Sunday, August 2, 2009

Background Actors are Unintentionally Hilarious. But When You're an Extra for a Yogurt Brand's Webisode it's No Longer Hilarious, it's Depressing.

I moved to Los Angeles about two years ago. And, like thousands of others, I had dreams of stardom. But, as my drive started to dwindle, so did my savings account. One day I made these struggles known to a stranger at an audition. They recommend I look into doing non-union background work. One week later I arrived on set for my first day of background acting. Little did I know, that would be the day I will remember as the day I lost my soul.

I used to believe that mankind was good. But that silly assumption came to an end when I started waiting tables. But it REALLY crashed and burned when I started doing extra work (Note: I purposely don't capitalize "extra." It might give the impression that it's a respectable job).

These extra casting agencies have more applicants than they know what to do with. They lure in suckers like myself using tag lines like "Jump start your career!" The only thing I'm jump starting after doing extra work are thoughts of suicide.

When signing up for background work first crossed my mind I thought "Well, it can't be that bad - flexible schedule, free food, the opportunity to hang out on movie lots and see first hand the way television is made." Doesn't sound bad, right?

Wrong. I'll translate my assumptions into reality for you.

Flexible schedule means 6:00 a.m. call time and 1:00 a.m. release time. Free food means eat away the pain of being a nobody. Hang out on movie lots means don't even think about going near the Star trailers. (And I quote) "you're not part of that world and you're not invited into that world." Stay in holding with the other plebes. And lastly, see first hand the way television is made means witness how music and editing makes these actors look talented.

Once you're on set, no one tries to hide how much background work sucks because the names used for the job: wranglers, holding, extras, background.

For those of you who have never have done extra work or been on a set, a "wrangler" is the person in charge of the extras. But, do they really have to call them wranglers? If I'm not mistaken, an actual "wrangler" is a ranch hand who takes care of the saddle horses. To the director and producers and to everybody who matters, you are the human equivalent of a saddle horse. And believe me, they'll shoot you if you break a leg.

The word "holding" isn't so charming either. While the principal actors are in their heated trailers, extras are set up in an empty building that is in no way made to support human life: no lights, heat, outlets and only a few metal folding chairs for the extras lucky enough to get one.

Finally, the terms "extra" and "background" are used in their most literal form. We are nothing more. We're extra. We're extraneous, inessential, superfluous, unused, unnecessary (thank you to for that self-esteem bash fest).

As if the terminology isn't dehumanizing enough, extras aren't allowed to eat at the same table as everyone else. Even the P.A.'s get to enjoy their lunch at the table's with salt and pepper shakers and pretty center pieces. Walking with a plate full of food back to holding is the ultimate walk of shame. The people who matter get to watch you slither away back to your black hole of failure with a plate full of macaroni and cheese. It's humiliating.

But what blows my mind most of all are the extras who are more than fine with their position in life. Who are you people? Do you not feel? Do you not cry? Do you not want? Do you not dream? Come on, WAKE UP! Don't let other people treat you like this. Do something more respectable like, stripping.

Doing extra work doesn't make you feel like a loser. It makes you a loser. Until you get cast as the principal actor, stay away from movies, television, commercials and worst of all, webisodes.

Dun dun dunnnn. Webisodes... I just worked as an extra for a webisode for a yogurt brand. Talk about no standards. It's one thing to be on a set with award winning actors. It's another to be on a set of actors worse than you. It'll drive you mad. These crummy actors are the first to walk around with a giant chip on their shoulder, too. "No fraternizing with the extras (animals), we're big time now. We're in a webisode for YOGURT."

All of this is all the more painful because I have, in my short stay in LA, been lucky enough to be cast in a few print ads and television things as featured or principal so I know what it feels like to be on the other side. Until I can be on that side consistently, I will stay away from the Slave-like treatment. (Note: I capitalize Slave-like because comparatively to extra work, it really doesn't sound so bad).