Tag Archives: extra

Extra Extra

Imagine how thrilled I was when my newly acquired agent contacted me for some extra work within the first week of becoming her client. My first job as an extra was filmed at a rest stop conveniently located approximately twenty miles from my home. I was to play the part of “the trucker,” so I had been instructed to show up to the shoot wearing jeans, a solid colored t-shirt, and any baseball-style cap as long as there were no recognizable logos or symbols on it. The scene featured three real actors, they all had speaking roles, gathered at a picnic table on the grounds of the rest stop area. I was so nervous and clueless as to what the shoot was even about since I was overly consumed with concentrating on my very important role as “the trucker.” My difficult task as an extra began with me hidden away, behind the nearby restrooms, and then after hearing the director’s traditional (and admittedly exciting) command of, “action,” I was to intently watch for another extra to reach point b from point a. That was my cue to then walk around from behind the building and follow a cement path meandering past the picnic table.

The exhilaration of the brand new experience and my premature satisfaction of a self-congratulatory, “well done,” rapidly waned when I realized I had not been instructed what to do after taking my leisurely walk. My once seemingly simple performance as “the trucker” now seemed more like trying to perform brain surgery as my mind became all jumbled up while attempting to quickly devise a plan for my next course of action. I think I made the only rational decision I could make with the limited amount of information I had previously received from the director. I kept walking. I walked towards the parking lot. I walked through the parking lot, and I continued on past the parking lot. I was in a daze, and my mind was racing as I grew uncomfortably close to the interstate. I was extremely relieved when I finally heard several distant voices hollering, “stop!” Almost every job I encountered as an extra would teach me something new and pertinent to the business. This time it was solid attire is preferred over prints, since clothes with any sort of pattern tends to look distorted on film, and also there are too many legal issues to deal with if wearing trademarked apparel, but most importantly I learned to just stop when out of the camera’s view, or it could be fatal.

Another memorable assignment I received while working in the entertainment industry was when I played the part of “a family man” for Winnebago Industries, a manufacturer of recreational vehicles, in a promotional video. I had a “wife” and a “daughter” this time, and we were the main characters of the shoot although we were still only considered to be extras since there wasn’t any audible dialogue spoken in the scene. I was perfectly content simply acting as “eye candy” for the video. In fact that was always my preference because I never had the desire, or probably even the mental capacity, for memorizing lines, and I also did not like the way my voice sounded on tape (still don’t). It’s not nearly as masculine sounding as I usually envision it to be. The summertime shoot’s location was near the company’s headquarters in Forest City, Iowa, and my “family” and I were instructed to transfer water skis and other assorted gear from an immaculate Winnebago (the real star of the show) to a nearby speedboat.

We were situated next to a beautiful lake, and at a certain point while filming we were suppose to wave at a couple of jet skiers racing by. All was going well until the director asked me to remove my shirt. I ordinarily would have been pretty self-conscious about going shirtless in public, but remember this was at a great time in my life when I nearly had washboard abs, so I wasn’t too nervous about yanking off my shirt for the good of the project. Before the fabric was even completely torn away from my body the director insisted I put my shirt back on. Ouch! I didn’t have a third nipple, or anything like that, so the tattoos inked on my upper arms and chest must’ve been the problem. At least I hope so. I may have left at the end of the day with less self-esteem than when the day began, but I also left with a lot more money in my pocket.

The best paying job I’ve had in my entire life was during my career as an extra. I guess technically I was a full-fledged actor that day since I did have a one-liner to recite. I merely sat in a comfortable chair, stared directly into a camera, and proclaimed, “Social Security will protect me.” I may have believed what I was saying at the time, but now over a decade later I am not so sure that holds true anymore. I repeated the line over and over in varied ways by emphasizing a different word during each take. After a short 15 minutes I had earned $150. for my time. That equates to $600. an hour if my math is correct, and I’m sure it is since it’s not an algebra problem for goodness’ sake!

Another high paying shoot I was fortunate to be a part of, and possibly my claim to fame, was as an extra in an Anderson-Erickson commercial filmed at a popular convenience store. Anderson-Erickson is an established dairy company located in Iowa, so the commercial aired on television throughout the entire Midwest. The star of the shoot was the “A.E. Guy” played by supposedly a well-known soap opera actor, but don’t ask me which one because I can’t remember, and at the time I really didn’t care since he wasn’t on The Young And The Restless. The noteworthy dairy product character of the Midwest would be similar to that of Arizona’s “George Brazil Guy” or the “Express Flooring Gal,” but as an extra I could only be seen in the background carefully inspecting all of the store’s merchandise.

