Friday, June 12, 2009

My Day 'On Set'

Photo courtesy of

I'm not a junk-food fan but last week, I gratefully ate my share.
After being in an Extra's Casting Company database for over a year, I finally got my day On Set. I had one close call last year when it looked like I would work on the set of Twilight. And on my birthday, no less. They'd checked my availability twice and had locked me in. I re-read the Do's and Don't's of being on set, went out and bought a hanging garment bag to keep my three sets of clothes changes (required of all paid extras) wrinkle-free, then packed and repacked it several times, sweating and fussing over it. I told my sister and a friend about the gig, went out and got the book to be somewhat informed and read three-quarters of it. A few days later I checked the site again only to find that the dates had changed.


I never got the text to "log online for information" which was their usual protocol. Besides the original date, I was now obligated to be On Set and On Call every day for a week. A week I was scheduled to be working someplace else. I emailed. I called. I asked if I should still be On Set on my original date or if that was now canceled because I could only be there the one day. Never got an answer (which means no in Pollywood—my term for Portland's film business).

FYI, all that calling and emailing with questions about 'Am I hired or not?' are big “no no's”. Mentioned in the 'workshop' of info one must sign off on before getting jobs, one "must think fast, move fast and don't ask a lot of questions". (ie, Don't look or sound stupid or waste anyone's time with inane questions!) A bit of a problem for one who has trouble tracking. I'm one of those who asks, when someone says 'Be there at 5:30', "is that am or pm?" A little deductive reasoning would answer this easily but my questions always seem to fall out ahead of thought.

So, where were we? Oh yeah, after recently getting several requests as to my availability for The Untitled Crowley Project filming in Portland (Harrison Ford, Keri Russell & Brendan Fraser), I'd had to turn down most of them due to scheduling conflicts and then an injury. After saying yes to one such inquiry and making myself available (which means you MUST STAY available... but they'll let you know) for a certain date, I had to do the other big “no no” and both email and call with the message that an injury had made it impossible for me to walk which meant I was no longer available for that date. After last year's bout of emailing and calling with inane questions, I thought for sure I'd be sent to the end of the line with a sign on my back (or profile picture) that said “Absolutely Do Not Call—Waffler, Non-Tracker and Inane Question Perp!”

But then I got another text telling me to log online for job info. I logged on and found it was a date I could do. And my hip was healing. But they wanted me to rate my roller skating expertise. I responded with 'zero to none', forgetting to add that the recent injury meant I could walk but roller skating was out of the question, even if I'd had any skill. Luckily, 'zero to none' did not get me the roller skating gig but they were looking for any and all Pollywood fans to come out and be part of a large crowd at an amusement park. An 'Amusement Park Go'er' was the technical term. No pay but a raffle with lots of fun prizes.

I drove up to Portland, wondering if I would be one of 5 or 6 cars of film geeks willing to be part of a movie for free. When I arrived, the parking lot was filled to capacity and I was stuck in a long line of cars waiting to be told to turn back. I quickly maneuvered out of line, backtracked to the Oak Park lot and hightailed it through the grass to the amusement park entry, with young and middle-aged hopefuls alike.

When I arrived at the gate, even those on foot were now being turned away, told the project had all the extras they needed. Dejected and moping, we headed back toward our cars. Or at least they did. I took five steps and suddenly halted.

“Hey, wait a minute,” I heard myself say. “I'm Tore Steen's daughter. They have to let me in.”
Or at least... mayyybe they'll let me in to use the bathroom when I tell them I drove two hours to get here. And then mayyybe I can catch a glimpse of some filming or get someone to let me sneak in for a quick peek. As it turned out, there was no sneaking. I walked right past the guy on the phone and the traffic controller, both turning people away, and headed into the amusement park.

By the time I got near the bathroom, I spotted the line for extras signing up and slid right in, signed my form, got my instructions and took my spot in the “Extras Holding Area”.
We were given group names and I was one of the “Yellow Jackets”. We listened to instructions from a young guy with an important ID badge paid to keep the extras spirits up with hollers of “I can't hear you”, generally meant to make us yell, laugh and rev up. He reminded us that the motto On Set for extras is always “Hurry up and wait...with lots of patience.” He got us all jazzed and informed but after an hour and a half of waiting with no sign of filming, stars, or any kind of action at all, I could see a few smiles fading. I myself, and a few others, brought books to pass the time (& keep from thinking about said time that could have been spent doing something constructive) while others looked at our books and sighed, wishing they'd thought of it.

Pretty soon, more young people with important ID badges arrived carrying boxes of snacks to keep the unpaid extras happy with chips, cookies, pretzels, etc. A short while later they offered to escort us to the hot dog stand in small groups. After about the third group, I opted to go, not because I wanted a dog but because I wanted to see something, anything, that might be happening. I began to fear that the 'Extras Holding Area' was the only place I was going to see On Set.

The hot dog stand stood just outside the roller rink (where the immediate filming was taking place). We were not allowed to go inside the rink or approach anyone coming out. By the time I got back, all the extras in the holding area were heading into the park. When I asked, I was told we were free to roam the park for an hour while they finished tearing down and setting up the next shot. I made my way right back to the roller rink and parked myself on a bench just across from the door so I could watch.

