This summer I’ve had three opportunities to be a movie extra. Random, I know. The first 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 part of a major American film! Why not? So, I sent an email to the contact, and added my previous experience as an 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 into Movie Bros’ database, and I can check and edit my profile. Wow! I have a profile in an Italian database as a movie 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 go 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 are 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 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. What a nerve-wracking day. It can be a long or short dress or an elegant pantsuit. I hate shopping on the fly and given I’m short, 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 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 moved to Monday at 16:00, but not only do I need formalwear, I’m also being considered for 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, all the meanwhile hoping extras show up, have clothes and what not. And I’m not surprised they are asking me to participate in more than one scene. Any normal person with any sort of schedule 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 – blazers, shirts, light sweaters, dresses, pants, and I’m up to about 12 pair of shoes and boots! I dig through all the costume jewellery I have trying 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. How I will get home after this I have no idea! I get back on a flight to Rome the next morning, 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. It’s difficult to even walk around in shorts as I am immediately drenched. All I can think about is, ‘I 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 expect for a pair of wool trousers and a handbag I wouldn’t be caught dead with.
Two outfits are chosen, then I 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. I’m given a range of 10 days, which kind of sucks because that means potentially 10 more days of paying for a place in Rome…
The shoot day finally arrives
So I return to Rome one day before the potential start date, and send Gloria emails asking for updates. She knows very little. Fine. So I get a notification to show up three days after the proposed start date for the filming, and I need to be at the Hilton at 6a to start.
Film Central has been set up on the lower ground conference area of the hotel. It’s huge and there are separate spaces blocked off for male and female changing rooms and hair and make up. I’m there along with hundreds of others. I go over to the registration desk and they ask for my name, my passport and a copy of my bank details, which I didn’t have. I gave them this info earlier, so I just hoped it was correct. Otherwise I’ll have to chase them up later.
Ditch the cell phones
Then they asked for my cell phone. What? Yes. Italians are known for endlessly being on their phones, and they probably don’t want people taking pictures or having 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’m then shipped off to wardrobe to put on those sweaty hot, wool trousers, a blouse, blazer, scarf and that handbag, which I did manage to fit my mini computer in, so not all is lost. I’m melting. The room is filled with everyone’s wardrobe 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 everyone else to get done. 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 others – you know, 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 we repeat getting out of this stinker and go toward the trunk to pull out our equally-ancient suitcases, as 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. I was told 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 finish lunch. At least we have A/C in the hotel. By now my feet are killing me from standing in 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. Everyone is 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!!
I’ll let you know if and when the film is out. You know Hollywood these days. There’s always a controversy around the corner.