where women celebrate their ageless authenticity

Extraordinary Experience as an Extra

The Alphabet Adventures With Nancy Hubbell Fournier (pronounced Forn yay)

Journey along with our resident humorist Nancy as she embarks on unusual adventures from A to Z. With the alphabet as her guide to new experiences, Nancy rates her excursions as a “Fourn-Yay” or “Fourn-Nay.” 

LETTER “E”: Explorations of an Extra. That’s a wrap! (No studio secrets are revealed in this column)

One fine day, my friend, Mana, and I were plotting our future goals and we decided we wanted to find a way to earn some extra money. But, we had parameters. Any job we took had to be flexible and, most of all, FUN!

We batted around some ideas and I mentioned I had a few friends who were working as extras (“background actors” is the official name) in movies and television shows. Mana’s interest was piqued, so I put out some queries.

A former co-worker, John, said he was having the time of his life and loved being on set, meeting new people, and seeing how productions are made.

My friend, Kathy, offered the warning that it’s long hours and minimum wage at the start, but she works as often as she wants and was moving up the ladder and getting better assignments.

Mana and I were IN!

The first step was to sign up with Central Casting. Now, I always thought Central Casting was a euphemism, like “that crazy neighbor is straight outta central casting.” But no, it’s a real company with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and New Orleans.

To get cast, you need to make sure you have the proper paperwork and then sign up online for an appointment. But they only release a few appointments at a time and you have to log in at a prescribed hour to try to snag one of them (hint: use Google Chrome as it pre-fills the boxes and you can click faster). I thought this was the craziest system, and then I tried (unsuccessfully) to get Taylor Swift tickets from Ticketmaster!

After we secured our appointments, we visited the office in Burbank, Calif., filled out loads of paperwork, uploaded photos and waited…but not for long. The next day, I got my first request for work!

Two women holding a sign

All of the requests in these Covid times (winter 2023) require a two-day commitment. On the first day, you go to a designated site to take a Covid test, then, once cleared, you can work one or two days later. Since all the testing sites are about an hour from me, I can’t always snap up the work as often as I’d like.

But soon, I was selected to work on a show. Unfortunately, due to confidentiality clauses, I can’t tell you which show, where it was filmed, or which actors I saw. But I can tell you, I had a great time!

Full disclosure, this wasn’t my first time on a television set. When I was young, the neighborhood kids and I used to ride our bikes a short distance to the set of “Little House on the Prairie” where we watched Ma, Pa, Laura and the rest of the cast on hot summer days. To cool down, we caught polliwogs in a nearby creek with some of the young cast members.

On one occasion, Kim Richards (then of “Nanny and the Professor” and “Escape to Witch Mountain” fame) was guest starring. She was captivated by the polliwogs and asked us to send some to her house. Imagine that future Real Housewife opening her Beverly Hills mailbox to find those critters (or what was left of them!)

The set for my first paying gig was much more civilized. Because the show hasn’t aired yet (and I want to be hired again), I can only share that I saw these stars: Redacted at the very cool location of Redacted and my role was Redacted

film set outdoors

Okay, so that’s not too juicy. But what I CAN tell you is how nice everyone was and what a terrific experience I had. Let’s face it…on a Hollywood movie set scale of importance from 1-10, BGs (background actors) are about a 2.  But from the moment I stepped onto Base Camp (the holding area for BGs), everyone made me feel appreciated. The basic steps are:

Check in and fill out any necessary forms (then take a seat and wait).

Nancy on the set following directions

  1. See wardrobe and show them the variety of outfits you brought, per the advance notification you received for your role and the “look” they’re going for. Sometimes they select your clothes, other times your look is augmented or changed with their costumes/wardrobe (then take a seat and wait).
  2. See hair and make-up to get cleared for appearance (then take a seat and wait).
  3. Depending on time, Craft Services kicks up a fine meal and you sit with the crew and eat, while watching all the starving actors who use this as a regular meal plan (then take a seat and wait).
  4. At some point, a member of the production crew comes to the tent and explains the scene you’ll be in and what your role will be.
  5. Finally, you head to set and do what they say, mostly miming quietly or yelling loudly, as needed. Sometimes walking, sometimes standing…whatever action they need behind the main characters.

Mana and I may have had some adventures on our first days on set. One of us may have knocked over a prop glass, shattering it and futilely tried to sop up fake champagne while our fellow background actors gasped in horror (fortunately, it wasn’t during actual filming). The assistant props manager came to the rescue and said, “Thanks for giving me something to do! I was getting bored” and then handed over the equivalent of an adult sippy cup filled with water for all future scenes.

The other one of us may have had a pancreatitis attack, causing her to throw up repeatedly in the bathroom. The production company responded quickly, asking “what did you eat???”, calling in the paramedics, making a trip to the local hospital, and then going out of their way to shuttle her car from the parking lot to her home.

Like I said, as background actors, we are far down on the totem pole, but we’re treated extremely well at every turn.

Overall, the days/nights can get long, and being on your feet for several hours can get tiring. But on set, in between the “Shhhhhhhsssss” of the production crew, it’s fun to chat with other BGs and trade stories of what shows they’ve been on. Not surprisingly, many of them have dreams of stardom. More power to you! Not me! Just look for me in the background, with a smile on my face 🙂

Fourn-yay: Being an Extra/Background actor is a fun, mostly easy, way to earn some extra bucks.

Fourn-nay: As a newbie in the biz, the pay isn’t much and you have to travel all over town. Add in the long hours, and it’s not an ideal pursuit for everyone.

Being an Extra not your thing? Here are some other adventures that start with the letter E: e-biking, escape rooms, experiential exercising.

Got something fun on your bucket list I should try? We’d love to hear your suggestions at intentfullyfit@gmail.com

Nancy Hubbell Fournier montage of fun faces