Extras, extras, read all about it
March 31, 2010 - Rick Chatenever
When the job title is “extra,” that should tell you something. You’re not the star of the show.
I know this goes against conventional wisdom in the age of Facebook, when the movie is all about you and you double as your own paparazzi. But in the actual movie business, the term isn’t even “extra” anymore, but “background” or “atmosphere,” which, technically, don’t even require being human.
I didn’t have the heart to share this concept with all the folks who showed up in Kihei Charter School last Saturday at the casting call for extras for the new Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston comedy, “Just Go With It,” that starts filming in Wailea April 19.
They came in all ages — gray-haired coots in aloha shirts, curvy bikini babes and guys who took their shirts off to have their pictures taken, all the way to little girls in grass skirts doing a hula as they waited outside. They were all under the spell of those three little words: “Lights, camera, action!”
Everyone was in a docile, festive mood. I’ve never seen that many people lined up around a hot parking lot behaving so well before. The sun may have been shining, but they had stars in their eyes.
If this column were a movie, this would be where the endless line of people in Hawaiian attire stretching out the door, around the parking lot and several blocks up Lipoa Avenue dissolved into words at the bottom of the screen: One Week Earlier …
That was when we had announced the casting call in The Maui News. The story said the Columbia Pictures production was looking for “high end resort patrons … tourist types, resort staff, bikini girls and kids ages 6 to 17” to fill in the backgrounds. In the foreground will be Sandler, playing a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon on a Hawaiian vacation with his “pretend wife” Aniston and her kids.
Why are they pretending? You’ll have to see the movie to find out. Or better yet, be in it. That’s what brought the crowds out for what professionals in L.A. refer to as a cattle call.
The production needs hundreds of extras, local casting director Rachel Sutton told me. They will be paid $100 for a 10-hour day, with SAG members and others with special talents making more. There were opportunities for multiple days’ work.
Also the location casting director for “Lost” on Oahu, Sutton is cheery and professional. She and several other production people helpfully provided lots of information about the upcoming shoot.
The one thing she didn’t include was a way applicants could reach her office prior to Saturday’s audition. Which meant, once the casting story ran two Sundays ago — on Page 1 above the fold — the inquiries from future stars hoping for their Lana-Turner-in-Schwab’s-moment came to … uh … me.
I got e-mails from people who were going to be off-island that day, and wanted to reschedule. I heard from carpenters with set-design experience, and a musician wondering if they needed someone to play piano in the lobby. I heard from someone wanting to finance the production. One family sent me their photo in swimsuits on the beach.
I was hoping for more bikini girls, but it was clear there would be some folks out on Saturday.
Some 3,000, actually. Inside what had been Hapa’s restaurant before it became Kihei Charter School, Sutton, Maui Film Commissioner Benita Brazier and their staffs efficiently kept things moving. Aspirants filled out casting forms that had a big number on the back, and then had their photos taken holding the number in front of them— like mug shots sprinkled with Hollywood pixie dust.
They were in the 1300s when I was there in the early afternoon. The last photo was No. 1505, but some shots were of entire families. Hundreds of people were still out in the parking lot when they shut down the call at 5 p.m.
Saying she was “thrilled, extremely respectful and a little overwhelmed” by the response, Sutton is now working on an alternative way of taking applications from those who were turned away.
Over its month of shooting on Maui, “Just Go With It” will pump tens of million of dollars into an ailing island economy. Location film production is a clean, nonpolluting industry that not only leaves an area the way it finds it, but, in this case, will also manufacture a free big-screen commercial for Maui.
That’s the Hooray for Hollywood part of the story. The flip side is waiting in the parking lot for four hot hours, and then not getting in. Or getting in, and then not getting called. That’s why it’s called casting.
But everyone who turned out Saturday has already learned some valuable lessons about what it really takes to make movie magic.
It’s all about waiting, and a lot about rejection.
Being atmosphere means knowing your place.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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