Thursday, August 14, 2008

Extra, Extra, Read All About It

Yesterday I joined the ranks of many other central Texans who have served as extras on the television series Friday Night Lights. Set in the small fictional town of Dillon, Texas, the show revolves around high school football. I have never watched it. But yesterday I dined at the Dillon country club (actually Green Pastures Restaurant here in Austin) at the table next to the Garrity (football booster dad and head cheerleader daughter) clan and their guests. Janine Turner (of Northern Exposure fame) played a trophy-wife to some dude I didn't recognize.

I've often reported that I prefer the thrill of performing live to the hurry-up-and-wait repetition of film. The physical rush of acting on stage sometimes feels like my heart might jump out of my chest and I might pass out, which can be unpleasant at first, but feels invigorating once I find my rhythm and remember my lines.

Last weekend when I was serving as background scenery for my friends' sitcom pilot, I had fun. Between scenes I chatted with my pals and met some new people that were friends of friends. The sitcom guys were very gracious and said "thanks for being here" many times. In contrast, I didn't know anyone on the set of Friday Night Lights. The FNL crew mostly seemed annoyed at having to talk to us, rather than thanking us.

Yesterday started on a pleasant-enough note with the wardrobe lady liking my dress and the makeup lady complimenting my expert ability to apply liquid eye-liner. My car was chosen to be parked in the lot at the "Dillon country club" for which I was paid an extra $10/the equivalent of two-and-a-half gallons of gas.

Once we got to the restaurant, the boredom began. All of the extras had to wait in a small, stuffy room while the crew finished setting up the main dining room. Yawn. After 20 minutes we were herded in cattle-style and shown to our seats. I confess that I took a certain seat at my table on purpose by telling a man that "we should sit boy-girl-boy-girl" when I really wanted to sit facing out into the main dining room. My calculated move paid off as I watched the principal actors file in later and sit directly in my line of sight at the next table. For three hours, the other extras and I pantomimed conversations and pretended to eat. There are NO sounds allowed when the camera is rolling except for the main actors delivering lines. We had to be very careful to avoid clinking noises from glasses or silverware. The food had to be re-plated and picked up after every scene to be delivered again later, so we could NOT eat anything but little nibbles of our dinner rolls. My table mates were all talkative attention-mongers (actors, sheesh!) while I preferred to sit quietly between takes as directors and crew members walked around telling us to stay quiet and making the shhhh! sound/gesture. All the shhhhh-ing sounded like air rushing out of giant tires.

After the film crew shot each scene they needed from five different viewpoints, the crew and principal actors were whisked away in waiting vans. The other extras and I had to sit semi-quietly for thirty minutes and wait for the dust to settle before we were allowed to return to the casting office to sign-out and hand over our pay vouchers. Watching a show get made takes the glamor out of show business.

Maybe this season I'll actually watch Friday Night Lights so I can point to the teal out-of-focus blob at the Dillon country club and exclaim, "That's me!", but I hope I'll have better things to do.