:48am and looked out the window. It was pouring down rain and everything was going according to plan.

I got ready and hopped on the train. I read over the casting notice again. It stated that there were two different filming locations, one on each side of Central Park. They had separate call times for separate groups of background actors, so I figured if anything we’d only be working in the morning. I got to holding, it was a church, always a church. I sat down and started filling out my paperwork. A P.A. came over and let everyone know that we were going to be filming in the rain and that we would be filming at both locations. My plan crumbled like blue cheese. There’s nothing worse than expecting a short day and finding out you’ll be there for at least 10 hours.

There were two P.A.s at the holding location. One was incredibly nice and very personable. The other one was very high-strung and not amused by the vast array of personalities he had to deal with being a background P.A. They both made a couple of announcements and then I went and got some breakfast from the food truck near holding. I had some eggs, bacon, hash browns and a breakfast burrito. I always eat before I leave my apartment, so I had already had a pretty big breakfast before I got to holding. However, if they’re offering free food while I’m on set I’m going to eat as much of it as I possibly can. Is it worth it to feel really gross for a while just so I don’t have to eat again for the rest of the day? Uh, yeah duh!

Once I was done with breakfast the nice P.A. took us over to set. Like I said earlier, it was pouring down rain. When we got to the set about 10 of us huddled underneath a hotel’s awning. That was the only place to take shelter from the rain, otherwise we’d just be out in the elements. We made a path for people to walk, to and from the hotel. The doorman was not ok with us being there. I understand that we were crowding the entrance to the hotel, but we made a pathway, also, it was raining. He came out and talked to the high-strung P.A. and we had to move. The H.S.P.A. came over and moved us, right out into the open. We then had to stand in the rain until we were done filming that part of the scene. Some smart people brought umbrellas; I was not one of them. As we walked out from under the awning an older fella jokingly said, “I don’t want to be near this cheap building anyway.” Since the H.S.P.A. had no sense of humor he got mad and scolded the older gentleman.

“Hey! Don’t do that! We’d like to come back here.”

We all snickered behind his back, because it was clearly a joke and because H.S.P.A was a big ol’ dickhead.

We weren’t allowed to use umbrellas during the scene, I guess because some of them had logos on them and since those companies weren’t sponsoring the show they would not receive any free airtime. I get it, I suppose, but I have to imagine the scene looks pretty silly, with rain pouring down outside and not one single person is carrying an umbrella. The scene was shot from inside a café with a couple of the principal actors chatting. The rest of the patrons inside the café were background actors pretending to enjoy their imaginary coffee. I was a part of the group outside the café. Our job was to walk up and down the block, past the café windows intermittently to make it look like there was foot traffic outside.

I got partnered up with a girl named Nikki. We were probably close to the same age (I’ll never tell) and made to look like a couple walking down the street. Normally if I’m paired up with someone in a scene I pretend to have a fake conversation about nothing. I’ll point to inanimate objects and pretend that they interest me. It’s background acting, I don’t really have to find “my purpose” for the scene. Nikki was different. She was more on the creative side. She wanted to know where we were coming from, where we were going, who we were meeting, how long we’ve been a couple, etc… I played along, because it made it less awkward than shutting down her thought process.

“So we’re like dating, right?” She said.

“I suppose so. Maybe we’re brother and sister.”

“No way! We’re definitely a couple… Are we just dating or are we married?” She asked.

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

“We’re for sure married. Where are we going? The café?” She continued to put the scene together.

“Yeah, we’re going to get some coffee and… We’re meeting some friends.” I helped.

“Of course! Your friends or my friends?” She pondered.

“Our friends!”

“Ok, Ok, how do we know them?” She continued questioning.

“We met them in college.”

“Great! Let’s do this.” She said excitedly.

We got our story down. The whole conversation felt like we had committed a crime and were trying to get our story straight incase we were interrogated by the police. It wasn’t too bad though, it made the scene less awkward than it would’ve been if we had just kept quiet and not talked to each other the whole time. We waited for the cameramen to set up their shots and did a couple of rehearsals. Nikki and I pretended to chitchat, I pointed to the café and we nodded at each other. They called “cut on rehearsal” and we returned to our original spots.

Before we actually started to film, the nice P.A. came over and told us that he was going to separate us and we’d each be walking by ourselves. I was ok with it, but a small part of me was like, “you can’t deny our love!” Nikki took it harder than I did.

“So, I guess, you just gave me the wrong time and I’m late to meet up with you and our friends at the café?” She said.

“I don’t think we’re a couple anymore.” I broke the news.

“Well shit. Now I’ve got to come up with another story.”

I’d like to know what story she came up with, but I never asked. I was very conscious of walking normal, I didn’t want to be the guy in the shot that looked like a robot moving the same arm with the same leg while walking down the sidewalk. I’m sure I looked alright, but I bet there were definitely a couple times you could tell I was thinking about it too much. We did about 10 different takes of that shot and returned to holding. Once we got back to holding we gathered up our things and boarded a bus that took us to the second set/holding location. Can you guess what type of building the second holding location was? Correct! Church number two! Maybe it’s some weird kind of sign. I spent my entire childhood trying to avoid going to church and now that I’m on my own and working as a background actor I can’t get away from churches.

The second location was somewhere over in the lower east side of Manhattan. There was a lot of pedestrian foot traffic, not including all the background actors. In this scene half of the background actors were lined up on the left side of a building’s entrance and the other half on the right side. The principal actor would walk out of the entrance, approach a black SUV and yell, “who the fuck are you?” During that entire exchange, myself and the other background actors would walk up and down the sidewalk past the principal actor. Once we got to the end of the street we’d turn around and walk back the way we came. We kept doing that back and forth until the director yelled cut and we’d return to our original positions. It was only like a 30 second shot, but we filmed it over and over again for about 5 hours.

It eventually started getting dark, since we had been out there all day. We had to start wrapping up but the director wanted to get a few more shots before we could do so. We went back to our original spots again and got ready to film the scene again. Right before the director yelled action a random guy walked through the set. He was clearly insane. I’m not making fun of him because he was crazy, I’m celebrating him for who he is. He was completely oblivious to what was going on, he had no idea that we were filming a TV show.

The man was carrying a hand held radio circa early 90s. There was nothing playing on the radio, however, the man was dancing along with it. Everyone saw this guy walk through the set except the director apparently. As he was strolling down the street the director yelled, “action!” We started walking up the sidewalk past the principal actor all while keeping an eye on the random gentleman. I got about half way up the street when I saw him realize what was going on. I saw him catch the camera out of the corner of his eye. He looked at the camera, then up at the director, then back down at the camera and said, “oooooh! Ya’ll makin’ a movie?” That’s when the director realized what was happening and yelled, “cut!” Then the random fellow stuck his head into the hood of the camera and said, “why don’t you put ME in your movie!” A cop came and grabbed the guy shortly after that and pulled him off to the side. The guy was upset that his silver screen debut had been cut short and as he walked away you could hear him scream in the distance, “fuck yo’ movie!”

It was intense, but also one of the best things I’ve witnessed in person. Is this what they’re referring to when they say, “movie magic”? We wrapped pretty shortly after that interaction because I think we got the shot we were looking for.

It was a rainy, cold, twelve hour day, but it was also a fun and interesting, for me at least. I ended up seeing Nikki two days later on the set of a different show. We weren’t paired up together, but we did say hello. It’s nice to know that even after our imaginary relationship was broken up that we can still remain friends.