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Articles & Press Releases > Article 96

My Gig as a TV Show "Extra"

If you landed on this page after a search on the search-engine-of-your-choice, welcome! This article was written by Glory Borgeson, an executive coach, author, and speaker. Schedule her to speak at your organization's next event:
Personal Branding Speaker; Emerging Leadership Speaker; Entrepreneurial Speaker

Yep, I did it! I was a TV show extra. While not as exciting as it sounds, it was an experience.

I can cross this off of my bucket list -- I've been on a TV show. It doesn't happen often in Chicago, but occasionally, TV shows are shot here.

The opportunity arose to be an extra on the miniseries, Boss (to air in the fall of 2011 on the Starz network), so I jumped on it. 

After being scheduled, I sent a note to a friend who is a TV producer to ask if I would be bored. He wrote back, "Yes, you will. Bring a book." Then he added, "The food is usually pretty good."

The extras waited in the production facility's lunchroom. There were only 20 of us that day, which others who had done this before said is nice. (Often, there are more than 50 extras for a scene -- a lot of people to coordinate.)

Boss is about a fictional Chicago mayor played by Kelsey Grammer. As an extra, I played a newspaper reporter in a newsroom. The main character in the newsroom is a reporter played by Troy Garity. I sat at a desk next to his for several scenes.

(BTW, I had to ask who Troy is. He's Jane Fonda's son. Actually, he resembles his uncle Peter.)

During a break, I was standing behind a guy who was already editing scenes on a computer. I saw myself in the background -- I was blurry! So if they show that one, only I will know it's me!

One of the fascinating aspects of this experience was watching the project management in action. There are many crew people involved. When we came to the floor where they were filming our scene, there were only two actors for this particular scene. Meanwhile, there were at least 20 crew members there. Lighting, sound, assistant directors... enough to trip over.

Each scene was only about one minute long. They did four or five takes of each scene. That was it for the scene. Then they told us to go back downstairs and change clothes for the next scene.

The first time I did this, we did two scenes. For the second scene, the lead director was there, Mario Van Peebles. In between takes of the scene, he would coach Troy through what he was looking for regarding facial expressions and other nuances. That was fascinating. (I later found out from another extra that Mario's coaching was unusual because most of the time directors take actors aside and quietly coach them. We got to hear the whole thing.)

The room we filmed in actually looked like a newsroom. (Well, maybe a newsroom in the 1980's -- it was piled with papers and other stuff.) People have told me that currently newsrooms are more streamlined, people work on laptops, work from home, etc. The set decorators had so much stuff in there -- I even saw a book by an author I once met (written in the 1970's -- someone's been to the flea market to buy props). There were also many binders from the previous business owner of the building. And those binders were very dusty. I was directed to get up, get a binder, come back to my desk, etc. Hopefully the cameras didn't get my face when I picked up the binders!

The second time I got called to be on the show, we did three scenes in the newsroom. Then I got called again for a third time.

The third time, they first asked for four people to come up (to the 5th floor in this case) to the set. Specifically, they asked for four young people. (This is significant later!) A short time after, the rest of us went up. I thought they'd put me at the same desk, but they had me "getting coffee" for myself.

So after finishing that scene (which takes place at around 10:45 pm -- they block the windows with heavy cardboard to make it look like night), we did a quick change and came back upstairs for the next scene. I was wearing heels this time (but I thought they'd put me at "my desk" again).

No such luck. The assistant director told me to come in from one end of the room, stop at a coworker, then go to the coffee table (again!), grab a mug, then turn around and go down the staircase. I did that for a couple takes, but upon reviewing the footage, they decided too many of us were getting in the way of the shot.

So then the asst. director told me to get the coffee mug but wait to go to the staircase until Troy starts walking, and to follow behind him to the stairs. But there were too many crew members around. Lots of people, desks, walking under the boom, a little chaotic.

So then she said to wait longer by the coworker, and when Troy comes up to the newspaper president's character, then walk over to the coffee table. But my back is to Troy as he walks up. The coworker could see there was no way that I could walk through the throng of people behind Troy. In fact, a crew member almost bumped into me as he followed Troy across the "office".

So I just stayed with the coworker.

I shared this with the asst. director and she said that was fine.

There was one more scene after this, which immediately followed, so we didn't have to change clothes. It occurs in a glassed-in office between Troy's reporter character and the president of the newspaper's character. I was standing outside of the office. The asst. director told me, after the first take, to go get a binder (these were clean binders this time!), and walk back to where I was standing. And then to do it again. And to look inside the office every time.

In fact, every extra was instructed to act curious (even nosy) because the president of the newspaper was there, and he rarely comes to the newsroom.

Now I get back to the "send us four young extras" that happened earlier. They were sitting at four desks outside of this office. Until this time, only the asst. director in charge of extras worked with us and directed us. During this scene, this was the only time the director of this scene gave direction -- multiple times -- to the young extras.

It was more like, "Okay... CUT! Guys. You're playing coworkers. You know each other. You work here every day. Now the president of the paper is here. He rarely comes to the newsroom. You two who can see him -- You need to get your other coworker's attention and pantomime whispering about this guy being in your office."

He had to do that a couple times.

Meanwhile, like I said, I thought I'd be sitting at a desk, not standing and walking. I had to sit down between takes as my feet were not happy.

So, what else did I learn about being an extra?

"Lunch" is served very late. 2:00 or 2:30, but that is early for lunch. The first time I did this, "lunch" was at 4:30 for us. And the extras go through the line last. But as my friend said, the food was really good. A big salad bar with many choices. Three entrees, three or four sides, two desserts, and cookies.

If you ever do "extra" work, bring snacks and water.

If they say to bring a prop, bring a tote bag or something you can keep your water and snacks in. That way, if they call you to the scene at 11:30, you've got your water and snacks with you. (I think I was the only person who did that.)

Bring your clothes in a garment bag. (Real Simple has two nice garment bags that are sold at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.) 

What else was interesting?

The main room of the 5th floor is set up to look like the mayor's office. There is a huge painting of Kelsey Grammer on a wall. It made all of us laugh the first time we saw it. (But the show is a drama, so probably no one else will laugh!)

There was recently a casting call for extras for the Superman movie. I passed on it. People stood in line for this! Another coworker/extra told me he's been an extra on a movie. In his movie scene, they were all running. They did the scene 20 times. Running! He liked the TV work better because for TV they do the scene only about five times and move on. And we sat and walked -- no running.

One thing is for sure: You won't do extra work for the money!

I appreciate your thoughts in response.

Glory Borgeson, President
2011 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.

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