Yesterday, I crossed off a bucket list item. I played an “extra” for a new HBO series. How exciting. How interesting. How exhausting!
The first thing you need to know is that the term “extras” is passé. Backgrounders is the official title – designated as BG for Background.
It was exciting to be on the set. Workers buzzing around truck loads of equipment. Special lighting being set up and tested. Wardrobe, props and make-up professionals hovering with a watchful eye. My fellow backgrounders welcoming and very generous in showing me the ropes. Still, after the first hour on the set, I realized I might have a different set of priorities.
The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) members talk about the Director, his work, his style and who is who in the cast. Those working towards their SAG card, were the most helpful. These folks relayed stories of past sets they worked on. Launched into tales of being fit into specialty outfits as they proudly flashed pictures on their phones in full costume. They were animated about situations when they got attention from the Director, only to be left on the cutting room floor.
First timers, such as myself, were curious about wardrobe and props. Yes, I was curious, but more importantly, I wanted to know where the closest bathroom was. Once I found that, I was much more interested in the snack table and the lunch truck. Need I continue as you see where this is going? Yes, I must persist because of the non-obvious lessons.
The most important lesson. Learn what you do not like.
I do not like the 5:42 am casting call. I do not like trudging around a soggy campus repeating the same small action 20 times and then waiting two hours to go back to a soggy tent. I didn’t like carrying my props and keeping track of them.
My feet hurt. I didn’t like that. Truth is I should have been training for a marathon, coincidentally, an item that will never make it to my bucket list. The tools I needed for background work, aside from my positive mental attitude, were good shoes, orthotics and an extra phone battery. I don’t like being unprepared.
I was surprised that I didn’t mind the unknown schedule and getting direction right before I needed to be somewhere. Someone would yell: In five minutes get to the set. Go back to holding. Wait here, till we have more direction for you. It didn’t always seem to be productive. The flip side. I had no responsibility other than to do what I was told. It was not my problem that I thought it didn’t make sense or was less than efficient.
What did I like?
I met tons of interesting people. Seriously, the concentration of fascinating, smart, aware fellow human beings was outstanding. With ease I was able to delve into deep conversations with those I just met. No topic off brand. Politics, family, earnings, health, love, you name it, we talked about it. Very unexpected. Extremely enjoyable.
I liked being in someone else’s workplace. I was not in charge. Delays, situations, potential liabilities, not my problem. I appreciated clear direction, the gathering of the group for instructions and being part of something greater than myself.
I liked getting paid for what I did. For my time. For showing up.
I liked the systems of it all. The apps I was asked to enroll in to get my casting call, track Covid testing/status and payroll. All remote, all electronic. Very impressive.
I woke up the next morning, achy and tired. I was relived not to have to get up and out by 5 am. After my first cup of coffee, my mind wondered to what they were doing on set. What scenes are being filmed? What parts are the BGs playing today? Still, getting out of my bed or up from sitting every muscle hurt. I didn’t miss it. I talked myself into being glad I was not slogging around on a wet set. A few hours later, a text from the casting company, asking if I would come back for another day. I texted yes before I even finished reading it.