This summer I’ve had three opportunities to be a movie extra. Random, I know. The first movie extra gig was fun and easy, where I was a ‘voice’ for a film called, “Agent Kelly,” directed by James Smith. The second one had me frantically buzzing around the Bordeaux wine region with strangers, who would soon become friends. This was an Archie Border-directed film called, “Under the Eiffel Tower,” starring Matt Walsh and Gary Cole. I decided to try my patience one last time with a new film. This is what it’s like to be a movie extra in Italy.
Looking for Movie Extras
I found this listing on a group I follow. The advert said, “CASTING CALL FOR AMERICAN MOVIE FILMING IN ROME.” What? I don’t live in Rome, but I’ll gladly go there to be a movie extra in a major American film! Why not? So, I sent an email to the contact, and added my previous experience as a film extra. You know, to increase my chances of being selected.
A week later, I receive an email from a company called, Movie Bros, asking all sorts of questions. They want descriptions, like age, hair color, eye color, and shoe, pant, shirt and chest sizes! They want a couple of photos and my Italian tax ID or Codice Fiscale – because I am getting paid. What? Shoot! I don’t have an Italian tax ID. But the chance to be a movie extra in a Kevin Spacey film doesn’t come around every day. I have to make this work.
With further digging, I can obtain a tax ID at the Azienda Empresa, and get it same day, but I have to get it in Italy. The nearest agency is in Sanremo, just over the Italian border from me. Perfect. I need to stop at the market anyway, so I will kill two birds with one stone and tackle this pedantic tax ID thing..
Listed on Movie Bros Database – things are moving!
I then receive another email saying I’ve been accepted as a movie extra into Movie Bros’ database, and I can check and edit my profile. Wow! I have a profile in an Italian database as a film extra? Surreal! So I have to check this out.
With my login and password, I verify and edit my credentials. It says I am already being proposed for a film. Cool! And bizarrely, there is a Tax ID number in there already! I thought this was odd. Then I remembered. I nearly bought a property in Calabria, Italy, and they set up a tax ID for me. But would it still be valid?
The tax office has limited hours, so I went early to make sure I have time for this well-known, bureaucratic hell-hole. Once I arrive, I explain I think I have a ‘Codice Fiscale’, but want to verify. After waiting 15 minutes, the woman at the counter says, “Yes, your Tax ID is still valid, but it says you live in southern Italy. We’ll just change it to Sanremo and all is fine.” Seriously? Fifteen minutes to verify my tax ID and I was out the door! Woo Hoo! Now, I need to get to Rome and wait for my fitting.
What it’s like to be a movie extra
So, I book a train to Rome and an Airbnb, and wait. Once I get to Rome on Tuesday, I receive a message from a woman named, Gloria, saying the clothing fitting is now the following Tuesday or Wednesday. Ok. I’m used to this sudden change of plans. Then a day later, she contacts me again saying my appointment is back to Friday, and she forgot to tell me what clothes to bring.
What??? I don’t HAVE clothes other than shirts, shorts and walking shoes. Then she sneaks in a, ‘We need you to have something elegant.’ Are you kidding? I don’t ‘do’ elegant.
So I spend the rest of Wednesday schlepping around AND outside of Rome trying to find something elegant to be a movie extra in a major production. What a nerve-wracking day. It can be a long or short dress or an elegant pantsuit. I hate shopping on the fly. I’m short and everything needs to be altered. UGH!
When a fitting is not a fitting
Eight hours later, in frustration, I send Gloria a message asking if I can push the ‘fitting’ which isn’t a fitting, but now a show of my wardrobe, to Friday. I explain I thought clothes were going to be provided to the film extras since it was a ‘fitting’, and I spent all day searching with no luck.
Luckily she is cool with this, and moves the fitting to 18:00 on Friday. This way I can fly back to Nice, stuff things into my suitcase and fly back. Yes, another expense, and my stress level is rising.
In the meantime, things change yet again. The fitting is now Monday at 16:00, but not only do I need formalwear, I’m also being considered to be a movie extra in two other scenes – one is casual and the other an 80’s feel.
Holy hell. I don’t envy these production workers as they are flying by the seat of their pants and hoping film extras show up, have clothes and what not. And I’m not surprised they need me to participate in more than one scene. Any normal person with a life would tell them to take a hike with all the changes thus far. But I have the time and inclination to do this. Even if it means more out of my pocket than I will get back.
Packing up my wardrobe
Back in Nice, I empty the contents of my closet into an oversized suitcase with blazers, shirts, light sweaters, dresses and pants. And I now have 12 pair of shoes and boots! I dig through all the costume jewellery I can find to cover a few decades. In reality, I have no idea what they want, so I take everything. I now have 2 suitcases and 2 backpacks, full. I have no idea how I will get back home with all this stuff. The next morning, I get back on a flight to Rome and wait for Monday to roll around.
Rome is having one of the hottest spells in a long time. The day temps are reaching 100 degrees and it’s humid. I’m immediately drenched walking around in shorts! I only hope I get a cab with good air conditioning to take me to the Monday meeting so I am not a big, red-faced, sweaty beast when I arrive.
