Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fading into the background.

A couple of years ago I signed up with a couple of local casting agencies; Hennessy and Ballyhoo, to do what is called "background" work, or as it's called in some places, be an "extra".  

B.G. folk are the window dressing who walk in the background in a street scene, or mingle in a busy cafeteria while the stars munch their meals in the foreground.  The B.G.'s  job is NOT to stand out or draw attention to themselves,  but to blend, fade and give a scene a feeling of normalcy.  Generally our clothing is not bright, bold or colourful.  When we talk in a scene we usually just mime speaking.

A lot of a B.G. worker's day involves waiting.  
Sitting and waiting.   
Reading and waiting.  
Chatting with the other extras and ... waiting.  
Playing Soduko an waiting.  
Did I mention that we do a lot of waiting ?

On "Haven" we waited 6 hours  and then were called to walk in the background for 15 minutes, thanked for our work and then sent home.

When the episode finally aired I had to watch the scene several times  before I could catch the split second in which I walked through the background.  Yup.  That's me over that fella's shoulder. So much for "15 minutes" of fame.  That was  my nano-second of "fame".  But at least I can say I was on "Haven".

I am however a bit jealous of my car; it got much more screen time in the same episode and even got paid for just sitting in the lot.  There it is -- my blue Honda Fit (with its bumper still intact).  Going rate of pay to be a car and do nothing ?  $30 / day.

On "The Healer"  there were almost 60 of us walking back and forth in changing patterns trying to replicate a crowded London street scene.  

In preparation for a later dream sequence sheep gathered in a fake London underground entrance. No.  I don't know what sheep get paid.

There was even a London double-decker bus that some of us rode for 15 feet, which would then back up and be re-positioned for the next take.  

Often you are not permitted to take photos of what is going on on set as they don't want any "spoilers" to get out in advance of shows being aired.

Sadly the only shot I have from "Lizzie Borden Chronicles" is one I took of myself once I got home from the taping.  We'd been asylum inmates, driven quite mad by a sadistic doctor.  But we got back at him by tearing his heart out in a final scene.  Now THAT was fun !

My teeth all made up !
Monday evening I got a call around 9 pm.  Could I be on set in Truro at 9:15 am the next morning ?
Of course I said "Yes!".   A map was emailed to me along with costume requirements.  "Casual".  I can do casual.  Background folk traditionally bring a bag with three changes of costume for the wardrobe folk to check over.  

Have you heard of a TV show called "Trailer Park Boys" ?   Our scene was to be an outside party scene; so sunshine was needed.  It was a very overcast day.  We waited in a spartan trailer which had an outside porta-potty.  Our scene was to be shot in the morning but since the sun refused to appear we were told to wait until we were called.

Trailer and "biffy".  Glamorous huh ?  Photo taken late day after the sun finally appeared.
Background folk are fed well.  But we never eat until after the cast and crew have eaten.  There is  a pecking order and there are rules.  We  don't approach the "stars", ask for autographs or photographs with them; not if we want to work for that company again!

The sun finally appeared and still we weren't called.  It was three in the afternoon and we'd been waiting six hours.  I went on a bit of a walkabout and took some "approved" photos.

Me in the doorway of "Bubbles' " shack.
Bubbles' shack drew my attention as he was one of the few character's whose face I knew with his strange speech delivery, love of cats and coke-bottle glasses.  Everything in his shack was catish.  

And then there was this car.  Rather than having a regular sun roof it had a sliding glass window in the roof.  Fans of the show know this car well.

We were led to the set around four o'clock.  The sun was beating down and the day was now hot.  There was a party scene set up in front of Bubbles' shack with all the major characters present.  We were put in our various places on set, given minimal direction and the entire cast and crew did a rehearsal.

Bubbles loves cats.
Before the assistant director calls "Action" there are several other words called out like: "Sound" and "Rolling".  Then the actors act and we pretend to drink, chat and then listen to what the actors have to say.  Lines are flubbed.  We start again.  Lines are flubbed again.  We start again.  "Back to position one" means back to where we started physically.  Sometimes we get part way through a scene and we pick it up from there.  Entries aren't made on cue.  We start again.  Lines weren't timed right.  We start again.  Suggestions are made to some extras and others aren't kept in the loop.  We intuit what we should be doing.  We nod and cheer when we should. We ignore when we should.  We get crazy enthused when we should and then suddenly I hear someone say "That's it.  Thank you back ground" and we're done.

We've rubbed shoulders with the famous and had our nano second in the sun because (thankfully) it finally came out.

We walk back to the trailer to sign our chits, bid each other "safe travels" and hope to see each other soon ... "on the set".

And we mean it.


  1. Interesting work! I guess I should start referring to you as "my actress friend Sybil" instead of just "my friend Sybil"!!

    1. And a curtsy would be nice ... lol

  2. I love the Trailer Park Boys! I'm so impressed that you've been an extra on the show. Now I want your autograph! Love the photos of Bubbles' shack.

    1. It was a fun time Debra. Once on set we soon forget the six or seven hours of waiting ... BTW I barely recognized Bubbles without his glasses; he only puts them on when the cameras are rolling.

  3. I am really enjoying your blog!!! You make me feel what you are writing!! Good job, Sybil!!!

    1. Thanks Linda, I appreciate the compliment. BTW they're filming Stephen King's "Mist" here starting in the summer and I'm gonna apply for that too ! lol

  4. I found this blog very interesting. Sybil. Even if there is a lot of waiting around, I think it would be a great time. Thanks for sharing this part of your life.

  5. That was such a good story! I love to visit "backstage" at any enterprise. I think a large part of any creative undertaking involves a lot of tedium and a lot of editing. The process itself fascinates me.

  6. This would be a fun thing to do, Sybil, if you don't mind waiting. Interesting. You probably meet a lot of other BG people, too. Have you ever made a friend that you got together with later during one of these tapings?


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