Due to complete financial need and desperation, I’ve been an extra on a couple of different television programs, commercials, and reality shows. You get paid to sit around and wait to be herded to set or location…
It can be up to $300.00 a day, or it can be minimum wage. This particular day it was minimum wage, I was to be an extra on the Tim Allen show. From the moment I drove through the gates at CBS Radford my stomach started to turn, and I felt an incredible amount of anxiety and fear. It was the same way I imagined ‘Damien’ from “The Omen” must have felt as he got closer to church.
I was given a parking pass and told to park on the 6th floor visitor parking garage, then to walk to soundstage #9. Sounds easy enough. It was 9:00 AM and already eighty degrees and I was wearing a black wool suit. I parked, and started leisurely walking to the elevator, I heard footsteps running up behind me at a fast clip. “Are you an extra on the Tim Allen show?” she asked me frantically. “Yes,” I said. “Oh My God! We are so late!” I push the elevator button. “What? The call time said 9:30. It’s 9:05.” She whirled past me garment and duffel bag in tow and started running down the stairs, “You didn’t get the e-mail? The call time changed to 8:45!” I hate being late.
I started running down the stairs behind her, “What e-mail? When was that sent?” She was already down a couple of flights of stairs. “This morning, at like 8:15.” she screamed. I started running down the stairs behind her in my wool suit and dress shoes. I had a vision of slipping and falling down the stairs and how that would look in an obit, “He was to be an extra on the Tim Allen Show. Unfortunately lost his footing and tumbled downstairs. He broke his neck and died instantly.” I slowed my roll I wasn’t going to kill myself to get to a soundstage for minimum wage, plus my feet already hurt in the dress shoes I was sporting for the big occasion.
As I walked at a fast clip down the last flight of stairs I saw that she was already 100 feet ahead of me, she looked back and said, “you better hurry up, they close that stage door and the red light goes on we don’t get paid, we are fucked! No money!” she screamed as she ran past a group of truck drivers sitting around on a tailgate lift eating donuts and drinking coffee, reinforcing and reppin’ the teamster stereotype. They laughed out loud at her. I ran behind her I already felt like a douchebag, I didn’t need validation from the Teamsters. I looked up, I was passing stage 3, I had six more stages to get to, it was nowhere in sight, it was easily a quarter-mile from where I was, I walked at a fast clip. I was sweating, my feet hurt, and I felt a rash starting in my crotch from the wool trousers.
I cursed myself and started focusing on all the bad life choices that brought me to this moment as I ran past stage 6. Now I was sweating profusely and pissed off. I gave up and started walking very slowly, “Fuck it.” I yelled aloud, which received a high sign from an executive walking by. I got to the soundstage, a woman greeted me with, “I’m Elizabeth. The production manager. Didn’t you get the second fucking e-mail? You’re late!’ I walked past her leisurely and through the door. “Go wait with the other background players, first room on your left!” I walked into the room.
It was hot and jam-packed with extras. The lucky ones were seated in those old grammar school style desks, others sat on the linoleum floor, even more leaned up against the wall. All waiting. The ‘craft services’ table was an absolute abomination. It consisted of paper bowls of Doritos, mini boxes of Milk Duds, and Good and Plenty, and old brown bananas and played out apples. It also featured Mexican candies and Mexican baked goods, I guess that was for our Latin background friends. The production manager popped her head through the door, “settle in kids Mr. Allen is running 2 hours late.” “Cool man. Overtime,” a guy next to me said. I made my way to the craft service table and grabbed a handful of Doritos and a couple of boxes of Milk Duds. “Fuck it,” I said again under my breath.