My experiences as an extra in the Chicago film and television industry
When I took some time off from teaching, I needed something to do. Something interesting. Something fun. And definitely not something ordinary. A friend told me about her work as a background actor (extra) and I thought I'd give it a try. Now, a few months later, I am starting to have experiences that I want to remember. I also want to give advice to and receive advice from others who are also in this industry. I'm still pretty new so you'll be learning along with me.
Hey there background friends. I have good news and bad news. First let’s go with the good news. I received some major screen time on episode 7 of Proven Innocent. Click here for a link to check out this video! It was pretty awesome seeing more than a fleeting image of myself on TV. The only sad part is that I also worked with my mom that day but I couldn’t find her in the episode. How about you Mom? Did you see yourself? I truly looked but maybe my fascination with seeing myself caused me to miss it. Anyway, it was such a fun thing when I saw how much time I was on screen. If you haven’t checked out Proven Innocent on Fox, please do. You won’t see me again until episode 13 when I am on the jury.
And Now Major Bad News
I guess I won’t be taking a break from background work for the next two months as that job I told you about last time fell through. Yep, it’s true. I had a great interview with the principal and the job was mine as soon as he checked my references. Knowing my references were great, I thought it was a sure thing. But nothing in this life is a sure thing, my friends. I guess the superintendent of the school district did not feel comfortable with hiring me due to the false accusation I told you about before. This situation is going to haunt me forever it seems. If you click here, you can read a letter I wrote to this superintendent. I know it won’t get me the job but maybe she will realize the impact her decision has had on me. I even asked her for advice. I am pretty sure I will never receive a response but if I do, you will be the first to know.
I’m sad. I am very sad about this whole thing. I’m still hanging in there and having faith that God will show me the way. Maybe it is time for my teaching career to be over. Maybe my talents are needed somewhere else. Who knows? But, in all honesty, my faith is wavering today and I ask for your prayers in helping me recover from this recent set back. Looking on the bright side, if I have to be sad, it might as well be as fun of a place as is Key West. With this view from my balcony, it’s hard to not notice God’s wondrous world.
I had another Mixtape booking yesterday. It was a lot of fun because I did not have to spend the entire day in holding like last time. Other than the beginning of the day when we were checking in and seeing wardrobe, the rest of the day was spent on set. I like that much better because there is always something going on, even during my down times.
Another Mixtape Booking
Since I had been cut from working on Mixtape the previous week, I was very happy to have another booking. For this booking, I played a DCFS Social Worker at a DCFS office. One scene I was in had us around a conference room table. It was me, three other extras, and the four actors. I love when we are able to work in small groups like that so much more when there is a huge group of extras. The whole day just feels more personal.
Where Did I Just See Her?
When one of the actresses entered, I knew I had just seen her on something. It took me a few minutes but then remembered she was on The Resident that I had just watched the night before. Her name is Jenna Dewan and you can click here to read more about her.
At first, I was supposed to be sitting right next to her which would have given me great camera time. But because I was wearing the same color they moved me across the table from her and I don’t think you’ll see much of me at all. Oh well. I also did a scene where I was just walking in the hallway. As long as you remember when you’re supposed to go, it’s pretty easy.
It was a good day as a background actor. The pictures are of James, Brian, and another James. All super nice guys. As you know from my previous post, I’m going to be out of the background for a little while but I’ll be back before you know it because I am so hooked on being in the background.
There has been a lot happening in the background, the foreground, and everywhere around. Last Friday, I was supposed to work on Mixtape. But around 9:30 pm, I still hadn’t received my call time or wardrobe requirements. I was going to wait until 10 pm to send an email but shortly after I received an email from 4 Star Casting that supposedly some of us were sent an email a few days before cancelling our booking but for some reason we did not receive it. I have to admit, I was a little ticked off as I had passed on submitting for a couple of other shows. I don’t know if I would have been chosen for those shows but at least I could have tried.
And to top it off, I had even been to the thrift store the day before to buy some dresses for this booking. It was supposed to be for a Hollywood Hills party and be on the fancier side. I have found thrift stores to be great to add to my extra wardrobe. I wouldn’t want to spend full price on something when I make as little as I do. But wardrobe is important if you want to be booked to work, so make sure to have a diverse collection of choices.
