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Oh, To Be An Extra!

By Maxine Shapiro, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX – A couple of weeks ago, I was an extra on the current film being shot here in Dallas, "Servicing Sara," with Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley. These three tedious days were filled with surprises, contradictions, disappointments, and elations. As a professional actor - and forgive me if this sounds uppity - I am very selective about the extra work I do. The extra casting director billed it as an "almost featured extra." What's the difference between extra and featured extra? Money and time on camera. Now, when we're talking money, we're talking minimum wage versus just over minimum wage. You really don't do this for the money. First day call is at 7:30 AM. Bring seven outfit changes for wardrobe to choose from. That's right, extras bring their own clothes. Unless, of course, it's a period piece, and most of us just don't have our Roman togas hanging around. We're shooting three different days for a New York office scene. What happened next is pretty typical of an extra's day. A very pleasant gentlemen, the second second assistant director, checks me in after I park three blocks away from the set, where a large van picks me up and shuttles me over to the trailer - called a honey wagon. Please don't ask me why it's called a honey wagon. One guy told me because it smells so good. Sarcastic or not? Got me. Sat in there for a while - got moved to another holding area in the same trailer. Since I can get claustrophobic I was glad it was a short stay in both areas. Went inside this old warehouse converted into loft apartments, and the four of us sat in the lobby until the official extra holding area was ready. Finally, at 10AM, it's ready. Truly, this was the nicest holding area I've ever been in. We lucked out. A couch, a bed - we figured it was the model for the loft. More extras arrive, and I still haven't seen the set. We break for lunch at 1 PM. The food is outstanding. Of course, they were brought in from L.A. There's a good reason why catering always gets on-screen credit - they deserve it.

Finally, at 3:30 PM, they're ready for us. They set up the scene and, when all is said and done, they don't need a couple of us. You don't think I was disappointed. At first I took it personally. I just wanted to scream, "Do you realize I come from The Second City Improv Lab?" Then I looked around and the choice of using the young pretty ones for this scene, was right. Reality hit. It was a pretty picture - that's what Hollywood's about, like it or not. I mean, it's not that I'm not attractive - I'm just not 22, and it's been a year or two since I've been flirted with. And there was a lot of that happening. I did get called back for the second day, and this time I was only one of four extras. Once again, a lot of waiting, and then they were ready. This time they put me in the front cubicle doing "business." Thirty minutes of shooting for probably ten seconds worth of camera time, and somehow it was worth it. I'm an actor.

Called back on Saturday. Now, I mentor a little girl who lives at a home for abused and neglected teenage girls. It was her birthday that day, so I asked that very nice second second if he could possibly get me anything signed by Matthew Perry. This girl deserves any special treatment she can get. He appreciates the nature of this gesture and comes back in twenty minutes and asks how quickly can I get her here. Would she like to eat lunch with us and watch on the set for a little bit? I called the home, and we did just that. She had lunch with the cast and crew and got to see a scene being filmed with Matthew. I was so overwhelmed by this kindness.

I love it when reality smacks me in the face. When there are no labels or categories; when it is just the way it is; and that makes it perfect. Of course, I still wish someone had flirted with me.