Another extra sat down next to me and pointed out Keri Russell as she came out of the rink. She's so perfectly tiny I would have missed her. Perky though. Everything about her is perky. Her nose, her bod, her hair, the way it flips about when her perky gait bounces her from place to place. I watched hoards of preened little girls rush out of the “so hot and stuffy rink” (I'd overheard crew members talking) during a break, heading for the catered food boxes, moms in tow. Didn't take long to figure out that each caste of people On Set enjoys a different food level. The unpaid extras get the aforementioned packaged snacks and hot dogs. The paid extras get boxes of prepared meals and certainly somewhere on the back lot was a catering truck for the bigwigs.

As I stayed glued to my bench, the film crew finally emerged from the rink to set up the next shot—and just happened to place the director's chairs right near me. I had an unobstructed view of the monitors right behind where the director, a producer and others watched the filming as it took place .

The two stars filming that day (Keri Russell and Brendan Fraser) had slightly different processes with the director. Keri stood next to the director's chair before filming and, with some animation, gave him her comments and did not return between takes. Brendan, after each shot, stood without a word, watching the dailies and listening to the director's comments (while two assistants hovered over him with tiny, hand-held fans to keep him from sweating as the scene involved running).

The woman next to me had obediently gone back to the 'Extra's Holding Area' some time back to check in but I wasn't moving. I didn't care about being in the film. I wanted to watch the process. And the process had come right to me, allowing me the perfect, front-row seat without being in the way.

When they were finally finished and setting up for the next scene, I went to find the Yellowjackets and check in, lest I be 'in trouble' and never work again but was told they'd given up on the tidy group idea. We were still free to roam the park and pick a group to walk with when they yelled “Background!” (FYI: "Background" is for the extras to start moving. "Action" is for the actors. ) So this time I positioned myself inside the Carousel gate, again right behind the monitors, and skipped being “IN” the scene.

By the time they were done with us that day, I'd eaten pretzels, a granola bar and a hot dog for lunch, a hot dog and 2 'Grandma's Cookies' for dinner. And I didn't win a prize. But getting to watch the process up front had been payment enough for me. Now I'm just hoping the next time I get a text message telling me to log in and give my availability for a job, I get to eat from one of the prepared food boxes. Oh, and just a little, tiny glimpse of Harrison Ford wouldn't hurt either!


  1. Interesting peek, of behind the scenes... In lots of ways. One we very rarely hear about.

    Aunt Amelia
    P.S. Who claims the title of "World's Oldest Twilight Fan" ^_^

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  3. Hi Aunt Amelia~ So I googled that question and it looks like it is Alice's Aunt ( at age 72! Erma Jo is 70 and claims to have seen the film 9 times and is on her 4th reading of the series. Hmm. I never finished the book nor saw the film. Maybe I should re-think that? Heaven knows I need another time-consuming passion in my life!

  4. Kirsten,
    You are like me - I would have been right there watching the process. I liked hearing about the differences in Keri and Brendan's approaches. Alot of waiting around but still an interesting way to spend the day.

    Thank you so much for your comment. I am always so overwhelmed by the kindness of my blogging pals. Enjoy the weekend.


  5. Interesting story, Kirsten! I know waiting around for anything is very tiring. Hope you are having a good weekend.

  6. Hi Kirsten! HOW INTERESTING THAT YOU DO EXRA WORK! So have I, but back in the 1970s! I worked on the Rocky sets and on one Steven Spielberg movie! I was a very young woman at that time you know....thank you for visiting my daddy's day post. I had such a hard time finding large photos for that one! Have a great day, ANita

  7. Catherine~ A very interesting way to spend the day! Thanks for your comment. Loved your last post!

    Thanks annechovie! It was worth the wait.

    Anita~ Why not sign up to do it again?! Those films must have been fun to work on!

  8. Love this behind-the-scenes account! Sounds like you were in the right place at the right time, in terms of watching two of the stars and the director. Good for you for not turning back! :)

  9. Thanks Paris! And thanks for coming by and commenting! Something to be said for tenacity!

  10. How very cool!I think I would've done the same!Not everyone is given such an opportunity!:o)

  11. Lara~ Thanks for your comment & for coming by. Love your paintings! Especially that Blueberries and Tea Still Life!

  12. What a day...i never knew how all this 'extra' business worked, it sounds like a tough job to me. Good luck with the next one...xv

  13. Vicki~ I don't know that much about it either but that's why it was fun to do! A whole 'nother world!

  14. I'm so envious!! I'd love to spend a day on the film set, even if it only meant standing around eating hot dogs (not a bad as far as I'm concerned, actually) My dream job is to be a cameraman (woman :-) I'm still waiting for my chance

  15. Polly~ Good for you! Do you take home movies with your own equipement? There's lots of contests to enter them in! Let me know when you send one in!!

  16. How wonderful! I love that your chutzpah and sheer nerve made it happen. Before reading this story, I'm afraid I would have let myself be turned away. Now, I'll remember this story and just stroll on by.

  17. Relyn~ What a touching comment! How moving to know that I might have influenced your future reaction to something. Thanks for that!

    And thanks, ticklish! It was a fun day!

  18. Ahhh the glamour of showbiz ;-)
    Bet all of the "stars" are hot dogs too at some stage...
    Thank you for your kind comment Kirsten!

  19. oiasantorini~ That's funny! Bet you're right! Sooo enjoy your photos and loved my one visit to Santorini. Will be going back!


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