Becoming a movie extra
– or a supporting artist, as they prefer to be called – is something that most serious
film fans have considered at some stage. For most, the idea is nothing more
than a passing thought that they never seriously intend to follow through on,
though every year many dreamers take the plunge and join a population of LA-based extras estimated to be 100,000 people strong.
And why not? What could be better than being granted backstage access to a Hollywood production, getting paid to brush shoulders with the stars and maybe even sharing a little screen time with them?
However - the truth is that being an extra is no picnic. Actually,
‘no picnic’ might be an inappropriate phrase, seeing as the highlight of a
supporting artist’s day is invariably lunch time. On the set of Iron Man,
extras were allowed to eat with the cast and crew, which meant the very least
you could expect from your day was steak and lobster for dinner.
Free fancy food aside, the life of a supporting artist is far less exciting that you might think. Here are 10 things they never tell you about being a Hollywood extra…
10. The Booze Is Fake
three films that you love and chances are at least one of them will involve a
party of some kind, whether it be a wine tasting in southern Italy or a
keg-fuelled frat party. The consumption of alcohol is so common in movies that
you don’t give the guy sitting in the corner supping a beer a second glance,
though if you did you might notice his expression change every time the stuff
touches his lips.
Not every production is Apocalypse Now – for the most part, directors prefer it when everyone on set is completely sober, and for good reason. Nothing would make an elusive shot harder to capture than extras who can’t even do the one thing they are being paid to do and walk in a straight line, though the alternatives (from the extra’s point of view) are rarely pleasant.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to nurse a bottle of apple juice all day. The colour and consistency is enough of a match for most, and once inside an emptied (and thoroughly washed out) beer bottle you would be hard pressed to spot the difference. If the beer needs to be in a clear glass, you’re more likely to be served soda water with food colouring.
Beer drinkers are the lucky ones, however. If you turn up on set looking suave enough to pull off a whiskey, then your reward is stand all day with a glass of vinegar under your nose, complete with gelatin ice cubes.