I enjoyed my unique experience as an extra, but over time I gained weight and lost interest which isn’t a very good combination for those working in the entertainment industry. I did not become a major star, local celebrity, or even that recognizable through my body of work, but I had never intended for that to happen anyway. However, I was a bit worried once when my wife and I were walking hand in hand at the Iowa State Fair, a few weeks after shooting the Winnebago promotional video, when we heard a person behind us whispering to another, “There’s the Winnebago Guy.” At that brief moment I found myself wondering what the cost of dark sunglasses would be if purchased in bulk, but thankfully still to this day I have not had any problems avoiding the paparazzi.


Extra

I’ve had several different jobs in many different fields throughout the years, but none of them were quite as fascinating as when I worked as an extra. An extra, for those of you now scratching your heads, is show business lingo for people who appear as part of the background in training videos, commercials, television, and movies. You might be wondering why I got involved in the entertainment industry to begin with because it’s not as though I had ever volunteered to participate in any school plays, during my youth, or had ever yearned to be involved with the local community theater as I grew older. I certainly did not have any dreams of becoming an actor or a movie star, and I did not have a passion, or even a healthy respect, for the craft itself as so many of those working in the performing arts industry have. The truth is I am generally not even that much of a people person, and I definitely don’t fancy the thought of having everyone’s attention solely focused on me. The thought of a birthday party thrown in my honor makes me cringe every time since it’s one of the most uncomfortable settings I am often forced to endure. Unfortunately, my “special day” seems to come around about once a year like clockwork.

I had absolutely no desire for being the main attraction, but the thought of earning some easy money by blending in with the background intrigued me; therefore, working as an extra seemed like the proper solution. After contemplating the idea for awhile I finally made the decision to enter the unusual field especially after noticing so many of my peers were either fat, bald, or both. I was at a place in my life (age thirty-something) where I had attained almost a set of six-pack abs, and I didn’t want them to go to waste. I had never been that fit before, and I knew it wouldn’t last forever because I absolutely enjoy eating way too much (both figuratively and literally). I’m very well-known in my family for unbuttoning my pants, after visiting an all-you-can-eat buffet, and having to lay down in the back of either a van or a station wagon to get some relief. I also thought I was pretty decent looking, at least by Iowa standards, so I found myself asking the question, “why not me?” I could not come up with a legitimate reason for not pursuing a job as an extra, so I began searching out a path to make it happen.

I soon found the entertainment industry to be flooded with talent agencies offering substantial promises, aimed at the gullible, for becoming a star. Most of the agencies demanded money upfront and insisted their clients use only their photographers, for the industry’s mandatory headshots, before they were willing to promote you. I wasn’t born yesterday (I was born on February 24th – presumably the best day of my parents’ lives), so I wasn’t about to pay a fee to an agency beforehand when I was the one wishing to earn a paycheck. I eventually found an agent in Des Moines, the state’s capitol, who said she definitely could use someone my age and with my looks. Deb made no hollow promises like the few other potential agents I had spoken with, and she allowed me to choose my own photographer for the required headshots as well. My agent’s terms were quite simple. She would negotiate a deal on my behalf, seek my approval, and then fax me the precise details of the job including the location of where the shoot was to be held. Deb was entitled to a 15% commission of whatever I made in the industry.

The photo shoot for acquiring the mandatory headshots was a unique experience in itself. I chose one of our small town photographers who had several years of experience snapping pictures of graduating high school seniors. I had also obtained a community theater make-up artist, as was suggested by Deb, to touch up any blemishes and to punctuate my eyes for the shoot. I wasn’t too comfortable with that situation because I hadn’t worn make-up since my sisters use to have fun with me while the folks were away, and besides I thought I was a natural beauty. I wanted to give my agent a variance of my looks, so the photographer was gracious enough to capture me wearing a full-beard, during the first round of pictures, and then he featured me with a clean-shaven, baby face in the second round. My agent ultimately selected one of the baby-faced photos for my promotional headshot. Deb then requested that I use my legal name in the entertainment industry because it would sound more professional. That was perfectly fine with me considering I had been encouraging people to call me James instead of Jimmy for several years. I have always felt a bit awkward, as a grown man, being called what I perceive as a child’s name, but it obviously worked out well for Jimmy Stewart. The stage was now set for me to begin my career as an extra. To Be Continued.