The Role Of An Extra

I was recently engaged in a role of an “extra”. The word itself pretty much sums up what it is.

There is nothing more or less. Although the dictionary meaning means more. Extras are non-speaking performers in a film, television show, stage, musical, and opera (Wiki).

In my recent role as an extra in a Hollywood film which I cannot discuss due to my commitment to the agency and the film itself – I had to do several scenes with my colleagues in a natural disaster movie. There were sixty of us. Forty men and twenty women of many ethnicities based here in Queensland. Each of us had a small role to play under an Assistant director, an Australian. He worked with an international Director. As extras we had different actions and some were accompanied by props. When all the parts were played, it was like magic. I enjoyed standing back and watch when I did not play my part. It was like watching a short preview.

The hours of work were very long and started at 5:30 am which meant you had to rise at least at 4 am. Initially I had an hour and a half drive so I rose at 3 am and took the drive. Although it was cold, we acted in our costumes as there were. Although given the frantic weather, the director tried to keep everyone out of the rain through out the day.

Most of the extras had already fitted our costumes days before and these clothing, some were our own, were chosen to fit into the place and the characters in the movie, the place where the natural disaster supposedly had hit. These were not the clothes of our current season.

To be an “extra” means you are not necessarily needed but you can be. It is an important role when you are in it but also an unimportant one. You know it is not important when you do not sit and eat under the same tent as the crew and also when you are trying to get your coffee and the supposedly ‘bosses’ (crew) look at you as if you don’t deserve to have coffee at all. One crew member mouthed to my friend (an extra) “I hope you are not getting 30 cups of coffee because I need to get an adult’s coffee”.

We thought she meant we(extras) were not adults. Who knows..

The important part is when you are called in as an actor in “background”  – your role is important. This can be anything. You could be carrying something and running. I was asked to run into the main character and then step around the person. With all the extras in a background scene, that part of a movie becomes quite vital to the film. It provides “meat” to the bone or it completes the whole creativity for a successful movie. I mean a star can be one in a movie but the star needs a place and many people and actions where that star rises out of the situation to recognition.

Extras are very useful in scenes like a stampede in a soccer grand final. A few extras cannot really provide that impact, you need a lot. Extras are needed in shopping centres, villages, schools etc.

We take “extras” for granted. Tell me: do you really watch an extra in a movie? You know that person that hovers around in the back somewhere in the movie scene. We do not even see extras in movies; our eyes are glued onto the main characters. Our minds are focused on what the main character does and we travel with him or her in the story to the end. We may get distracted if something happens with an extra that takes the focus away from the main character. Otherwise, extras are all a blur. Next time you watch a movie, see if you can pick out an extra and see the important role they are playing.