On Being a Movie Extra, Week 2

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Extra shooting, Week 1 - She's Out of My League

Much as I enjoyed being an extra at the hockey arena, the late hours and my bronchitis were both troublesome. Luckily, the second week's hours ran about 7am-8pm and were at the Pittsburgh Intenational Airport. I live only about 20 minutes away, which made the commute a breeze.

I was told to dress as a business traveler in a spring business suit. I don't have many suits, but had a light gray one. I made it a bit more springy with a pink blouse. I packed my lap top and a small carryon suitcase. We had to pack alternate outfits in the suitcase in case the wardrobe folks didn't like what we had on.

First day, they asked us to report to the far side of the employee parking lot. The production had set up several large tents. Nearly a dozen semis and trailer trucks were nearby. The lines were long that first morning. Luckily, the weather was nice. Eventually, I got into the tent and picked up my voucher. They had some food, so I got a little oatmeal. I'm a little snippy about the extras' food, but breakfast was usually pretty good.

After a bit, they sent us to wardrobe. One of the wardrobe guys gave my suit the OK, so I got in another line to take a shuttle bus over to the airport.

I've spent a lot of time in the Pittsburgh International Airport over the years, mostly as a traveler, but, more recently, as a part-time passenger service representative for charter airline. But, I'd never been in Terminal E, the international and shuttle terminal that's mostly been closed down for years. Terminal E is long and extremely narrow. It was kind of an awkward place for 200-odd extras to hang out in. Luckily, I found a place with a chair and an electrical outlet. So, I sat down, plugged my computer in and worked on some odds and ends. There was no WiFi. but the electricity was helpful.

I had the oddest bit of serendipity by being Terminal E. I wandered down to the end of the terminal, and found a bunch of newspaper vending machines. They were full of newspapers from the last day the terminal was open: April 11, 2005. This was an important day in Pittsburgh - it was the beginning of the 50th anniversary celebration of the cure for polio. There were several large articles in the Post-Gazette about the celebration and the current problems with vaccine development. My documentary class has been working on Pittsburgh's contribution to the cure for polio. Even though my fifty cents will probably never get to the Post-Gazette, I bought a copy of the newspaper to bring to my documentary professor for the documentary.

I ran into Shirley and some other folks from the previous shoot. I also saw Dan, whom I know slightly from our local science fiction club. We sat around for a while, then were brought into the airport's alternate security area. It's pretty much the same as any security zone in any airport - a bunch of conveyor belts, gray plastic bins for carry-on, X-ray stations and metal detectors. There were four security lines. Each line had at least two extras playing TSA agents. Since I had so much "potential face time" during the hockey scene (production folks always ask for "new faces" to be near the cameras), I was at the far side of the room from the cameras and the principal actors.

While this wasn't clear to me until that morning, Jay Baruchel and T. J. Miller were playing TSA agents. What seemed to be a totally out-of-context joke about TSA during the hockey scene made much more sense.

The wardrobe people came back through and handed some women kerchiefs for more color in the background. They told me to take off my gray jacket, since the pink blouse was fairly bright. I stuck my jacket on top of my luggage. This turned out to be a good thing - between all the extras, crew and the lights, it got pretty hot in the security area.

Even though most of the principals' dialogue will probably be recorded later, the assistant producer told us to be as quiet as possible. It was never all that quiet in the security area, but the conveyor belts through the X-ray machine were turned off. Instead of sliding our luggage and gray basins along, we had to pick them up so they wouldn't make any noise. However, the relative quiet on the set was broken by the periodic beep of the metal detectors. I'm not sure why they couldn't turn those off, but they couldn't.

During the morning, I unpacked my computer bag and put my laptop in a gray bin about 20 times.

Maybe more.

The extra playing a TSA guy had one of those sensitive wands they put near you if you set off the metal detector. I kept whispering to him, "Don't wand me, bro!" after I'd go through the metal detector.

