Inside NOLA: Just call me 'The Mild One' -- adventures of a television extra
Wanted: “Extras with motorcycles – available tomorrow,” read the Craigslist ad. The job was for a television series shooting in the Crescent City.
Hmm, I thought. As a freelance writer (read: no real job), and a motorcyclist, this could be something for which I might be qualified.
All I had to do was email my personal data (name, age, phone number, and picture of me WITH MOTORCYLE, as specified in caps. Obviously, they didn’t want any ugly motorcycles -- my own appearance, of course, can't be helped).
No problem. I promptly emailed the casting agency a Facebook picture in which I imagine I look like a badass -- albeit in a middle-aged biker/writer sort of way -- wearing a black leather jacket astride my Harley-Davidson Road King.
Almost immediately, I received a response telling me I was hired, with instructions to report the next afternoon to the shoot location in the Irish Channel neighborhood, with motorcycle and “biker wardrobe options.”
No problem, I had that covered, too. I’ve got enough Harley-Davidson T-shirts and leather accouterments to roll with the best of ‘em at Sturgis or Daytona.
So, with visions of myself as Marlon Brando in "The Wild One," I fired up my Harley and rode off into the afternoon for my small-screen debut.
I arrived at the designated location 20 minutes early to find one other motorcyclist parked in front of what looked like an empty warehouse. No cameras, no crew, and no craft services (i.e. food) anywhere in sight.
Eventually, we were joined by three other bikers. A couple of them were newbie extras like me; the others had previous experience. We stood around our bikes chatting, and one of the others said he'd heard the crew had been shooting at another location and would be coming here for a quick exterior pick-up shot, for which our motorcycles would be needed.
Roughly 30 minutes later, accompanied by a police escort, a small caravan of production vehicles pulled up, consisting of a couple of production/equipment trucks and several other vehicles containing cast and crew.
The crew setup was efficient and lightning-fast -- 15 minutes and they were good to go. Lighting was provided by the golden, late-afternoon sun. We were directed to place our motorcycles in a row along the building's facade, then move them a couple of times until they were "just so," to the director's satisfaction.
In the scene, the empty building was to double as a sort of "biker clubhouse" (the interior scenes had apparently been previously shot elsewhere). A couple of actors -- the show's main characters -- would screech to a stop in front of the "'clubhouse," hop out of their vehicle, and walk toward the building's front door.
That's it. I'd guess the final scene in the show will take less than 10 seconds of airtime.
By now, we'd figured out that they'd only hired us for our motorcycles. We were essentially "motorcycle wranglers," and were instructed to clear the shot before the cameras rolled.
No matter, a day rate is a day rate. We'd get the same paycheck whether we appeared on camera or not.
So, there'd be no onscreen debut for this extra.
No "Wild One." No "Easy Rider." Not even a "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" (if you remember that film, you know the biker clubhouse scene I'm talking about).
No opportunity to act like the biker badass I'd always imagined myself to be.
The director called action, the actors drove up, hopped out and walked toward the building. They reset; then did the same thing again. And again. And again.
If I may say so, our motorcycles provided wonderful background for the shot.
Ten or 15 takes later, the director was satisfied and called it a wrap. We extras were released and sent on our merry way, an hour and a half after we'd arrived.
One of the experienced extras told us the day was atypical; normally working as a "background actor" involves hours of waiting between scenes, usually for the full 10- to 12-hour day.
Thanks to Louisiana's generous film and television production tax incentives, more and more productions have been attracted to the state, creating a thriving industry often referred to as "Hollywood South," generating millions of dollars for the economy, and creating jobs for a talented local production community: actors, crewmembers, and various production support services.
My fellow extra -- the one with experience -- told me he's able to make a fairly good living this way, and often works several days a week on various productions. Obviously, it's not for everyone, but for those with some free time, it just might pay to register with a local casting agency, or check the last-minute casting notices on Craigslist: http://neworleans.craigslist.org/tfr/ (as with anything on Craigslist, remember anyone can post anything -- be careful before sending personal information to someone you're not familiar with).
Who knows, you may get your on-screen debut before I do.
For more information on the local film industry: http://www.filmneworleans.org/
As a bonus, here's Glen's take on his "biker lifestyle:"
Glen Abbott is a New Orleans-based freelance travel writer/photographer. Visit his blog at www.TravelinGringo.com.