So, I was not happy but said, oh well, and let it go. And guess what? Another sign that the Good Lord is taking care of me. I received a phone call from a principal on Friday asking if I could teach 8th grade Language Arts for the rest of the school year. Now, you know what I’ve been through with my teaching career so this is kind of a big deal. It is going to be difficult to find a position again after everything that happened and my age does not help as well. School districts don’t want to hire someone with my experience because they would have to pay me more. So this call was pretty important and had I been working on Mixtape, I would not have been able to take it. Since the following Monday was that school’s Spring Break, I had to go in an interview that day!
Yes, I will miss being in the background for two months, but really, it’s only two months and I need the money big time. After that, who knows?! And that brings me to my next bit of news. The previous Saturday I went to an open casting call for Gill Talent. It’s kind of funny because I really didn’t even know I was going to an open call. One of my background friends mentioned that she had recently signed with them so I had emailed them and they said to come in the next day. So I did. Everybody was there with their professional head shots and I didn’t even have any. Instead of a true resume, I gave them a resume that explained how my teaching skills would translate well to acting as well as a couple of pictures of me at the bottom. I had to do a cold read with another girl and we had five minutes to practice before we went in the audition room.
When it was our turn, we walked into the room to find three talent agents sitting at the table. They asked for our resumes and head shots and here’s me saying, “I don’t have a head shot yet.” I really thought they would think “Who is this crazy lady coming in here with nothing?” They said they would let us know if they were taking us on as clients in four to five days. In all honesty, I really didn’t think anything would come of it and had kind of let it go from my thoughts.
Then the following Wednesday I received an email that said they wanted to represent me! Seriously! I now have an agent. I am really hoping for a commercial or an industrial. Industrials are videos for corporations for training or other purposes. I think my skills as a teacher, and a great one despite everything, would be wonderful for this. But the work is still up to me. They might send me on an audition, but I have to do the work that will land me the role. This means be prepared. Yesterday, I was again working on Mixtape and asked those in the know what they thought about my new agency and was happy to hear that they are very good and reputable.
SO NOW I HAVE AN AGENT! We’ll have to see what becomes of this and I’ll be busy teaching for the next couple of months so it may be nothing until summer. Or maybe nothing at all, who knows? Life is crazy, isn’t it?
A Break from the Background
I’m about 95% sure I have this temporary teaching job. The principal is on vacation and is planning to speak with my references when he returns. As long as everything checks out with that, the job is mine. And I know my references will say only good things about me so, barring some unforeseen thing, I will be taking a little break from the background. Sad, I know. I love being an extra, most of the time. But returning to the classroom will be a wonderful opportunity for me. I can reaffirm that I am an excellent educator and will hopefully leave this with a great reference that will help me obtain a full time position the following school year.
I’m planning on keeping this blog going, even during these two months so I’m not disappearing, just taking a little break from the background. I do have one more post about another Mixtape booking so be on the lookout for that and hopefully it’s not too long before I see you in the background.
So what’s going on in the background? Well, it hasn’t been the most exciting lately to be honest. You already know about me not being used when I last worked on Chicago Med. That was the first time I have ever worked and not been used at all in a scene. Guess what? It happened again! Yep, I was so excited to work on Empire because that was a new show for me and I sat there the whole day and was not used at all.
So after never happening, now it was twice. I can’t really complain though. Who wouldn’t want to be paid while sitting on the side of a television set with an abundant amount of really delicious snacks? I had been told that Empire was one of the worst for how well they feed us. I have to say that I did not find that to be true. I began early with a great breakfast in holding. On the set, there was a huge table with all sorts of stuff; donuts, croissant sandwiches, candy, chips, just about any snack item you can think of, it was there. Then around lunch, they wheeled in fried fish, onion rings, and fries. This is not so great when you’re trying to lose weight and you’re bored.
With all that food around and not having a lot to do, you can bet I cheated a bit (well, maybe a lot). Then it was time to check out around 2:45. We headed back to holding and I was told I needed to eat again as I had arrived at 6am! I explained that I did not want to eat as that was all I had been doing all day but they wouldn’t check me out until lunch was over. It did look good; spaghetti, meat balls, garlic bread, salad. But I couldn’t even possibly eat one more bite.
