Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Life in Movies

In 2004 I moved to LA with the intention of getting into the entertainment business. I had fallen in love with the craft of screenwriting, fascinated with the process of creating characters, then figuring out what they would do, say and why. I just wanted to be involved in "the biz", somehow, someway. As the saying goes "Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it!" I ended up working two jobs for nine months, full-time retail management during the days and weekends, and a part-time job as a night casting assistant, just to get my foot in the door. In September 2005 I made the leap to extras casting full-time and have never looked back!

I feel incredibly blessed to really love what I do, to get up every morning looking forward to the day, not dreading it as many people do. I love the business of making movies and television shows for two reasons. One, it's a very creative process and two, it's a collaborative process. It literally takes a village to produce a 30 minute sitcom, and an even bigger village to create a two hour feature film! Everyone working has to step up and do their job to the best of their ability, because if they don't, the whole process breaks down costing thousands to possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost time. This creates a lot of pressure and sometimes stress, but I learned quickly (sometimes by making big mistakes!) how to make sure that "someone" causing problems wasn't me!

There are two layers of people in entertainment production. The crew members, tradesmen plying their craft, whether electricians, lighting, grips, sound techs, camera people, costume people, hair, make-up, assistant directors, or the production assistants running to get the producers' coffee, or to get the actor's shirt that somehow didn't make it onto the wardrobe truck. Also the hard-working teamsters, the people who drive those big trucks to set, or shuttle the cast and crew from parking to the location. They are on set before everyone else each morning, and there to take everything to the next location at wrap for the next day, long after everyone else has gone home. All of these people work very hard, for long hours, sometimes in the rain, snow, cold, or desert heat. They are paid very well, and usually fed well too, but that hardly matters when you are on day 5 of 12-14 hour days and your brain starts to malfunction. The irony is that if they do their job well you will never notice it! This is true of my job in extras casting. The extras or "background actors" as they are called, are essential to creating the fantasy of the movie or TV show. They bring realism to the scene, adding depth and intensity. If they weren't there you would definitely notice, but with them it helps the viewer feel they are watching something that is really happening. If I do my job correctly, casting people who look the part of "cop" or "hooker" (I love casting hookers!), or even a "restaurant patron", you won't even notice them. If you don't notice the people moving behind or in front of the main actors, then I have done my job.

The other group of people in my business are the actors, directors and producers. These are the big money makers, and sometimes they have the big egos to go along with it. I don't really blame them for that, as society has created this business where they are idolized and their every whim catered to. That's why it's so refreshing when I work with someone in this "above the line" group and find them to be humble, down-to-earth, genuinely nice people. A few who spring to mind are Josh Duhamel, from "Las Vegas", Nathan Fillion from "Castle", Jane Lynch from "Glee" (I worked on a movie with her), or Isabella Rossellini, who came to sit with me at lunch one day when she saw me sitting alone. It's wonderful that they have achieved a certain degree of fame, but haven't put themselves above the folks that work so hard to help them get there.

I've also encountered some really nice producers and directors, like Lawrence Kasdan, who is loved and adored by his crew. They work harder for him, because they genuinely like him, and they know that he genuinely likes and appreciates them, and everything they do. I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with a senior VP at Screen Gems, a super-nice man who wanted to talk about what could be done to make the background actors feel more like part of the creative process. This is especially notable because usually the extras are only on set for one day, and are often treated like human props or set dressing.

After 5 years of doing this job, it still hasn't gotten old. I still pinch myself as I walk around the Sony or the Warner Brothers lots, thinking of all the cinematic history there. And now I'm a part of it! It's not really that glamorous most of the time, just meetings and phone calls and deadlines, but the rewards, recognizing one of "my" people clearly in a scene, or better yet, hearing that they were upgraded on set to a principle cast member with lines, make it so worth it. The best part of my job is to be in a position to help other people's dreams come true!

They say that most of us will live long enough to have 3 major careers in our lifetime. I feel so lucky to have already had one that I loved, and now to be in the middle of the second. Can't wait to see what happens next!

1 comment:

  1. Karen -
    I loved the description of your job. Now I will take care to notice the extras, ( or not notice them !!) And the comment about Isabella Rossellini, I have always admired her, and it was wonderful to read your comment about her.

    Your blog is fabulous. And I loved your favorite quote. I agree, we are just spiritual beings living a human existence. The flesh is so strong! It is easy to see why many of us are in the state of conflict...because we don't pay attention to what our Spirit tells us. Keep writing! It is very inspiring!