20th Century Fox Studios

Editorial: Background Extras and Fame in Hollywood

If you are a regular reader of this blog, first … THANK YOU! There are not a lot of you … yet. 😉

But, you have probably figured out by now that I’m a background extra in the newly released comedy “Ted 2”. And I’ll admit, I’ve been having fun saying hey, I’m on camera!

On social media, between all my accounts, I have maybe 2000 friends, followers, connections, etc. Not a lot for talent in the entertainment business. And that’s the point of this editorial. I’m production, not talent. At least, that’s how I think of me.

About my social media friends; probably about half are in some way related to “the business” of entertainment. They are producers, directors, actors (real ones), publicists, managers, musicians, dancers, gaffers, grips and the list goes on. So, they understand, I hope, what I am saying below.

But it’s that other half that I get reminded about every once in a while, those in other states and countries who have no experience with the entertainment business. They are best represented by a Midwest photographer who sent a message one day that he enjoyed reading my blogs because I write about people and things most people only see on television and in the movies.

As executive producer at Roth Stock Digital Media, I am a photographer by trade and occupation. Currently, I also work full time as a staff photo editor at a major publisher, and I work as a freelance assignment photographer for PR Newswire.

Even though I have worked countless events in Hollywood over the past 20 years, and have been involved in many, many productions, I have always done so as either a photographer, or as someone involved in the technical side of productions behind the cameras. So like many of my social media friends, it is an absolute novelty to be on set all day, watching true talent make movies while enjoying craft service, making new friends, and finding ways to crack each other up in between takes for whole days at a time. What could be more fun?

Then some of my best friends began teasing about how they are going to be telling everyone they are friends with a celebrity, and how this is going to lead to stardom, etc. And I’ll admit, that’s also kind of fun!

Yet, I’m also mindful of the other half of my friends, those in the business … and the (real) actors in particular. And I want you to know that I absolutely respect your talent, your training, and your dedication to your craft. And I am honored to, at times, be invited to participate in that craft as a background extra, with full knowledge of what that means:

  1. Our craft service is really sh*#ty compared to yours!
  2. While your hours are long, like ours, some of you at least have trailers (some are really cool trailers) to go hang out in.
  3. You know right up front, going in, that your face will be recognizable on the screen.
  4. And ^^ that people will hear your voice!

For us, here are the benefits:

  1. Free Food … apples for all!
  2. We don’t have any cumbersome lines to learn.
  3. In fact, no lines at all.
  4. Hanging out on set all day watching the talent ^^ make a movie.
  5. Maybe coming home with some cool SWAG.
  6. Definitely coming home with new friends and great memories!

Just what is a “background extra” and how is that different from being a regular “extra?”

  1. Regular extras get paid, often $65 per day.
  2. Regular extras are not automatically supposed to add the attribute (uncredited) to their IMDb listing, they in fact may be (“man in bar” for example)!
  3. Background extras get all the apples, cookies, chips, soda and other junk food we can eat, along with a deli sandwich for lunch. 😉
  4. We rarely have tasks that you will notice on screen, yet every one of us may be individually choreographed (as in Ted 2 with 600 extras).
  5. Our job is to blend in and help establish the shot.
  6. If we are doing our job correctly, you will not notice us individually on screen.
  7. If we do something to get noticed, the director is likely to either yell, “Cut!” and set up a retake, or he will be cursing you during the edit for ruining his shot, as he leaves you in the dust on the cutting room floor for the janitors deal with your fine performance!

People have asked me to tell them where they will see me in “Ted 2”. In a nutshell, if you are watching the movie and paying attention to the dialog, you will not see me. For me to see me, knowing what I was wearing, specifically what shots I might be in, and where on screen to look for those moments, I had to suspend watching and listening to the movie and focus on what was going on behind the actors. I saw myself on screen three times, two were just very brief flashes. Once was the shot I thought I would be in where I walked behind a principle actor, out of focus and moving across the entire width of the screen in probably less than a second. All three shots may take up two seconds when totaled up.

Think about it, you’re watching the actor and listening to what he is saying. It’s a fairly tight headshot of that actor. He is at ComicCon, a massive convention for comic and superhero enthusiasts. For you to believe he is at ComicCon, they did some outside shots at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, where the East Coast version of the show is held. But the interior? It’s a sound stage on the Fox lot here in Los Angeles.

20th Century Fox Studios
20th Century Fox Studios, Century City, California

They completely built the inside of ComicCon on this set from exhibit booths and massive displays to the very little minutiae of stickers, posters, swag bags and everything else you will find at a real ComicCon. From one aspect, as I work in content clearance and licensing, just this function alone must have been a monster task! As someone directed to walk specific routes through aisles, it was very convincing in appearance. And that comes back to my job in “Ted 2”. Watching the movie, if there are not 600 people milling about, you are never going to believe it’s at ComicCon.

Are we recognizable in the film?
Usually not.
Are we ever going to be known for our work on a film? Will it lead to fame and fortune?
No. No. and … No.
Are we a vital part of filmmaking?
Absolutely!

In closing, working as a background extra is something I do because I honestly enjoy it. I’ve said before, it definitely beats bowling! I’ve been in three other movies before, and will be shooting a new one tomorrow and Tuesday. In all of those, including the newest, I’m in a crowd, in the distance, multiplied many times to fill a stadium for example. This time, I was told to walk into the scene right behind the action. It was … unusual.

As a production junkie, there is always something to learn by being part of a show. But I have no misconceptions. This work will never make me famous or a star. Does it make me a celebrity?

noun, plural celebrities for 1.
1. a famous person or well-known person
2. fame; renown

I guess I can accept the latter part of #1, I’m not used to that yet. But I would honestly prefer if it came from my skills behind a camera, not in front of one. I’ll leave that part to my real actor friends! You know who you are. 😉

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. While our other blogs are event related, this one is my personal outlet. I appreciate hearing from you!

Lee Roth
Executive Producer
Roth Stock Digital Media

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2 thoughts on “Editorial: Background Extras and Fame in Hollywood

  1. you became a star! Being extra sounds fun and exciting!
    I always want to know the real stories of background . Thanks for sharing and more please!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Aiko. I always enjoy hearing from you, and you have hit it directly. That’s a big part of what I hope to do with this blog, drop the veil so to speak and share the fun of what goes on backstage and in production. You may definitely count on more! 🙂

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