I was able to see a lady I had worked with back in September on Redline, Ahnree, and it was great to see her again. Click here to read more about this upcoming show starring Noah Wylie. We worked a great scene together in which they were only filming us and 3 other extras. We are hoping that the scene will make it into the show. Stay tuned! If you are watching Red Line when it opens in April and you see some ladies dancing at the end of a fancy gala scene, that will be us.
I spotted myself, briefly, on episode 5 of Proven Innocent. You can see my face in the scene on the court house steps. Well, it was supposed to be the court house but it was actually filmed at the Field Museum on the back steps. I was hoping for a better view in the debate scene when Bellows, played by Kelsey Grammer, is debating his opponent for Attorney General. But they didn’t show much of the audience at all and all I could find was the back of my head. Oh well, that’s how it goes in the background!
I also worked last week on Mixtape, a new show for Netflix. Click here if you’d like to read more about this upcoming musical drama. It’s set in Los Angeles but filmed in Chicago. So how did it go? Hmmmm, it was a very, very long and boring day. My call time was 4:48 am. Yes, in the morning! I hate that but if that’s what it takes, I’ll do it. They did not use me, or any extras for that matter, until about 5 pm. So they were paying for a room full of about 40 to 50 extras to sit there all day long. I was finally used in one angle of one scene.
This show stars Madeline Stowe and I have to say, at age 61, she is one of the most classically beautiful ladies in film and television. I was impressed. After this scene, we were all wrapped (that means finished) and some hadn’t even been used at all. I clocked out at 6:48 pm so it ended up being a 14 hour day with very little to show for it. But that’s why everybody can’t work in the background. You have to be prepared for days like this and approach it with humor and patience. If not, you’d go nuts! So sit there, read, play games on your phone, talk to the others, and eat or whatever can keep you occupied because the days in the background can be long, long, long.
I’m booked for this Friday again on Mixtape and I’ll let you know if the day goes any better. We’re supposed to be filming a fancy Hollywood party scene and we’re heading to an upscale suburb to do so. I won’t reveal which suburb because locations are supposed to be kept under wraps and I don’t know the exact location either. Not that I would tell! But it has me wondering exactly where we’ll be filming, maybe one of those fancy mansions? Perhaps this is why I like working as a background actor. It’s always something different and you never know what to expect.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading about what’s going on in the background.
Here is some more CONRAD fun from day two of this booking. First of all, click here to check out this Tweet. It has a fun scene that had us giggling, but we held it together for the actual shoot. So fun!
Fun on Set and New Friends
I had such a great time getting to know new people so had to take lots of
pics. First of all, Consuella was super fun to talk to and we discovered that we have worked a show or two together before. Most particularly, on Proven Innocent when she played the defendant’s aunt. What a nice lady and I hope to see her soon.
And did you know I have a new husband now? Ha, ha! Not really, just on TV. This is Bob and we were supposed to be a husband and wife duo. All we did was exit the building and walk away holding hands. Everyone thought we made a very cute couple. So funny. But really, he was a super nice guy and a great addition to our holding room group.
Here is a cute pic of two of the younger girls. Deb and Ashley were
having a lot of fun and the other pic is of Kristi Hum-Dell. Kristi was the first Assistant Director and she couldn’t have been nicer. I loved working with her. Hopefully, CONRAD will be picked up and I will again. That’s it for CONRAD. Stay tuned for more pics from my Empire booking and also my booking for Mixtape. Can’t wait to see how that one will go!
Thinks are starting to heat up and I’m getting busy in the background! This week I am working on three shows; CONRAD, Empire, and Mix Tape.
Getting Busy in the Background
My week started off with a booking for Chicago Med. With a 5:30 pm call time, I thought, “Oh no, it is going to be a late one!” But I was wrong. Just as I’ve said before, you never know what to expect. In fact, they didn’t even use me at all. I sat there for 3
1/2 hours and then we wrapped. Don’t worry, however, as we’re still paid the whole 8 hours whether we work that long or not.
So I was okay with not being used. It happens. This was the first time it had happened to me so that’s not too bad since I’ve been doing this a little while now. Although, when I started, my goal was to be in the ER set on Chicago Med. Still no go. I was so close! Literally, right on the other side of the fake wall of the set. Oh well, just gives me something to look forward to. I’ll get there someday.
