This week I managed to tick something off my bucket list (this hasn’t happened in a while so I was pretty delighted) – being an extra in a film. The less exciting news is that for fear of being sued/quietly assassinated I can’t divulge what film it was for, who was in it, where it was or what we did. It probably seems like I’m just making it up, but I promise you it happened and the fact that I’m still recovering from the 6am starts is proof enough for me. Seeing as I’m based in Manchester, with a little research you’ll probably figure it out.
Being an extra was really fun (not to mention it paid for my Bestival ticket) and you get to work with a great mix of people, all of different ages and experiences. I met a fantastic woman called Fiona who was hilarious, and got assigned a husband for the second day’s shoot, Matt the Toy Seller (selling toys was his fictional profession; the director told us to ‘give our characters a story’ and we did so with gusto) who had actually been a guitar technician for Elbow for a number of years. We were quite an odd couple seeing as he was 6”4 + top hat but hey, love knows no bounds. We were also undoubtedly the stars of the show- watch out for our stellar performances when the film comes out (early next year?).
Extras are aptly named, however, as we were indeed expendable. I was lucky enough to be used for the entire morning on the first day but I wasn’t needed all afternoon, while some people spent the whole day sat in the holding area and weren’t asked to return the next day. Obviously everyone got paid the same but going to all the effort of changing into your costumes and then not being allowed to leave the holding room until the end of the day is pretty frustrating.
Working on a film set also revealed to me just how painstakingly long everything takes. Before the shoot, between takes and between scenes there is so much waiting around while cameras and lighting and actors are positioned and reset. It was also incredibly tiring as we worked an 11 hour day with an hour break for lunch (which on the second day was eight hours after breakfast).
What I want to talk more about though is my brief insight into the world of FAME (not the TV show, I did the caps for dramatic effect). Without revealing too much, the actors working on the film were pretty rad/famous, and they were definitely there, standing right there when I was stealing the show*. Simultaneously, I felt somewhat starstruck but also so extraordinarily normal that it was a little bit weird. I was a little unimpressed- they were quite short, really- but at the same time I felt a compelling desire for them to notice me, talk to me, engage in any way to make me feel important.
This was not a shock. When I found out that I had been selected for the work, I told my friends proudly that I would be in the same room as the stars, that somehow I’d seize the opportunity to chat and to hang out with them. This immediately extended to the idea that those in question would fast become my friends and that I would be catapulted into that world without much effort on my part at all. Of course this was wishful thinking, but it was dangerous, because to a fairly lengthy extent I believed it.
As the harbourer of an overactive imagination this was not a surprise- these are common scenarios in my head; the danger was in the disappointment that I felt when what I had imagined as so effortless was nowhere near the truth. In fact the actors barely interacted with the extras at all; even during breaks they would retreat into seclusion and only emerge when filming began again, and for good reason too! It is of course perfectly normal to avoid delusional people whom you have never met that have singled you out to be their new best friend. But it didn’t stop there: when I got home and realised that I had not acquired even one famous friend, I frantically began to list new career paths that would place me directly into the comfy armchair of the industry, completely forsaking my dreams of saving the world one sustainable reforestation project at a time. THIS IS BAD (AND MAYBE A LITTLE OBSESSIVE).
What I am trying to get at here is the sheer bizarreness of how people are drawn to fame and prioritise it above more common values when faced with the prospect. Fans don’t know their idols and their perceptions of their personalities are nothing more than warped versions of the roles that they play in both films and interviews- both are characters and are not reflective of the real person. The real person is just that: ordinary, flawed, perhaps a little shy. The person that I want to be friends with is likely very different to the person I am actually faced with, and just as people pass each other in the street, it is an illusion to think that there is a heightened desire to connect with the strangers around them. Simply said, they don’t have any need to be friends with you, and neither you with them. For the record though I would consider myself a worthy candidate for friendship based on my humour, listening skills and my ability to do a one-handed cartwheel (this connotes free-spiritedness and a playful nature). I’m also good at ordering dominos and drinking alcohol.
My point is that fame has created a counterfeit hierarchy that people adhere to where celebrities are considered better and more important than us ‘normal folk’, who would be lucky to catch a glimpse of the ‘other side’ and are unlikely to ever make it over there. This is only enhanced as these halves separate further through increased industry exclusivity and escalating levels of fame where people are idolised, harassed and stalked, mainly because they are the representation of the life that everyone wants; one of security, importance, luxury and adoration. The perception that these people are God’s gift is a myth, they have just been lucky enough to be propelled into a world full of extra goody bags (and maybe some of life’s extra skid marks too).
That said, it is perfectly acceptable to want to be a part of that- who wouldn’t? In addition, I’m also drawn to the fact that they are likely to be interesting people who have experienced life in ways that I never have. However, this is not enough to warrant the peculiar longing that I had to be accepted and liked by them as if their approval mattered more than anyone else’s. It just goes to show that this crazy imbalance of status has an affect that stretches further than you would think.
Therefore, I have concluded that I don’t need famous friends. I’m still holding out for my invitation to the next Oscars though, my film debut merits a Best Supporting Actress win for sure.
Also I’m really sorry that I don’t have any pictures to go with this post so here is a treat/clue for you: