yesterday i did a day as an extra on our local soap, shortland st.
i won’t say anything about plot developments (don’t want to spoil it for people, eh?), suffice to say we were all flashed up and at a ‘do’.
it was the usual day in the life of an extra; long periods of waiting..interspersed with periods of repeated activity. that activity, in this case, done in complete silence. (there is a certain knack to appearing to be having an animated conversation in mime, without it turning into an embarrasing caricature).
and of course, as always, you come across that creature known as the moaning extra; they often seem to spend those waiting times complaining about the fact they are waiting, and tend to give those around them 15 minute updates on the progress of that waiting time…
as the day progresses the moans about waiting turn to “i want to go home”.
(as extras are paid by the hour that attitude has always puzzled me)
i look at them and think “why are you here?…you are warm, dry(usually), fed , watered, and paid. you aren’t out digging ditchs, (but probably earning ditchdigging money).
can you read?…bring a bloody book..get a portable hobby.. shut the fuck up..”
(and in contrast with this enforced inactivity of the extras, the film crew work like a well oiled machine.
they earn their money; early starts, long hours, hard yacka and evident skill bases..it’s cool watching it all click into place)
of course, another funny thing that happens with extras is that they tend to take on the character of their character roles, (sort of involuntary method acting).
i worked on hercules last year, and it cracked me up how the extras tarted up for the various roles cluster with like, and take on their characteristics and social divisions. (as in nobles with nobles, peasants with peasants,like with like.)
the nobles in particular seemed to slip into their roles with a certain relish, and would spend large parts of their time looking down their noses at their inferiors; they were a hoot.
gladiators also tended to be a fairly closed bunch. they even set up camp a distance from the rest of us; and spent the rest of the time glaring/glowering at us, and obviously planning mayhem on their physical inferiors.
i only succumbed to temptation once, i’d just been made up as a pirate after a battle, (crusted blood on face and all, wicked; this is something even the most dedicated pacifist should do at least once in their lives; put on costume and feel the bloodlust rise, ha). it’s also fun.
i walked past a group of nobles, who were standing twittering, as they tend to, and wheeled and snarled at them ‘I’m going to fucken deal to you lot later”. they almost whinnyed in fear and galloped off. evoking that reaction was strangely/disturbingly satisfying.
and humour was to be had from watching “falls from grace”. extras who had spent the morning/days as nobles, having to don peasants rags for the afternoon…an uncertainty would come into their faces/lives and a distance would manifest in their interactions with recent compatriots/allies.
the best fall of them all was this buffed up dude who had been a gladiator for some days; and had given the appearance of being a right prick with it. he was busted down to peasant and spent the rest of a very long day looking like he was sucking a particularly large and sour lemon.
oh, how we peasants sniggered and chortled.
so, people watching is one of the buzzes of extra work; that, and the opportunity to meet and mingle with people from a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, and experiences. the delight is in chewing the fat with people you normally wouldn’t.
so, if all that appeals, do it; just don’t moan when you are on the job, please.