Eventually, we broke for lunch. Due to the narrowness of Terminal E, it was hard enough to serve snacks much less lunch. The production company had a large tent set-up down the hill from the landside terminal. In the mele, I lost track of Shirley, and grabbed some lunch that looked inedible enough that I don't even remember what it was. I found Shirley pretty quickly thereafter. She'd grabbed a seat with Ryan and Jerimiah, the people who were the male leads' stand-ins. Jodi, who was standing in for Alice Eve, was there too. The stand-in for Krysten Miller wasn't on set as Krysten didn't have anything to shoot at the airport last week.

We chatted and went back to the set. We were sent to the same general areas as before. I was at the back of the room, far away from the principal actors, but the cameras had been shifted around, so the director-style chairs that the cast sits in during breaks were about 15 feet behind me.

Shortly after getting back to set, I realized a very gorgeous man was sitting in one of those seats. I recognized him instantly, but figured I had to be wrong - why in the world would Rufus Sewall, who had just played a magnificent Alexander Hamilton not two nights before on John Adams, be in Pittsburgh? He wasn't on the movie...Was that really him?

I whispered to Zoe, who was playing a TSA agent and was facing those chairs, "Um, does that look like Rufus Sewall back there?"

"Oh yes!"

"Why is he here?"

"I think he's dating Alice Eve."

Ahh...A few minutes later, while Alice's hair was being fixed, she made a point of waving to him, and he waved back. Ahha!

So, I spent the next hour or so picking up my suitcase about 15 feet away from Rufus Sewall. Since he was back in the cast area and usually had someone talking to him, I couldn't very well go back and say hi. Since then, I've realized that, if he stops back to visit, I need to say to him, in my oldest, creekiest voice:

"I saw something nasty in the woodshed!" (too obscure to explain unless you're familiar with one of his older movies where he plays a major stud)

Jim says I should really get him to sign a twenty dollar bill!

Rufus eventually left, and we continued trying to be extremely quiet travellers. Since he had been back in the corner, almost none of the extras knew he was there. When I'd tell this story to other people, most had a vague memory of a guy wearing a black sweatshirt who came to visit. But almost no one knew who it was.

We were released somewhere around 8:00pm - the secondary security area faces west and they like to take advantage of the sunset.

This time, I passed around a few newly-made business cards to people. I also had adapted last year's Confluence Restaurant Guide into a general restaurant guide for the Pittsburgh International Airport area. I printed some up and handed a few out, to folks who seemed to be from out of town. I handed them out to the stand-ins, Ryan and Jerimiah, since they were on the same shuttle bus as I was. I suggested going to Bocktown, and they agreed. Jim met us there, and we had a nice drink.

I felt pretty worn out on Wednesday morning, but actually lasted a little better on Wednesday. I was more used to standing still for a long time. The production crew continued to impress me, particularly Richard Fox, the assistant director, and Emse, who was one of his assistants. I usually couldn't tell much about what the cast was doing as I continued to be on the far side of the room, or in the back of the room towards the bathrooms. I look forward to seeing the movie for that!

During a break very early Wednesday afternoon, I was so hungry that I went down to Au Bon Pan and got a sandwich for an early lunch. Turned out to be a good thing, because the extra lunch was fairly late and it looked like it had lots of mushrooms in it. The cake was still pretty good.

Late Wednesday, I spent some time in the hallway, approaching the door into the security area. Then, they told us to change our clothes to show this was another day. I lugged my suitcase over to the farther restroom area and changed (finally!) out of my pink shirt that probably will make me look like a cotton candy walking across the background of the occasional shot. I also checked my messages and found I was invited to work again as an extra on Saturday (yes!).

After I'd changed and got back to the set, I saw a lot of the extras were already back in the line in the security area. Damn! I was going to be stuck in the hallway again. Oh well. It was getting very bright in the hallway, so I just put on my sunglasses (I was dressed more like a tourist now anyway) and stood in line.

And then I realized I was in one of the best-spots possible if I wanted to be on camera.

They were working on a scene where two of the principals dash down beside the line in the hallway. Interesting. I avoided looking at the stedicam, and just stared at my ticket until one of the principals makes a commotion in the security area. Then, and only then, it was permissable to look in the security area.