Diana Dares

Foiling Chicanery with Boundless Intelligence, Fashionable Outfits, Moxie, and One Sporty Blue Roadster.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

...and the Evidence of the Extra

So shooting is underway on the television show I am investigating. Dailies have begun coming in, and it's fascinating to watch which takes work and which don't. There are some takes that don't succeed for mundane reasons - boom in the shot, flubbed lines, but other takes fail when the unexpected occurs. The dead dog doesn't play dead. The child runs for his life with a big smile on his face. Or maybe you have an insane background player.

Actors have it rough out here. It is an unforgiving and unfair industry to everyone, but to actors in particular. It's said all the time in a genial, ha ha way that actors are crazy. I am telling you in a non-genial, no laughing way: the great majority of them are nuts. Bonkers.

There are people who have great amounts of talent and who also have a very specific personality that is self-aware, secure, pragmatic, and comfortable with uncertainty. Those make up 1% of the actors out here and they should continue to act, because they are awesome. For the rest of the people out here, I truly believe it's a personality-destroying occupation. The tool most actors counteract the forces that work to crush any normal person is delusion. Heaping amounts of delusion. However, it doesn't work all the time, so through the delusion one can occasionally glimpse the yawning chasm of insecurity.

I want to emphasize that I don't blame them -- I think that is the normal human reaction to pursuing a line of work with constant rejection, no meritocracy, a out-of-whack emphasis on looks, no end of bitchiness, and a common motivator of fear. I think it's how 99% of people would end up. But bottom line, they're nuts.

Which brings me to extras. Some extras are just extras - they think it's a fun, painless way to make $75 or $100 a day. There's an extra on ER who's been an extra daily since it aired. I really want them to let him direct an episode sometime - after 11 seasons of watching production every day, he'd probably get them to make their day by lunch.

Other extras are actors trying to break in. This is a great idea as long as you don't get stuck in extra limbo. It gets you experience on a set, shows you how everything works, and after a few times, an extra is often thrown a bone - made a featured extra or given a line, especially if they've proven themselves sane and responsible and the production people know they need SAG points.

But there is extra limbo. People who extra for years doing no other work, yet still believe they are going to make it as a star. People who believe this is a giant step in their career, when if I can equate it to something writing-wise, it's sort of like having specs. It's a way to get in to the circle that seems knowledgeable. This isn't the "good" circle, merely the "has a clue" circle. Some people never leave the extras circle, and some of those people are in our dailies. And it's fantastic. I spent an evening recently bursting into peals of laughter with some assts and writers as we watched a set of dailies in which the woman in the background of one scene effectively destroyed take after take with her acting.

The scene was set in a nice restaurant. This woman in the background was framed nicely between the two leads having dinner at the table in the foreground.

The first take went pretty well, the lead actors hit all the unspoken back and forth beats of the scene, ending with a detente. The scene ends with a nice little moment of the characters reconsidering each other. The actors regard each other for a beat and then, in the background....YAAAAAAWWWNNNNNNNN. Extra Lady started yawning. A feeding time at the zoo yawn. It's so funny. It's so beautifully timed with their little actorly moment. If she planned it, I'd think she was brilliant.

In subsequent takes, she became so absorbed in the scene between the two leads occuring at the table next to hers that she simply turned straight to the dinner table and watched. When there was a suspenseful moment in their conversation, she held her breath. She then progressed to leaning toward the table as if waiting for the answer. I think she may have created a whole backstory that her dinner date (who valiantly kept cutting his pork chop and trying to silently talk to her as his "date" ignored him and stared at the table next door) had been rude and she was giving him the silent treatment when who should appear at the table next to hers than her friend Barney whom she hadn't seen since junior high and her motivation was to eavesdrop on the conversation. Or maybe she just had no awareness that she kept ceasing to act and instead stared gape-mouthed at the two actors in the scene.

I know she probably can't ever be hired again, but I hope she becomes our every-day-for-eleven-seasons extra. If only for the enviable stomach muscles I'd develop from laughing.


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  • At 7:53 PM, Blogger procrastinatrix said…

    Oh, spambot, why are you the way that you are? I hate so much about the things that you choose to be.

  • At 5:30 PM, Blogger Kira said…

    Hee! I heart Extra Lady!

    I remember something similar with passive-aggressive spear carriers from various theater companies.


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