CONRAD, Empire, and Mix Tape
These are the shows on which I am working this week. Click here for a link to CONRAD. This is a brand new show that hasn’t even been picked up yet. In fact, that’s where I am right now–sitting in holding updating my blog. And I’ve been in holding all day! My call time was 7:00 am. Here it is 1:30 pm and I have not been placed in a scene yet. There are only about ten of us Background actors here so I know I will be used, just not when. And I’ll be back tomorrow too. Hopefully I’ll be a bit busier.
At least I have other extras to keep me company! Here is my new friend, Janaan. Talking makes the time in holding go faster so I always appreciate having the other extras around.
On Tuesday I will be working on the season finale of Empire. Still haven’t worked that one so pretty excited about it. And on Friday, I’m working on another new show. It’s called Mix Tape and it will be on Netflix. You can click here to find out more on that one. Looks like it’s going to be so fun. That’s all for today. Stay tuned for how things went on my three shows this week! Hope to see you in the background!
It’s time to be honest background friends. Life is hard. If you’ve read my “about” tab, you know that the whole reason I became interested in being an extra is due to the fact that I left my teaching career over a very upsetting incident. I don’t want to dwell on that incident, because it has totally taken over my life for the past year, but I will just say that I was accused of throwing something at a student. She, with her parent, pressed charges and I spent a long ten months going through the court process. And I was found not guilty. Want to know why? Because I didn’t do it, that’s why.
My whole point in bringing this up today is that life can sometimes seem to present insurmountable odds. Over the past year I have lost my job and had my name ruined with the accusation, my husband had been out of work, and our most valued asset, our home, is not selling. We’ve had it on the market for slightly over a year and we’re still here. We really want to take the proceeds from the sale of our home and start again somewhere new. But we can’t do that until we sell. And not only that, our home has dropped so much in value that we will lose a ton of money. These are all first world problems, I know. Not the worst I’ve had in life but definitely not the best.
So why am I writing about this and what does it have to do with my life in the background? In truth, being an extra has been my saving grace this past year. It has given me something to look forward to and get excited about; because there is not a lot of excitement for me lately. And I was starting to be pretty down about everything. I’ve started looking for a teaching job and I’m finding it difficult. Even though I was found not guilty, the accusation is out there and I think employers are leery. I am at a point
where I think my teaching career might be over for good. If you know me, you know that teaching is my calling. I am really, really good at it. I love what I do (or did) and love my students. So, all in all, I was feeling pretty down.
Then, I prayed and asked God to give me something to hang on to. I told Him that I will continue to do my best and trust that He has a plan, but that I could really use something to help out while I wait to discover what that plan might be. With no extra jobs lined up, I was beginning to feel a little dejected. I didn’t have any bookings. My house won’t sell. I am finding that securing a teaching job is going to be much more difficult than I had thought. So I just prayed.
And guess what, within one minute of that prayer I received a call from Joan Philo Casting with a booking for Chicago Med. I thought, “Wow! That was awful quick. Thank you Lord.” I even told my husband that the timing was just perfect because I wanted something and I got something. Maybe it wasn’t a teaching job, a buyer for my home, or a literary agent to represent my novel, but it was something.
Following that, about two hours later, I received an email from Extraordinary Casting that stated, “Congrats! You were selected by Production and Director for one of just a few Civilian extras on…” I don’t know if I’m at liberty to say what the production is so I won’t but it’s not anything I have heard of. It is either a new show or a movie but they did say a lot of big names have signed on to this one. And it is a two day job! And I have never worked with Extraordinary Casting before. My mom has and I have met a lot of other extras that have, but not me. So then I was thinking how cool it was that I received one thing but now two. How lucky am I?
But that’s not the end! I woke up this morning and looked at my Twitter feed and saw this man’s prayer. Click here to see it. Uhmm, could that have been more perfect for where I am right now? Wow! Someone is talking to me and telling me to hang in there. It’s not quite time but it will be. You can do this and God is with you every step of the way.
Keeping the faith that God has a plan for you can be difficult sometimes. But hang in there friends because if you do your part, that plan is already written for you. For now, I will keep doing my part. I will continue to query ten literary agents a day for my book, I Gave You a Boy. I will keep up with my little free lance writing gig for Felix and Fingers Dueling Pianos. I will try my hardest to find the school that needs me most. And I’ll be out there looking for background work.
Sorry for the long post. It was just one of those things I needed to put out there in the world. I hope you’re hanging in there with whatever issues you might be having. Me, I’ll be hanging out in the background.