Yes, you read that right. In the past month I’ve had the opportunity to join a film set twice – not just a regular film set, but a massive historic film set! Being an extra on a historic film set had always been something on my bucket list; this shouldn’t be a surprise when you know about my love for history, fiction, and film. Feeling like someone from a different time period, playing a fictional character and being able to experience what it is like to be part of a film production; I can’t think of anything more awesome to be honest!
So how did this come about? Well, let me first start by telling you I’ve always liked acting and been intrigued by the film industry. I did some theatre as a child, and at high school I enjoyed performing sketches with friends. During university, I kind of forgot about acting. Now that I finished my degrees, I’ve been looking around at extra gigs. Just before summer, I saw a public call on Facebook that a production company was looking for people to extra on the set of a new historic Dutch film, about the Frisians, the Danish and the Franks in the early middle ages. I signed up instantly, but never heard from the company again. Until about a month ago. The email that they sent me told me I was selected from over 12.000 people to be an extra.
My outfit as a Frisian village girl. They even attached hairpieces and beads! They also painted our hands and nails to look dirty.
I had the time of my life! I do believe that being an extra might not be for everyone. There are several things you need to know in my opinion, both about the work itself and some tips that might come in handy. Here they come:
1. Come prepared
The people at Costume, Make-up and Hair don’t have an infinite amount of time to transform you. Listen to what they ask of you, and keep to the briefing if you got one over email. We had to arrive clean and free of make-up, so they could work their magic on clean slates. We were also warned about the fact that it could get cold and wet – I brought a towel, a scarf, and wore thermal clothing underneath my custome. They also put some plastig bags over our feet (sock, plastic bag, another sock) just in case they’d get wet.
2. Be prepared to get wet, dirty and cold
Rain machines, snow machines, muddy ground, smoke – I’ve seen it all! At one point I was in a full-force rain machine for an hour, chilled to the bone. The scene was AWESOME and without a doubt worth it! Luckily the extras tent was very warm and they served hot soup and hot drinks.
3. Extreme patience is required
Most people already know this, but it doesn’t hurt to emphasise it again: as an extra, most of the time on set you are waiting. And waiting. And more waiting. Until you’re called and have the opportunity to act in a scene 🙂 Which you might have to re-do a 100 times. So yes, patience is key.
4. Don’t expect too much
First rule of being an extra: don’t expect that your shot will make the film. Lots and lots of material will be cut during post production, so best to expect nothing than to tell all your friends they’ll be able to see you in cinema. Next to that, don’t expect you’ll get time to hang out with the main cast – they often have their own trailers and are way too busy getting into character to hang out with the extras.
5. Don’t argue with the crew
Just do as you’re told, don’t think you have a brilliant suggestion or think you know better than the crew; they are the professionals and do not have the time to listen to pretentious talk of the extras.
6. Film set knowledge 101
There were some things I had no idea of prior to experiencing this film set. For example, when the director starts a scene and they are shooting, the only people talking are the principle actors with dialogue, and any secondary that interacts with them. Extras are directed to pantomime so as to not interfere with the sound being recording of the principles on set. Sometimes you are allowed to talk. Moreover, if you are instructed to do an activity, for example walk from A to B, every time you re-do a scene you should do the exact same at the exact same spot, for reasons of continuity.
7. Prepare to experience something unforgettable
It really creates a connection, being an extra for such a big production. I made a lot of friends and experienced a lot of banter. The crew was so lovely, and the directors were very friendly and very thankful that we came to set. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and I can tell you… I did feel kind of sad when the filming was done and I had to return to the 21st century again.
Would you ever like to be an extra on a film set?