Working as A Television Extra and How I Lost My Pants

As a mountain recluse who is usually in bed with a book and a cat before the sun goes down, I never dreamed I’d find myself in the middle of the city at one a.m. surrounded by strangers and voluntarily and enthusiastically surrendering my pants. That’s exactly what happened at the end of my 15-hour shift working as a television extra.

When the call came, I was totally surprised. On a lark months ago, I had signed up to work as an extra on a popular television show filmed nearby. When I did not hear back, I just forgot about it. But on the eve of the eve of my first day at a new job, the call came. And what better way to pass the time when I would be otherwise at home nervous about my first day at work. So, I picked up the gauntlet because I’m an idiot, as will become painfully clear.

Working as a TV extra is basically a hostage situation. The first thing they do is separate you from your transportation so you can’t run away. If you’re a fool like me, they will also separate you from your comfort items and your real clothes for an amazingly undetermined period of time. Oh sure, everybody knows this kind of work entails a good bit of mostly waiting around, but when I thought the day was nearly over and I attempted to return my props, I was scolded and told I was to keep them all day. Well, isn’t “all day” almost over, I thought. I’d been with these people since nine a.m. and now it was like four and they were tearing down their tents. Oh, how wrong I was! We were merely moving the entire fiasco to a different location. When they finally fed us at six they called it “lunch,” and I knew I was going to die.

Throughout this challenge, I was protected and watched over by various, more experienced extras. As a non-believer, I’m always confused when the universe sends me angels, but they were all around me on this day. Most notably, was a beautiful young woman named Laci who appeared to be all fire and truth, the likes of which you don’t see every day… the kind of girl whose brain and heart are too big and who probably gets into a lot of trouble because of it… I would have melted down for sure if not for this clever young woman! She was so smart, in fact, she had the foresight to keep her car with her at all times and when the situation reached absurd proportions, she called the assholes on their bad behavior and bugged out! My fucking hero! I watched her walk away with some sadness in my heart, but I was happy for her. As for me, I had done this to myself, so I endeavoured to see it through to the end. But even an hour or so after she was a free person, Laci came back to check on me. That was above and beyond. I will always love her for that.

After I lost Laci around six in the evening, I continued to find fellowship and support in the other extras. They were a warm and fun community, and because of the obvious caste system, which is by the way horrible, they were great at providing for each other where the production staff failed. Food, nicotine, battery power and warmth were all freely shared. A traumatized war vet even showed me how, in a survival situation, to start a fire with my e-cig, a useful tip I hope I never need.

Another of my blessings was my homeless costume. As the sun set I was able to lie down on the sidewalk and take a nap, while of course, staying entirely in character. When I woke after dark, I realized the fun tableau we had created in front of the popular hotel and nightclub where we were camped. I was with six other “homeless” folk, we had tons of props, and even fake cops to fake harass us. Waking to the sight of horrified hotel guests having to step over me gave me my second wind. It was fun again, for a little while. But it continued, and continued until I could tell the the mental health medications were wearing off in the people around me and some of them were destabilizing, including myself.

A little after midnight, I just put my head down and prayed for it to end. Finally they called out “Wrap!” and I couldn’t wait to get on the bus back to home base. That morning, I had been told that I would be released as soon as I returned the pants I had been loaned from wardrobe. I could not wait to get back to my car where my jeans were waiting and return these crazy people’s stupid pants, but that’s not where the bus took me.

I learned that a film crew is a liquid city that is constantly on the move. I also learned that you can not predict the behavior of a production crew. It was a cruel learning curve. Instead of returning me to home base, they took me elsewhere to return my wardrobe, but my real pants were back at home base. At this point, I was faced with a decision: rip off my pants, hand them to the wardrobe woman, and get on a bus to my car or what? I did not know what, so I ripped off those fucking pants like they were on fire, and got on the bus to my car pantless! Honestly, at this point, I would have gladly stripped naked, so eager was I to return to my real life!

To my cousin Jim who is a real actor, you have all of my respect. I will never do that again! And to Laci, my guardian angel, I am forever in your debt.