The Hell of Being a Movie Extra
This is the mortifying tale of the time I decided to be an extra in a movie and the thrifted outfits that came along for the ride.
I really want to emphasize that I'm glad I had this experience. Everyone day dreams about what it would be like to be a movie star, and I saw a small glimpse of it firsthand. It really was a treat to see how all the pieces of a movie come together. That being said, I'll never ever be an extra again.
This whole thing started with my obsession with Riverdale. Teen dramas are my guilty pleasure and Riverdale ranks among my favorites. So, when I saw that KJ Apa (Archie) was filming a movie in Cleveland and production needed paid extras, I nearly passed out with excitement. They wanted a few pictures emailed in with name and age attached and if they wanted to use you, they’d be in contact.
Two weeks later I received an email telling me they want to book me for a graduation party scene for young adults aged 18-20 for the following day. I was out of that age range by 5 years, but have always looked young, so I responded enthusiastically that I was interested. A few hours after the initial email I received all of the details for the shoot. Where it was, how to dress, how to wear my hair and makeup, when to show up, etc.
The way they wanted females to dress was as followed: It’s a graduation party, so dress to impress, sundresses are good, neutral colors are good, no prints, no black, and no white. Ripped jeans and daisy duke shorts are OK. Please bring 3 options for us to pick from.
So I bring 2 super cute thrifted outfits that I thought were absolutely perfect for a graduation party and 1 thrifted outfit I brought just to fill the requirement. Problem was, apparently graduation parties are a little different than what I remember. When I arrive in the parking lot for the extras, every girl was wearing the shortest shorts I had ever seen and crop tops that showed their entire torso. I walked into the holding area, took one look around and instantly knew I messed up. I looked like a soccer mom.
They selected my outfit, a modest jean shirt and a lilac pleather skirt, my least favorite of everything that I brought. It was a cute outfit that I would wear any day of the week, but in a room full of people wearing casual party clothes, I felt silly. We waited in the extras holding area for two hours longer than when first call was supposed to take place. It was nearly 90 degrees that day and we were in a garage with no AC and over 100 bodies, it was so hot that people had to step outside just to get relief.
Because no phones or camera were permitted on set, I'll need to draw the rest for visual representation of the misery that was my life.
Finally we are ready to make the short walk over to the filming location. I kept hoping it would have AC because my jean top was essentially cooking my body and I felt like a swamp creature. I also kept wondering what the set would look like. Will there be a fake buffet line? What table will I sit at? It’s getting dark, will there be fake sunlight shining in the windows?
All those images and thoughts were shot to hell when I walked onto set. We were on the third floor of an abandon warehouse, with every flight we walked up, the air became thicker and hotter so I knew AC was a silly thought. The set itself was essentially a frat party! Beer bottles everywhere! Beer pong, a DJ, kids smoking weed… Am I that old? Have graduation parties become full on keggers!? I was dressed for church and these people are dressed for a keg stand! WHEN DID I BECOME OLD!? I looked like an undercover cop about to bust all these kids for drinking.
I was handed a red solo cup, placed in the background and told to look like I am having fun talking and dancing with friends. We did this for about 20 minutes before leaving set. When we were off the set, everyone sat around talking about when they get black out drunk, how much they love tequila, how often they throw up and all I kept thinking is “I’m married, have a house payment, and enjoy quiet nights in bed”.
I’d like to note that off set there were no chairs and no tables, so over 100 sweaty bodies were crammed into a narrow hallway with no place to sit because the floor was covered in filth. It was like we were a herd of animals waiting to be slaughtered.
For the next 4 hours, we kept entering and exiting the set, I was almost always very far in the background because I looked like a DEA agent, but I was okay with this. However, the next scene I was in they placed me on the dance floor.. It’s probably close to 2am at this point and I am slap happy. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I was out that late. We practice our dancing and partying with no music for a couple of minutes and then enter the actors.
Two short scenes are shot where I could potentially be very visible depending on the camera angle.. Which was cool at the time, until I remembered how overdressed I looked. Now I am hoping we’re blurred out or the cameras were doing close ups on the actors faces, or anything that will hide the fact I looked like a sweaty cop doing the running man with a bunch of twerking teenagers. Then only redeeming factor for how silly I looked was that I did have fun dancing like a loon with the few friends I had made during that scene.
For the next two hours, I just stood off set sweaty and miserable, my jean shirt acting as an unwanted emergency heating blanket. They would call in certain sections of the room or pick out a couple pretty blonds to be in scene. It’s 4 a.m. when we are finally allowed to go outside to cool down and get fresh air. Everyone is literally strewn on the sidewalks of downtown Cleveland. We looked like homeless people sleeping in filth.
30 minutes go by of nothing. I am so over the whole experience at this point that I would have sold my soul just to go home. That’s when a crew member walks to the group of half dead teenagers and says “we need 10 girls who are ready to work and be in scene”… You would have thought they said “I have a million dollars, who wants it” because there was a STAMPEDE of girls who swarmed this crew member. All shouting “ME ME ME” with arms waving in the air. I just sat back and watched. I truly believe that if this were a Hunger Games arena and the girls had to kill each other to win 4 seconds of camera time, they would have slaughtered one another.
Naturally, the prettiest girls with the shortest hem line were picked, and I get that, it’s Hollywood. It was just so sad to see some of the other girls be so disappointed over not being picked. I wanted to hold their hand and tell them they were pretty, because in a sense, the whole night was a form of constant rejection.
It was 5:30 in the morning before I was allowed to leave. We had worked in the hottest conditions you could imagine for 12+ hours. I was tired, bitchy, and filthy. They wanted everybody who shot that night to come back at 4:00 p.m. to finish the shoot. Over my dead body was I going to show up in 11 hours in the same undercover cop outfit just to be pushed aside, hot, and miserable. Nope.
So there ya’ have it. I am sure conditions for other movies are different, but for this being my first experience, it will certainly be my last. I think for some people there, they had a glimmer of hope that this could be their 5 minutes of fame to be discovered. Who knows, that could be true, but more than likely, we will all be blurry bits of background movement that no one notices.
The movie comes out next year, so if you do happen to see a soccer mom in a sea of teenagers doing the running man, let me know and I’ll send you an autograph.