I had been meaning to be an extra for some time just to experience a real TV show filming. When "Ugly Betty" was looking for Mets fans to fill in Citi Field for an upcoming episode, I jumped all over it. I've got two thumbs and am a huge Mets fan!
Apparently, there are extra lifers. They live to be extras and let everyone know how much they love it. I met one. He told me he got to play a dead guy on a show (will refrain naming it to be nice). Shortly after that, I found out he was a photo of a dead person on a memorial wall, not an actual body. That's real background work when you can't even play a dead person in three dimensions. Dude was proud of it.
The holding area for extras is a desolate warehouse. Plastic tables and folding chairs as far as the eye can see. SAG seating and Non-SAG seating are strictly divided like Germany before 1990. Wait, I can do more. Divided like numbers on a fifth grade math test. Wait. Divided like a house with an inability to remain upright. Anyway, SAG is apparently better. They get more pay. They get seats with an index card reading "SAG" on it. They get food. When SAG is done eating, Non-SAG is allowed to go up and pick the carcass of the craft service table. The best example was the Ugly Betty cupcakes. There were possibly two left when SAG was done. I'd describe the cupcakes but they were crushed and left for dead. SAG can be cruel.
Once shooting began, we were led like cattle through the bowels of Citi Field to the best seats in the stadium. These are the padded recliner-like seats you dream about being in as you gaze upon them with binoculars from the upper deck cursing the rich people that never use them or give them away. Why are these empty every time I watch the game on TV?
The scene has Betty and three other cast members attending a Mets game. About 60 of us fill in the seats behind. I'm 9 rows back of America Ferrera mostly because I didn't push my way to the front. A man teaches us the hand signals he will be flashing to indicate action on the field. (i.e. A closed fist means a strike out.) When a signal goes up, we are to mime our reactions - pretend to clap, point where the ball goes, shake fist in anger, make sure the box doesn't close in on you. The signal man has no sense of the pace of a game. There is no possible way for a strikeout to happen that quickly after a double. The imagined player just slid into second! What is this, Amateur Hour?
After the first take, a set PA comes up to me and taps me on the shoulder. I am leaving my seat and everyone around me is wondering what's going on. She informs me that I am to return to my seat during filming like I just went to the bathroom during the game. Apparently this is a huge deal. All the other Mets-attired extras are trying to figure out what made me so special. I felt like the chosen alien from the crane game in "Toy Story."
My opportunity of having my lower torso in the shot was taken away as fast as it was given. The soda vendor, on the next take, moved faster than in the previous take and went into my row blocking my way back to my seat. As any person attending a real game would do, I waited for him to finish but the scene ended by then. The important people liked that take and I was told (with apologies) to stay in my seat the rest of the way. This was supposed to be upsetting as the other extras consoled me. I mimed anger.
Redemption came when they changed camera angles. I moved, along with half of the extras, to a different set of seats to fill in the new background. This time, a different PA tapped me on the shoulder and told me to count to 20 and get up and take a seat a few rows up. I was living the extra dream. The director yelled action and I counted. I went with a good pace. I thought about using Mississippis but I chose against it. On 20, I got up and moved down three rows. When I got there, a soda was handed to me. I tried passing it further down the row but the guys indicated they didn't order it. Sweet! Free fake soda! I really hope this gets on the show because you will see me get up, take a better seat, and get a free soda. The later the take they use, the more entitled to the soda I will look. By the end, I had my hand out waiting for the soda.
For the next scene, the PA told me to count to 10 and return to my original seat. Have any of these people ever been to a baseball game? Why would I do that? It makes no sense. I reluctantly did it but only because I knew it would up my chances of being noticed thereby pleasing my mother.
I don't know when it will air. I'll post it when I find out. Overall, it was a cool experience seeing how they set up the shots and all the equipment that is required. I won't go into all the detail but let's just say it's more than the Handycam I use for my videos. We were only there for 6 hours which is unheard of for extra work so I was definitely spoiled on my first time. Will I do it again? Sure. Just have to find a 15 hour block in my schedule that works.
- America Ferrera has a really tiny head. I'm not sure why it looks so large on camera.
- There is no way to clap with genuine enthusiasm without touching your hands together.
- The girl who plays Hazel on "Gossip Girl" had to do the scene with sky-high heels and a skirt (Seriously? Not practical for a game.). It was really cold out. To put in perspective, Ol' Tiny Head was in a sweater, poncho, pants, and Uggs. She got away with it because she never had to stand up.
- Extras must be known to be weirdos. There was one woman that had a Mr. Met stuffed animal. Every time a crew member asked her to move, she asked, "Mr. Met too?" Nobody ever acted annoyed or worried. It was frightening.