Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Secret World of Background Extras

James Tamblyn sets up a monitor adding to the illusion that the background extras are working in the casino.

One of the things that's great about working on set in movies and television shows is that you get to meet a whole bunch of people from various walks of life. They all have different talents and they all vary in age. Some old, some young. Some really young and if you think "those" thoughts you're going straight to that special place in hell. (As a funny tangent see the show "Firefly", the episode titled "Our Mrs. Reynolds", you'll understand the special hell reference a bit better after Ron Glass's character uses the term)

Today was the last day of shooting on Tilt for this season. My job title today was playback/vidoe assist helping the main playback technician (James Tamblyn) with wiring up the sets, making sure the animations played correctly, and syncing the odd camera to a 24 frame signal. Because of the set being a casino there were a ton of extras hired. Extras are the people that are hired to fill in the background, so the main characters aren't in an empty room. Some of the background extras could be the security officer standing in the background, people playing cards or throwing dice at some table, playing the jackpot machines or the waitresses wandering around with drinks.

The later being the job of Norah-Jean and Ashley and some other very cute but very young women. In some ways background extras are treated like cattle. They're hearded into a waiting room where they will wait for some unspecified time. The rooms are usually make shift areas that have chairs and tables. For some reason when I think of these rooms (also known as background holding) I think of rooms that are hot with no windows. This of course is not always the case. Eventully the extras are moved to set where an assistant director will tell them where to walk and when to do it. Sometimes they're given a zig zag pattern to walk around or they might be made to stand or sit in a particular place while the camera is rolling. It seems like an odd job to get paid for.

I've noticed some of the extras were familiar. Turns out I worked with some of them on "Blueprint for Disaster". Episode 3, the Sampoong, department store, to be exact. They played the guys that were responsible for not evacutating the mall and causing the deaths of almost 500 people. I was talking to them and they both get jobs as extras on a regular basis. One of them wants to be an actor, where as the other just wants work on a part time basis. I can't really see myself making a living as a background extra but these guys are proof that it can be done.

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