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Heather Magee Headshot

My Day As A Movie Extra

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I'm a bit fanatical when it comes to film. The storytelling and plot twisting and characters with all their complexities. Costumes that can instantly ignite a trend and soundtracks that sometimes define a generation. It's the most exquisite form of escapism.

One great thing about living in Vancouver is the possibility to, at any moment, walk right into a movie set. Our film industry has had its ebbs and flows, but lately it seems like it's impossible to walk four blocks without spotting location signage or crews setting up a scene, which is pretty magical for a movie geek like me.

For nothing more than a laugh, my husband and I signed up for BCF Casting, a local agency responsible for wrangling movie extras. And we get called -- a lot.

Our availability limits what we can do, as we both have 9-5 day gigs, but I happened to have this past Monday off which co-ordinated nicely with an extra opportunity for a feature film. (*Cough* "Night At The Museum 3") Nothing high-brow, mind you, but three A-list actors were on set so it was worth signing up to watch how a day of filming unfolds.

After finishing my first screenplay last year, I have a newfound respect for what it takes to pull a film together. So many little details and intricacies, each with a dedicated person -- sometimes several people -- making sure everything is executed without a hitch. It's wild to watch.

After shooting for 12 hours and observing how each scene is shot, here are a few takeaways from my day as an extra:

On directors
It's never been clearer to me who the real storytellers are on set. As an aspiring screenwriter, I can appreciate that a well-written script is obviously paramount, but the director is the one who drives the vision. They're the ones who pluck the words and themes from a screenplay and carefully craft the story, bringing the characters to life. Actors get way too much credit for their performances, in my humble opinion.

On-set designers
Talk about attention to detail. With no exaggeration and without giving away the plot, I watched a woman repeatedly repaint a giant [fake] boulder after it had been kicked across the room at least a dozen times. I can imagine that designing a set must be a wonderfully creative endeavour, but being on set to primp, tweak and continuously repair your props must be mind-numbing after that many takes.

On stunt men
These men and women clearly have zero anger issues and the patience of a nun, because if I were getting smacked into over and over again for 40-plus takes (which was the case) I'm quite certain I would murder someone.

On actors
Depending on the complexity of the scene, a day in the life of an actor on set could go one of two ways. It could be emotionally grueling and require serious stamina, shooting for upwards of 16 hours at a time. Or, there could be a lot of waiting around between takes and scenes, having to repeat the same line over and over again with just as much enthusiasm as the first take. Either way, it's not easy work. But personally I'd do just about anything, if I were earning millions per picture.

On extras
I didn't really know what to expect from my colleagues for the day, but it ended up being a really lovely and eclectic group.

First you have the students, who make great use of the downtime in between scenes by studying or SnapChating with their friends. Then you have the aspiring thespians with stars in their eyes, hoping to sneak into a least one frame that doesn't get snipped from the final cut.

You have people who love film and are sincerely interested in every aspect of the shoot. And then you have people like me: first-timers, there to check it out and because they too had the day off from their "regular" job. A delightful hodgepodge of folks I was happy to work with for the day.

I could go on and on, like the sound guy who held up a 15-foot pole on and off all day, or the cameramen carrying what looked like more than their own weight. Overall, everyone who works on a film works their tail off. They really are rock stars and what brings a film to life.

Interested in becoming an extra? Visit bcfcasting.com.