Friday, February 4, 2011

New Year's Eve Film Shoot

{In which I make a fool out of myself as an extra at a film shoot}

A few of us from Berkeley ICA decided to meet up over winter break in SoCal, so on New Year's Eve we had our mini-reunion lunch on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach. Christine's friend had a beach house in the area and needed extras for the web movie they were filming there, and Christine invited us to join her as an extra. So Robert, Tarn (Christine's friend from Thailand), and I tagged along and got to be movie extras for the rest of the afternoon.

I was really excited at the prospect of seeing how movies are made. We walk in and one of the rooms was decorated with Christmas lights for a party scene. There was the fancy camera, the boom mike and sound gear, the HD monitor, huge lights, tape on the ground — I don't know much about filmmaking but it looked really cool. We all got placed in various locations and were told what to do. Tarn and Christine chatted (very quietly) with the people around them. I was told to hold a cup and walk across the room when given the signal. Robert was supposed to lean over a girl chilling against the wall and chat her up, but when I looked over at him later he wasn't in the correct pose at all. Too bad, it would have been funny to see Robert as the aggressive playboy type.

And then, we got to do what we were told to do over and over again. Several takes each for the long shot, the medium shot, and close-ups on each actor. Of course we all had to be very quiet the entire time and just mouth our conversations so that the main characters' dialogue could be heard clearly. And between takes we'd all just wait and maybe make awkward small talk with the extras, if that was your thing.

After that scene ended, we took a break, signed some waivers, and snacked on free food. It was really nice getting to catch up with Robert with a long talk/ Made me miss all those past hangouts at Berkeley.

Eventually, it was time to do another scene. This time, the scene involved dancing. As in, all the extras had to dance (well, kind of). Christine and Tarn got put in a group near the front, while I was in the back with Robert. And then, when they called "action," we were supposed to dance. Remember what I said about extras needing to be silent? Apparently that goes for the music too.

It makes sense that they would record the conversation first and then add the music in later for better quality. But that meant we all had to dance to silent music. I guess that explains why so many people seem rhythmically-challenged in movie dancing scenes.

Anyway, Robert and I were kind of off in the back and at the edge of the room. And Robert decides that he'd try to be cool and lean against the wall and just watch me as I danced to non-existent music. SO AWKWARD.

After a while it got better, I guess. I'm self-conscious enough dancing where it's all dark and everyone is squished together and nobody knows you and there's super loud music (not that I have much experience with that). I very much wished I didn't have to be dancing when it was brightly lit, there's no music, with Robert just standing there smirking at me, and there was the very real possibility of my lack of coordination being caught on film (though probably out of focus since I was behind the main characters, plus my back was to the camera).

But then I decided, oh whatever, why not just have fun? So I tried to imagine a beat and then flung my arms around and swayed from side to side and bobbed up and down and basically had a great workout (we had many, many takes).

After a few takes the director noticed that there was kind of a hole next to where Robert and I were standing and dancing, respectively, so he said that Robert should move over there to cover the hole and start dancing too. Take that! Then I wasn't the only one dancing, and I could smirk at his dance moves too. Which, for him, as for most of the other people in the room, were composed of nods and a bit of arm-swinging. I was not impressed — by this time I was practically breaking a sweat, dancing through the entirety of each take with short breaks in between. Eventually Robert got more into it (my enthusiasm must be infectious) and I actually found it pretty fun! (Don't know what Robert thought though, haha.)

I think everyone was relieved when we finished the scene — there were a ton of takes and retakes and pick-ups and close-ups and I think everyone was tired of trying to dance to imaginary music. Many people left after that, but we stuck around for a few more takes of shorter scenes.

The director must have noticed how much effort I put into being a super awesome extra, because for one of the scenes he pulled just Robert and me to be in the background (well ok, there weren't that many choices left by then, but I still like to think he thought I was awesome and that Robert only got in by association). We basically stood on the staircase with cups in our hands and whispered to each other. We didn't pretend to be "in character" and make fake small talk about the fake party, talk about our fake relationships with each other, or spread fake gossip about the main characters (the characters!), as I heard some of the other extras doing. (Uh, is that really necessary?! I guess they take their art seriously, but personally I think it would have been much more effective to actually dance and make the party look lively on screen rather than to stand on the edges and make "in character" comments to one another.)

But anyway, I actually quite enjoyed that afternoon with Robert and Christine. Here is a photo of the three of us after the shoot:

photo credit . Tarn
The film shoot was fun, but I think it's only because I got to talk with Robert a lot and hang out with Christine. Otherwise it's just a lot of waiting around so everything's set up for you to do the same thing you just did fifty times. But you know what, that doesn't stop me from wanting to make a movie at all. I just have to convince my coworkers that they desperately want to be actors for the movie I'm going to make. :D


  1. LOL no one thinks you're any of those things!! i expressly said it would be really out of character for you to be a playboy.

    and if anything, i was annoyed that you, like a normal person, didn't want to make a fool out of yourself dancing to no music. i think i was the crazy person in the story. thanks for humoring me and going along with it though! :D

    and how come you didn't identify yourself as "handsome rob" this time? :P

  2. wow, great job trying to portray me as a sleeze, creeper, weirdo, and loser. i hope it was just for literary effect and that's not how you actually see me. :0