Recently, I worked as an extra in a movie. I came away from the experience with a greater understanding of the long list of people in the credits who work in a movie, and a greater respect for those that make movies for us to enjoy.
How many of us have watched a movie and wondered how long it takes to make it, and how it is done? In my three 15-hour days on set, we probably made about 20 minutes or so of the movie. The long days are due to the amount of time it takes to set up the scenes and cameras and lights to the director’s liking. Then, when the director wants to shoot the scene from another angle, it all starts up again. There are people in charge of lighting, set construction and setup, placement of props, wardrobe, make-up, and supervising the extras. There are people in charge of casting actors and extras for each scene of the movie.
I know the ones supervising the extras had a hard job, because there were 500-900 women on the set and scenes where I worked. Have you ever heard that many people talk at once? I almost wanted to take out my hearing aids, but I needed them to hear the instructions from the production assistants that would relay the messages from the director’s team about where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing and when I was supposed to do it. My job on the set was pretty easy, but the crew members that had to try to get such a large group under control had a hard time sometimes. The long hours got to everyone after a while.
Watching the inner working of the movie-making process was what I found more fascinating than trying to carry on a conversation with several strangers. Don’t get me wrong, I did talk to some of them, but it was exhausting trying to focus on a conversation with several hundred conversations going on around me. I was fascinated by watching the discussions of lights, camera placement, actor placement, what would work best, and stuff like that. I mean, who knows if I’d ever have an opportunity like this again? Sure, you watch the behind-the-scenes stuff on the DVDs and Blu-Rays, but that is a small portion of what really goes on. Rather quickly, I was able to anticipate what we were going to see or do next from watching the body language and reading the lips of the crew.
As for the actors in the movie, there are rehearsals on and off camera. They have to re-perform their parts the same way every time, from every camera angle. If it’s not right, it has to be done again and again until it’s right. It has to be done correctly, and the same way every time, even if it’s the 10th or 20th time and it’s the 4th or 5th camera angle. There are marks for the beginning and end of the scene, and the lights and camera people have an assignment. Their work won’t be right if the actors miss their marks. Other actors can’t do their parts correctly if someone else misses their mark. It’s a giant machine, and all the cogs, wheels, and belts need to move in the correct rhythm and in unison for it all to work correctly.
When it was time to change camera angles and possibly to move the camera, everyone had to leave and come back and be in the same place they were before. If a scene had to be finished the next day, the actors and everyone else had to be in the same place looking the same way and dressed the same way as they did the day before. Pictures and camera phones were helpful to the crew for this part of the job, to set everything up the same way and make sure the actors looked the same. Continuity is a big deal. How many times have you watched a movie and caught little errors, such as the placement of a prop in the wrong place, or a piece of clothing not in the same condition suddenly?
All in all, despite that I had about 10 hours of sleep over those three days, and an hour drive there and an hour back, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. The amount of work involved astounded me. It amazed me how well the actors and crew got along on the set. And I got a sneak preview of what seems to be the most exciting, possibly best part, of a movie coming out next year. Would I do it again? Most likely yes. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other opportunities, since it seems more movie production companies are looking at Georgia for making movies, and there’s a movie studio being constructed within an hour’s drive. Hopefully, that means more opportunities to be in movies filmed in the Savannah area.