If you've ever seen the show "Extra's" with Ricky Gervais, let me say right now that it is not even remotely what it's like to be an extra in a film. Of course it's not meant to be a documentary of a day in the life of an extra. It is, however, very funny.
Watching it recently, I was reminded of a long, miserable night Nic and I spent a few years back as extras on a motion picture. Out drinking the night before, a friend told me he was going to be an extra in a picture being filmed right here in the film capital of western Pennsylvania. I was intrigued. It sounded like a different way to spend a Saturday night. Also, being a huge movie lover, I was interested in watching the actors and crew work. It also helped that the film was "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" based on the debut novel by Michael Chabon, a writer I quite enjoy. (Check out "The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay". Those Pulitzer folks liked it so much, they gave it some sort of ribbon.). One call to the extra casting director and I was hired.
The next night, Nic, my brother Greg and I arrived at a rundown warehouse in the Strip District neighborhood around 6 PM. We checked in with the casting director and were quickly ushered into a makeshift cafeteria and began what we would spend the majority of the night doing: waiting.
A few long hours crawled by before we were called to wardrobe. The picture being a period piece set in the early 80's, the clothes we got were somewhat uncomfortable, especially the jeans. Apparently, men wore their dungarees to their belly button in the ancient year of 1983. I wouldn't know. I was still in short pants back then.
Next up, more waiting. We had smuggled in quite a few cans of Sparks, a hybrid Malt Liquor/Energy Drink, recently outlawed in the contiguous 48. It was a Saturday Night after all. Sparks helped us pass the time, though I can't say the same for my nervous system.
By the time the Winter Olympics rolled around, the entire motley crew of 100 or so "day players" were called upstairs to shoot our big scene.
I'm ready for my spotlight, Mr. De-- sorry, I won't even finish it. I'm a fucking extra.
First, a little background info.
Presently, I have no delusions or ambitions of being an actor. It was a very different story when I was twelve and my goal in life was to be on "Saturday Night Live". After months of persistence my mother signed me up for acting classes along with my two brothers. As anybody with multiple siblings knows, growing up, what you do, your brothers/sisters do. Unfortunately for me, my interest in acting was only equaled by my brothers disinterest.
Every Saturday morning we would trek to the local Arts center in the Ford Taurus station wagon. I can't say if I was a promising actor, most likely not. I do remember enjoying it quite a bit at first. But it was not to be.
My dream was cut short though as A) I quickly grew bored and more importantly B) my brothers and I were thrown out of the class.
It seems my kid brother Greg slide tackled another student who was practicing acting on the phone. Unprovoked, Greg took a running start and slid into this kid's legs, sending the poor would be Treat Williams flying into the air, along with the phone and the table it had been resting on. The kid wasn't seriously hurt. But we Solomich boys were out, personas non grata. Alas, my acting dreams were dashed. Often I wonder if my life would be different now had the floors not been shiny, slick linoleum. But, I digress...
Back to the making of "Mysteries of Pittsburgh". We were meant to be the audience at a "punk club", which looked just about how a Hollywood art director would envision a "punk club", i.e. completely contrived and cliche. The three of us were lucky enough to have met one of the principals. While Meryl Streep she may not be, Sienna Miller sure is easy to look at. Her co-stars were Peter Saarsgard and Jon Foster (had to look that one up). Nick Nolte was in the movie as well, but unfortunately he wasn't in this particular scene.
Saarsgard seemed like a nice guy, joking around with the crew most of the time while the Foster guy struck me as nervous and humorless.
The director, much younger than I expected, had made one picture before, the emotional tour-de-force otherwise known as "Dodgeball". Too bad, they weren't filming that instead.
The Big Scene
"Cue "punk" music.
The extras start pseudo slam dancing-- jumping up and down mostly. After five seconds, the music abruptly stops and we continue dancing, pretending this is the most raucous 'punk' gig ever. It is a very strange atmosphere, I must say.
In the midst of the sea of awkwardly attired 'punks', the actors walk through the crowd, hammily delivering their lines. Paddy Chayefsky, this is not.
"Cut", yells the director. "Good work everybody. Let's try it again".
And so forth forevermore.
Fast forward four hours. We've finally finished our star-making performances. The casting director announcesthat while most of us can go home, they need some of us for another scene. We don't need to mull this one over. It's nearly 6 AM.
As we're walking to collect our meager pittance ($50 for nigh on 12 hours!?!) I spy them filming the next scene: a mohawked 'punk' giving a simulated blow job to Saarsgard in the "punk" clubs' bathroom. I don't need to be here for this one. I'll be in my trailer Sienna.
On the drive home, all three of us agree we would never be extra's again. It's completely not worth it. But hold on. Maybe it was. I've got the story, if you can call it that, to share with you, dear reader. That's gotta be worth something, right?
Three years later, I still haven't seen "Mysteries of Pittsburgh". Apparently it's terrible and no distributor in their right mind wants to touch it.
Still a good book though.