Sunday, 04 May 2008 23:19
The author recently worked as an extra on the set of Der Seewolf (The Sea Wolf), a German mini-series production, based on the Jack London novel, currently shooting in Grand Bahama. Here he shares his experience of a typical day as an extra on the set. - Editor
The exciting thing about getting the call to come to the set is that you never see it coming. So, you reach the studio for an eight o’clock call time. Greet the guard at the gate and go to the offices where the wardrobe changing room is. When you get there you go to the clothes rack and look for the hangers grouped together with the picture that was taken of you days ago in costume at the wardrobe fitting. After you are done getting dressed and putting your own clothes on the hangers you wait outside with your fellow extras for the bus to take you to the set.
When you get on the bus there is the buzz of the unexpected as everyone is looking forward to what this new day of filming may bring. You get to the set and the first things you notice are the trailers where the actors are getting ready for their day of work. After you leave the bus, you make your way to the food van to see what they have on the menu today for breakfast. Then you head to the tent with the table and chairs and eat your food with the rest of the crew that happen to be present.
The nervous energy starts to build when the director and assistant director stand in front of a newly constructed storyboard. They go on to explain to everyone present what shots are expected for today and what they want you and the rest of the team to do so that it can be achieved. After that they leave and a production assistant comes and tells you that you will be notified when you will be needed on the actual set for shooting. This waiting time is what most movies consist of for the extras or the background people.
When you are given time to hang out on the set and look around, you have to remember not to get in anyone’s way while you explore your surroundings. You may also choose to just stay in the tent and play cards or dominoes, if anyone remembered to bring them, with the rest of the extras present. This is time when a good conversation will probably get started by the extras who have been on other productions and you get all the inside information that you would not have known otherwise.
The production assistant makes their way back to your group and hands you a bottle of sun block to be used and passed around. Then you are informed to use the bathroom before they start and are offered seasickness pills if needed. The wardrobe person comes over to make sure you are dressed okay before they let you go on the dock to meet. If you want to take any pictures, now is the chance because they will want your full attention when everything gets rolling.
When the motorboat arrives to take you out to sea there is a feeling of exhilaration as you step off the dock. By the time you reach where the longboats are anchored you are ready for anything you may have to deal with. Each longboat will hold two people, with one person steering the rudder and the next person holding a rifle. The assistant marine coordinator makes sure the sails of the longboats are open and the ropes are tied up right so everything is as secure as can be expected. You are then transported from the big motorboat to the longboat.
The assistant weapons manager hands you a 1885-era rifle for you to use when the cameras begin to roll. You were trained on how to use a rifle earlier that week with blank rounds and now that you have a feel for it you can pretend to fire it after pretending to load it. There is also a fake seal in the boat with you and a bottle of fake blood to pour on it if the fake blood that is on it begins to fade away. As soon as the other extra gets in the longboat the motorboat leaves to deposit the remaining extras in the other longboats.
When the time comes for the filming to begin everyone is in high spirits and ready to get into character. The extras with rifles pretend to shoot into the sea and when the ship ‘Ghost’ comes into view those same extras pretend to fire at it. Then a boom is heard and the extras with the rifle act dead while the extras that are sailing raise their hands to give up. This goes on for a couple hours, as we have to stop shooting and the ship sails back into position so the action can be filmed from a different perspective.
During this time in between shooting a little motorboat comes by and gives us our choice of canned drinks and plastic wrapped sandwiches. When we are done eating we hide the garbage under the seal and get ready for another run-through. You also get to talk to the other person in the longboat with you about what you do as your day job and what your life is like when you are not at the studio.
When the sunlight is not what it was at the start of the shoot we are picked up by the big motorboat. You take your garbage and rifle with you as you get off the longboat and head for the dock. Another production assistant tells you which bus to take to get back to the offices to change out of your costume. When you are back in your normal clothes and getting ready to drive home you realise that the magic of movie making is that thrill you get to be part of something bigger than yourself.
Rouen Robinson is a part-time extra and full time laboratory technician. He works for the oil testing company, Intertek Caleb Brett. He is also the author of a book of poetry titled, Random Moments Rule.