Good news, bad news (or “Going back to the beginning”)

Good news: I got to work on the Warner Brothers studio backlot!

Bad news: I was working as an extra.

Good news: Extras get paid

Bad news: I really need the money this time, haha.

Back when I was still living in San Diego I answered a craigslist ad and ended up working as an extra on an episode of Veronica Mars which was shot there. At the time I was considering moving up to L.A. and going to film school, but I really had no idea if I really wanted to give up my life of leisure in San Diego to enter an industry I really didn’t know anything about. Working as an extra on a TV show seemed like a great way to be able to get on a real, professional set, without having to know anybody or know anything.

I spent my time there just observing the crew working and just trying to take in and understand as much about the process as I could with my limited understanding at the time. I was totally fascinated and ended up working on several episodes, and in the end I did end up deciding filmmaking was indeed for me and I left San Diego, went to school and the rest I guess is history.

But work has been pretty slow lately. I thought making some money would be nice. But how could I do that while leaving myself open for potential other gigs? The option of working as an extra again during slow times had crossed my mind a few years ago but last week I guess I was desperate motivated enough to actually lug myself down to Central Casting and get myself into their extras casting database.

Central Casting handles the extras casting for pretty much all of the big budget TV shows as well as a lot of features. You basically call in the night before you want to work and see if there is anything for you. If you get hired then you work the next day. Sometimes they’ll call you if you match a particular profile they’re looking for. If you land a real gig or you don’t want to work one day, just don’t call in. How much more flexible of a schedule can you get than that? In reality the process of getting hired is a little bit more tedious than what I described but I’m sure there some other blogs about life as a movie extra you can read to find out about all those kinds of things.

A few days later they ended up calling me because basically they were looking for asians with ’90s cars to work on an episode of Cold Case. It was great to be able to spy on the crew and get to see what gets done on some of the bigger lighting setups, most of which were well beyond the budget level of any project I’ve worked on before. And the best part is that this time around I actually know what the heck is going on!

Most extras are aspiring actors and are there with the primary purpose of trying to further their acting careers. I think a lot of them end up bothering a lot of busy people hopelessly trying to increase their screen time or get into better roles. I pretty much just try to stay out of the crew’s hair, do what I’m told, and use whatever filmmaking knowledge I have to just try to do my job as an extra better and make the crew’s life easier.

The pay is pretty bad but at least I get some free lighting experience just by observing what’s going on, getting a feel for how much power is needed for what types of setups and whatnot. If I did get to shoot something with some budget in the future, at least now I won’t be as completely lost as I would have been. Working on low budget indies has been fun and challenging for me so far but it was pretty eye opening to see what kind of conveniences you can afford when you have some real budget and studio facilities behind you!

Of course I’d prefer to be getting a ton of DP gigs but hey, in the downtime I got no problem with picking up a little extra cash while hopefully getting to observe a diverse array of big lighting setups being done so I can absorb as much technique from different people as I can in as little time as I can! Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself, haha.


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