I decided to do something way out of character and sign up to be an extra on a film. An acquaintance told me that a few movies have been shot in Georgia, but it turns out film activity has really exploded in Atlanta (“Hollywood East” as someone jokingly called it). The call for extras on a project called Grantham and Rose went out late one night, I thought “heh heh…” and fired off an email saying that I wanted in. I have what I consider to be a healthy dose of, “OH DEAR GOD! GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!” when it comes to acting and direct attention in general, but film production is interesting to me so the chance to watch a movie being made was a can’t miss.
The story follows a teenager named Grantham Portnoy (played by Jake T. Austin, Wizards of Waverly Place) who lands in a juvenile detention facility and is befriended by an old lady named Rose (Marla Gibbs, The Jeffersons) who works there.
My phone rang on a Friday afternoon. “Hi! I’m with Grantham and Rose. We’d love to have you come down for a couple days. You’ll be playing the role of a security guard.”
“Sweet!” I thought. I can pretend to be a big tough security guard, right? Right???
When I got to the location, a disused detention center/boot camp in Bremen, GA, I was greeted by someone named Ryan. As I walked on I thought, “that guy looked awfully familiar.” I headed into the holding pen for the extras, said hello to a few people and took a seat. The room was filled with a bunch of guys, about ten or 15 teenagers and four adults (including me). The kids would be playing inmates and the adults would be keeping them in line as guards. We were clearly outnumbered.
The same guy I had met at the door came in to set up a table with food and drinks and headed off with a few chairs in tow. A hired hand I guess? Wait a minute…googling…googling…
Ryan, as it turns out, was Ryan Spahn, screenwriter, producer and actor in the film. Here was an important person with regards to this project yet he was just running around helping set stuff up. That was the case with almost everyone on set. At one point I was chatting with a woman for a while, helping her move around some bags of ice, before I realized she was Tessa Thompson, one of the lead actresses. Because this was a small film, most people were helping out in whatever way they could.
Still in the little space for the extras, we sat around and sat around until finally they needed background action. I threw on my guard clothes (a white shirt with a badge) and headed out to my spot, a hallway around the corner from where they were shooting. The director came over and told us what to do, smiled and took off. My job on the first day was to walk. Just walk.
In the scene, Grantham is being processed at the detention facility and I was asked to wander through the background. I didn’t have to walk far, just around the corner, but it would be enough to convince a viewer that the place was alive with activity. Quiet on the set! Sound? Speed! Camera? Rolling! And…action!. I began my epic 15-foot journey, knowing that my star was shining.
CUT! After seeing me walk for the first time, the director asked if I could walk more “security guard-y.” As I said, being an extra in a movie was out of character for me, but unfortunately it seems I never got in character.
“Sure,” I lied. I had every intention of walking as security guard-y as possible, but intention is not the same thing as execution. Security guard-y, as far as I could tell, meant walking a little puffed out, kinda cocky and, most importantly, standing up straight. For those who don’t know me, standing up straight is an utter impossibility due to a debilitating childhood disease I suffered at the age of 13 called “insecurity.”
I walked and walked and walked. One thing is clear—I am a terrible actor. Another extra told me I looked a little like a zombie and that I needed to walk with purpose. I walk every day, frequently (I know because I was there), yet somehow I can’t walk on camera. Strutting, speeding, sauntering, scowling, contemplating…I tried them all, but I’m pretty sure each new walk I tried looked just as purposeless and non-security guard-y as the last.
After we were done with the scene, the extras coordinator came over and said, “Ok, we are done with you guys for today. See you tomorrow!”
After a long hard day of sitting, standing and being completely incapable of walking, my first day on set was done. The worst part, worse than the fact that I couldn’t act, was that I never got to actually see any of the production work going on (which was the whole reason I was there in the first place). Filming was taking place in a reception room with a big window (that I was supposed to walk past…purposefully) but, as I learned, they don’t like people circling back around and peeking in while they are shooting a scene.
I drove home a little disappointed but I was hopeful that the next day would be more interesting (and require less walking).
“Oh by the way,” I was told on my way out the door, “tomorrow is the big fight scene!”