She arrives on time, at 9:30, already
made up and dressed. She'll spend most of the day in holding, which today is the spacious
chapel of a local church, but six or seven, or maybe ten times, she will be called to the
set--two blocks away--to sit while the lights are fixed or the blocking run through. Or a
shot is made.
She is not alone. She has 50 cohorts. They are called
"extras," and they do not have any lines.
They are wedding guests and while they are dressed for
specific roles (some guests of the bride, hip, artsy, colorful--some guests of the groom,
conservative, stodgy, Connecticut) in reality they are human props, to be set up
and moved around to fill the space of the frame. Their job, collectively, is to make the
pictures a little more authentic.
"You don't do it for the money," she says,
"you don't do it to act. You do it to watch and learn how movies are made."
Actually, some do it to make a living. They belong to the
Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, and they are paid a day rate and earn overtime. But she is
only SAG Eligible. She hasn't joined the guild. And so she, and 30 of her cohorts on this
day, are only paid a day-rate she asks me not to divulge.
It isn't great, but it's better than nothing.
But she doesn't do it for the money. Actually, she used to
wait on tables at the Film Center Cafe. She met Joe and Jon because they would each lunch there nearly every day. And
when she heard they were making a movie she sent along her resume. And they passed it in
turn to Susan Fried, Extras Casting, and she got the job.
She doesn't wait tables anymore. She got a commercial (Blue
Cross/Blue Shield) and that and other acting work is paying the bills. Ironically, she
can't afford health insurance.
SAG members do get health insurance, as part of their
benefits, though they must pay dues that she feels she can't yet cover. She can join
whenever she chooses, which is an advantage, she says.
She worked on Copland, with Stallone,
DeNiro and Keitel.
"It was cool watching them," she says. "No
one knows what goes on in the trailer, but when they step out onto the set they're
professional. We know them acting up as celebs, from seeing them on TV, but when they're
working it isn't about them vamping for the camera, it isn't about ego, it's really about
She said that when the extras were bussed to the location
on Copland, as they exited the busses, a man with a megaphone stood in
front of them and announced: "Attention People! You are not allowed to use the words
Sly, Rambo or Rocky on the set!"
While a Hollywood movie might employ hundreds or thousands of extras, most
scenes in Cherry require only a few. The church scenes are the exception.
These are the big days for extras on the picture.
The pay scale differential isn't the only difference between SAG and
"When we arrived," she said, "there was a lovely platter of
smoked salmon out on the breakfast table. But then someone said, 'You're non SAG?' and
they scooped it up and moved it over to the other place. But actually, the food here isn't
bad. The coffee is hot, and there are many different teas."
In front of us, on the craft services table, are six cups of yogurt.
Cherry flavored yogurt.
"Mostly, it's hurry up and wait. You meet people in the film
business, talk to other actors, read a little of this or that--I have a lot of material in
my bag--and sometimes act up a little. I mean, look at what this is: A bunch of out of
"It can get a little crazy."
She is an actress, most days, auditioning, performing, studying. Extra
work isn't something she seeks out, unless she sees a reason: To keep up contacts, to see
fine actors at work. Extra work is anonymous, nameless, usually without distinction.
That's just the way it is.
Her name, by the way, is Sarah Fitzkee.