Sunday, September 30, 2012



In a previous life, I worked occasionally as what is flatteringly called a 'background performer.'   You might know it better by the word 'extra.'  I did not become engaged in this line of work out of a futile hope for a career in the movies or television.   Rather, I had a young daughter with such hopes and I was required to be present as a chaperone due to her age.    Often, the movie required, if not a cast of thousands, then hundreds or at least dozens of people who had the time and inclination to be on a movie set for one or two days or more.  They even needed me!

I recommend this work only because it was an interesting experience for me and, as a writer, I find interesting experiences of my own or others, useful for inspiration.  You get an insight into how movies are made, you get to see major or minor movie stars and actors in person (usually even thinner than you thought) and you do get paid--a few dollars over minimum wage usually.

My daughter was an extra in a big budget film called I, Robot, which I ended up referring to in one of my books, Death at Table 15.   In that case, even the extras were given special outfits flown up from Hollywood and received hair and make-up service from the crew.   I had the pleasure of taking part with her in movies such as Cat Woman, Blade 3, Are We There Yet?  and a few television shows whose names escape me.     There is a lot of repetition on set;   sometimes over a dozen takes are made.   In this it is similar to the editing process that takes place with books:   Many reviews and amendments are par for the course.

I'm wasn't sorry when my movie career ended.   Some of the days went on for more than twelve hours and in some cases we were standing in the rain or in other uncomfortable situations.   But I'm glad I experienced it and when I watch a film I sometimes think of the days that were spent filming two minutes of screen time.    

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