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Monday, June 9, 2014

Confessions of a Movie Extra

This past weekend was somewhat unusual for my Lovely Bride and me.  No, the Lake Erie Monster didn’t wash ashore.  Gold was not discovered in the river at the base of the hill. And I am still waiting for those Publisher’s Clearing House people to show up with the balloons and huge cardboard check made out to moi.

Rather, we were extras in a movie. Honest to goodness.

LB has always loved to act, and one of her aspirations was to be in films. As so often happens, Life comes along, dreams get placed on the back-burner. From the back-burner, they are moved to the counter-top, and finally become nestled in the pantry of our hopes.  Rarely, is one able to breathe some life into those long dormant dreams.

We have both been fairly active in theatrical productions over the years. Still, it is not the same as being on camera.  She learned of a local website which posts auditions, casting opportunities and such for both theatrical and film. While perusing the site, she came upon an independent producer filming a short in the Cleveland area.  There was a need for extras to be in church service scenes.

The film, the title I will let you all know when it is finalized, is slated for inclusion in various film festivals, such as Sundance and The Cleveland International Film Festival; among others.

The film is a contemporary telling of the Old Testament book of Hosea. For those who may not be familiar with the account; let me provide an annotated Cliffs Notes version. (I wonder, are the venerable yellow and black Cliff’s Notes still published? If anyone knows, let me know.)

Hosea was a minor prophet of God in pre-Christ Israel. He is considered a minor prophet due to the brevity of the book which bears his name. He did not make his living by extracting minerals from the earth while proclaiming God’s Word, nor did his prophesying have less importance than Isaiah or Daniel or Ezekiel would have.

Essentially, the story goes like this:

Boy becomes man of God. Boy meets girl. Girl is a harlot (in today’s terms “a ho”). God tells boy to marry harlot, named Gomer. Boy says “What? Are you serious God?” God confirms He is serious. Boy marries girl. Girl keeps up same old same old. Boy and girl have children, a real Maury Povich “Who yo’ Daddy?” event. Boy tries to get girl to give up working it. Girl says “No way”, and bugs out. Boy finds girl on slave auction block, worn down, haggard. Boy purchases girl. Boy gives girl freedom. Girl and boy stay together. God uses this as object lesson to Israel about spiritual adultery caused by worshiping idols.

You know, just your basic love story.

All of which leads to our entering a small, converted storefront church on the near east side of Cleveland early on Saturday morning. LB and I saunter in Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church on East 93rd Street.  Immediately, we conclude we would be fairly easy to pick out in the crowd scenes.  We met the producer/lead actor Desmond. He introduced us to other cast members, telling us the premise of the film. We then took our seats in the small sanctuary with other extras to wait filming.

The scene we filmed initially was when Gomer (who is seeking the Lord), brings several of her friends to church, so they can give up the World’s Oldest Profession as well. The congregation was to respond in a manner representative of good church goers should a bunch of ladies of the evening come slipping into the Sunday morning service.  There are some  twists in this story, all of which add to the interest.

We filmed one take. The director didn’t really like that one, so we filmed another take. One of the speakers bobbled their lines. So, we did another take, and yet another take. Finally, about 10 takes later, the director was satisfied he had enough to work with. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was about 11 A.M. Great! We could get out of here and get some stuff done.  Besides, my back-sides were becoming numb from sitting in the same pew for so long. Other needs were making themselves known which required my urgent attention.

No, now he wanted to take shots from about a thousand different angles. When that was concluded, I was sure we could bug out. Au contraire, as now it was time for close-ups. Finally, at approximately 1:20, we broke for lunch.

We chatted with other cast members; LB got some very valuable networking accomplished. For my part, I made small talk with other folks.  Then, we were called back for another church service scene. And… much to our chagrin, we forgot to bring a chance of clothing for a “different Sunday”! I ditched my sport coat, borrowed a tie from another cast member, and rolled up my sleeves. LB borrowed a jacket from another lady, and Voila! A whole different look was accomplished. The magic of films!

We took one shot. Then another shot. That was followed by a third, and a fourth and a couple dozen more shots. Finally, we heard the final “Cut”, and were released. Returning the articles we had borrowed to their rightful owners, we bid our goodbyes to our fellow actors.Shaking hands with one young man, he stated; “Well, see ya in the movies”

Then it settled in. We are in a movie!

Six hours of our day may result in 30 or so seconds of total on screen time. I walked away with a much deeper appreciation of what is entailed in the production of a film or a television show.  I had some sense of what was required, having written, directed and been in many stage performances. However, as a stage director, I only have to be concerned with sight lines, vocal inflection, actors motions, lighting, sound, set design, costumes, scene continuity…yeah that is about it. A film director also has to take into account various angles of scenes, lighting for each angle and sound recording from various directions… so much more than I ever have to deal with. 

As well as the editing process. At least, they can edit out bobbled lines, things falling on the set, sounds from off set. What happens with a live performance, I have no control over. I have truly learned when opening night comes around; all I can do is let go and let God take over.
To all the film makers out there, I tip my hat.
Oh, yeah… see ya in the movies!


  1. Love it, I can just picture you fidgeting around in the pew after sitting that long! Sounds like an experience that will be a fond memory for many years! Can't wait to "see ya in the movies" my friend!

  2. I think extra work would be so much fun. I've always said that before I die I want to be in at least one movie, even if it is as an extra. I mean, I live in suburban South Carolina, so being an extra is probably as far as I'd ever get, anyway, lol. Awesome interview! tips also helpful :