that’s showbiz for ya

wednesday, for the second time in a month, i worked as an extra for the upcoming hbo tv series treme, which is set in post-katrina new orleans. i’d heard through the grapevine, as well as seen a craigslist ad, that they were shooting a big mardi gras scene and needed costumed background for the shots. desperate as i am, always and still, for $$, i went ahead and signed up. last time wasn’t so bad.

my call time was originally 11am but got pushed back to 12pm. i geared up in my 2009 mardi gras costume, the aerosol avenger, and rode the scooter down to the french quarter. i love that in this town, the sight of a grown adult wearing tights and glittered boots riding a scooter wearing a spotted ladybug helmet doesn’t even garner a second look. after zipping around for twenty minutes trying to figure out where i was supposed to go and where to park the scooter, i finally figured it out. the holding pen for extras for the day was ralph and kacoo’s, where i sat for an hour or so before getting shuffled over to one eyed jack’s for a daytime mardi gras scene inside the bar.

the only actor i recognized all day was steve zahn. he was one person away from me, seated around the bar, for like ten minutes. then, they moved me from the back room to the front, as they continued to shoot in the back room (but in the direction of the front). for a while, it seemed i was in a line of people that would be in the direct background of their shots, but at some point, they moved me out of the way, saying my hat was too big and was blocking the light. oh well. much pantomiming of mardi gras revelry with fake drinks ensued.

"treme" mardi gras scene inside one eyed jacks

we broke for lunch (which was at 5pm; in my world, that’s dinner) and then returned to one eyed jacks for more shots. they switched the extras around – those who had previously been in the back room up front, and those who’d been in front to the back. again they moved me around a few times, and for one or two takes, i was kinda in the background of the scene. who knows which take they’ll use, though. so no assurances that i’ll in any way end up actually on tv.

they sent us back to holding around 7-7:30ish. we all assumed we were going home. i got frantic, looking for my bag, as they’d moved everything from the room we’d been in previously to a different one, including all our bags. in the midst of hunting for my bag, i was informed they were picking 20 extras to hang on to, for some final scenes. i put on my best “please don’t pick me, i want to go home” face, but the goddamned wardrobe gal who’d loved my spray paint can lid hat early in the day came running over, even remembering my name. and, see, when you sign up to be an extra, it’s a 12 hour shift; they have the right to keep you that long. and at this point, we were only at the eight hour mark. so i had no choice. thankfully, chris (skeleton krewe) found my bag, on the seat of a chair, hidden under a table cloth, so i could stop fretting about that.

chris and i on set inside one eyed jacks

the next almost four hours were fairly miserable. it was dark, and the temps were dropping. i was, however, still dressed in my tights and tshirt, sans cape. (the last scenes for the day were supposed to be at the end of mardi gras day, so we were made to look disheveled in some way.) they took us out to jackson square, and promptly picked about six of the extras to start working with, to stagger across the square behind the scene. they must have shot that scene 30 times, as the rest of us stood out in the cold, holding our fake drink props. two more scenes were eventually shot, and each time they picked a few more of the extras, but they never chose me. so until about 10:30, i stood around doing nothing but freezing, coughing, getting hungry and tired, and wishing they’d let us go back to the holding area until they needed us (or let us go home if they didn’t).

finally, it was a wrap and we were released. stood in line to check out to get the all important voucher (which proves you worked and gets you paid). and then had to ride the scooter back home in the dark and the very cold with only a hoodie. i was a popsicle by the time i got home around 11:30.

so yeah. not sure i’ll do that again. i did meet some very interesting people, and got to hang with a few folks i already knew, which helped pass the time. parts of the afternoon were even fun. but being held for those last scenes – and then not even used – kinda soured me on the day. but it’s part of the deal when you sign up to be an extra: might be an easy four hour day, might be a horrible 14 hour slog. you never know til you’re there. but this is exactly why i think i’m not really cut out for this kinda work. at my age, i’m just not all that flexible anymore and my endurance is not great. maybe if i’d brought a flask of booze and/or some hash brownies – like some of those i hung out with did – it’d been more fun… though that’s not really my style. i would have been happy with a few real beers, though.

but it will still be fun to watch treme when it airs, and to hunt in those mardi gras episodes for a glimpse of me or my spray paint can lid hat.

One thought on “that’s showbiz for ya

  1. Ha ha! I’ve been an extra before, too, and man oh man, it CAN be grueling. I never thought of hash brownies- that’s a pretty good idea!

    Love your hat, too! Thanks for sharing!

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