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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Diary of an Extra

Eastbound & Down
Series finale, 4/8 • HBO
Royal appears as an extra in
episodes airing on 4/1 and 8

Last month Ii decided to do some-thing I’ve never done before. I signed up to work as a background actor, otherwise known as an extra. Local casting agent Vanessa Neimeyer was looking for a slew of people to populate the stands at BB&T Coastal Field in Myrtle Beach from February 20th through 21st, for baseball-game scenes in the raunchy HBO comedy “Eastbound & Down.” I figured it would be a fun, easy way to make a few extra bucks. Turns out I was half right. Fun? Yes. But easy? Not so fast. If you think background acting is a breeze, I’m here to give you a crash course in reality.

Day 1, 5:30 a.m.
Extras begin to gather under a large white tent, its loose sides flapping as a brisk wind makes the 39-degree temperature feel like 31. Oh, did I mention it was supposed to be August in the world of “Eastbound & Down,” and we were instructed to wear summer clothes? Of all the times during this mild winter to pretend it’s summer, they just had to pick a day when we actually had winter weather.
The first order of business is to line up and fill out tax paperwork to get paid. By 6 a.m. the tent is bustling with activity as the extras wait at fold-out seats around unfinished wooden tables. People clutch clothing on hangers and swap stories about other productions they’ve worked on. “What’s ‘The Hunger Games’?” an older man asks a young woman.

Day 1, 7:15 a.m.
The crew begins to herd extras to the stadium. Everyone gets excited when handed snacks—hot dogs, peanuts and popcorn—because there was no food upon arrival, but alas: “These are not snacks. They’re props,” a crew member warns.

Creep, inflatable dressed torsos are seated throughout the stands to make 250 people appear as 1,250 on camera. About 20 minutes later, star Danny McBride enters to begin a scene between rival baseball teams. A production assistant gets everyone fired up: “There is hatred. There is venom. The darkest part of your soul should be on display.” This is all some people need to hear. I have never seen so many middle fingers and heard so many “F” words flying. As my right hand starts to go numb, I think this may be what is keeping some people warm.

Day 1, 12:30 p.m.
Under the tent, lunch is an odd combination of meatless baked ziti, peas or lima beans, a roll and three kinds of cake. Plates coming out of the “other tent” offer a glimpse of the class system at work, as the cast and crew dine on hunks of meat atop greens. It’s one of many reminders to come that extras are the lowest form of society on a film set.

Day 1, 1:30 p.m.
It’s time to return to the stadium for more cheering and jeering. Some people get to throw trash at Danny McBride. A group of us move to the outfield bleachers for a while. The elements start to get to some people as they begin talking to and putting their arms around the inflatables. One woman even leans her head on one as if it’s her boyfriend. Young men entertain themselves by making rapid-fire “that’s what she said” comments.

Day 1, 3:30 p.m.
Fight scenes with stunt men wake up the weary crowd. A guy gets “punched out” right in front of where I’m sitting, so I actually get to act a little. A cheese and veggie tray is passed around for the “real actors,” but the extras are told hands-off. “If it looks good, it’s not for you,” one of the other extras advises. Later we get what’s left of the cheese.

Day 1, 6:30 p.m.
Fading daylight means it’s a wrap. Later I discover it is indeed possible to get sunburned in February.

Day 2, noon
It’s a later call time, but there’s a night baseball game scene, so no chance of getting finished by sundown this time. Vanessa tells everyone that for dinner there will be a “really fantastic” meal for the cast and crew, but not for us. In retaliation, on our way into the stadium, we all stuff our pockets full of snacks. But we can only have the snacks on one side of the stadium. The really good ones on the other side, of course, are not for us.

Day 2, 4 p.m.
An older woman behind me is really getting comfortable using the “F” word when the cameras are rolling. Today we pantomime a lot—or act without making noise. It feels weird for the first couple of hours, but then it seems normal.

Day 2, 6 p.m.
Dinner is barbeque, baked beans, slaw, a roll and more cake slices. I don’t even want to know what culinary wonders are in the “other tent,” so I don’t look. I change shirts in the car as nightfall indicates the start of a new game and different wardrobe.

Day 2, 7 p.m.
Everyone is back in the stadium. Annoying 20-somethings behind me are playing “I Spy” for way too long. I wonder if I was that maddening when I was 20-something; I decide I probably was. Later it all makes sense when I hear one say she drank a 5-hour Energy shot.

Day 2, 9 p.m.
Over the next several hours I become somewhat delirious, but this is what I remember: lots of envy as lattes were delivered to actors on the field and temperatures dropped, a brief appearance by Val Kilmer, going in and out of the stadium, the crew’s indecision about whether we should see what is happening on the field, more stern warnings about venturing over to the good snacks, surprise when extras are actually treated to late-night pizza and sheer exhaustion.

Day 2, 3 a.m.
Yes, 15 hours later we are still there; up until the very end we are asked to cheer enthusiastically. I begin to develop an irrational theory that I have been transported to hell, otherwise known as being stuck outside in Myrtle Beach amid an “Eastbound & Down” episode, with mediocre snacks and second-class citizenship for eternity. And just when I start to resign myself to that fact, music to my ears: “It’s a wrap!”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Alyssa Bauman

    April 6, 2012 at 5:14 am

    I am trying to find the article from last weeks Encore about extra work on The Conjuring (not the one Judy Royal did, that was Eastbound) I worked on that movie, and would like to see the article, can’t find it. Help !
    Thanks.

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