Heading to my fitting
The fitting is scheduled at Teatro 7, in a grungy part of Rome. Once I’m called to go in, I see there are racks and racks and racks of clothes. This is the wardrobe department, and I have schlepped all my stuff for nothing. Any rate, I spill my clothes on the floor and let them dig through. They were actually happy I brought clothes and I did use all my own stuff except for a pair of wool trousers and a handbag I wouldn’t be caught dead with. Wool pants in 100 degree heat…
I now have two outfits picket out and I now need to go get hair and make done. I head up to the ‘trucco’ (makeup) department and enjoy an hour of them playing around with my hair and putting on heavy 80’s-style makeup.
With the hair and makeup out of the way, I’m done. Now, I wait for the actual shoot dates in a few weeks time. They give me a range of 10 days for the shoot, which kind of sucks because that means 10 more days of paying for a place in Rome…
The shoot day finally arrives
I returned to Rome one day before the potential start date, and send Gloria emails asking for updates. She knows very little. Fine. I get a notification to show up three days after the original start date for the filming, and I need to be at the Hilton at 6a to start.
The lower ground floor conference area of the Hilton is Film Central. It’s huge and there are separate male and female changing rooms and a hair and make up department. There are hundreds of other movie extras there with me. I check in at the registration desk and they need my name, my passport and a copy of my bank details.
Ditch the cell phones
They then take my cell phone. What? Yes. Italians are endlessly on their phones, and they don’t want film extras taking pictures or hearing random ring tones – because cell phones didn’t exist in the 80’s. So hand it over. To be honest, I have two phones and only gave them one, but I knew not to use it.
Head over to the Wardrobe and Makeup Departments
I then head to the wardrobe department to put on those sweaty hot, wool trousers, a blouse, blazer, scarf and that handbag, which I did slipped my mini computer in. I’m melting. The room is filled with all the movie extras’ wardrobes with our names attached.
Then I scoot over to makeup where I peel off as much as I can. I’m baking under the bright lights around the mirror and the heat of hot rollers on my head. Then I wait for all the rest of the movie extras to have their turn. This probably took about 3 hours before they were ready for a set.
In the first scene, I’m playing a tourist getting out of an old 70’s jaloppy with three other movie extras. It’s the type of car with dusty interiors and smells of stale, burnt-plastic like it’s from the 70’s. My cream blazer doesn’t take lightly to this, nor to the sweltering heat outside. So the other movie extras and I repeat getting out of this stinker and walk toward the trunk to pull out our equally-ancient suitcases, pretending we are guests of the hotel. We do this about 10-15 times while the action is taking place about 75 feet away. I will be a blur in the background. Then we break for lunch. They told me to bring lunch, only to discover they catered….
You are in for a long day
In the afternoon we pick up again, in a room in the hotel. I go for a quick wardrobe and hair change while the rest of the movie extras finish lunch. At least we have A/C in the hotel. By now my feet are killing me from standing in pointed-toe shoes I haven’t worn in a decade, with a broken little toe to boot! The pain is real, and I’m frequently flicking off my shoes for a respite. Other film extras are doing this by now, so I’m in good company.
In this scene, I’m with about 75 others and we are at a campaign gathering. Our candidate lost the campaign and we are clearly devastated. We do about 3-4 slightly different angles of the same scene as the camera is in one angle for one part, and another angle for another. We repeat this about a dozen times. So we have to remember exactly where we were standing, who we were talking to, how we were interacting, and what we were doing, as we have to repeat, repeat, repeat. Our day finished around 7pm.
Well worth the experience
It was a really cool experience and I completed all my scenes in one day. So in all, I paid for a train ride to Rome, airfare from Rome to Nice to Rome, back to Nice, and about 10 nights worth of Airbnb stays. I finally got my pay check from the film company one month later. €78.82 or $93. Lol!!
Updated July 2018: Unfortunately, this film, Gore, won’t be released, which is a real shame. However, I had a great time being a movie extra in Rome.
I’ve highlighted this in my other post about being a film extra and it’s worth repeating here:
Tips for being a professional movie extra
You may think your role as a movie extra isn’t important because you aren’t front and center or being paid, but that is far from the truth. Here are some key tips to remember if you want to be a professional movie extra.
- Show up on time – like 30-45 minutes ahead of time. As a film extra, you aren’t running the show, they are, and the biggest form of disrespect is to show up late. If you don’t know where you need to be, go to the location ahead of time to determine how long it will take. Being late is unacceptable.
- Immediately introduce yourself as the film extra for the day and ask with whom you need to meet. Let this person know you are there and either they will tell you where to wait, or stay within eye-shot of the person.
- If they tell you to bring 3 outfits, bring 5. Don’t assume you know exactly what you will need. You will be helping by bringing extra stuff from which to choose, even if you have to schlep a bit more. Bring comfortable shoes!
- Bring your documentation – passport, ID card, bank account details, insurance card. Have it on you. You never know if or when you will need it.
- Put your cell phone on silent the whole day unless you are having a break. Movie extras aren’t there to chat with friends or try and get shots with the main actors.
- Don’t reach out to try and chat with the actors. If they wish to chat with you, they will. Just maintain composure and remember what you are there for. A polite smile never hurts, but don’t push your luck.
- Listen to instructions and don’t embellish. That means don’t try and overact, don’t be a ‘chatty-Kathy’. Keep quiet, follow instructions and listen. And keep eye contact with the assistant that is giving directions. Most likely the director will not interact with the film extras, depending on the size of the production, so listen to the assistant.
- Bring food/snacks. Don’t assume you’ll get fed. It is always nice, but since you may be working long hours, bring snacks. There’s nothing worse than hearing, ‘Is there something to eat here?”