OK, so one of my resolutions this year was to swear off doing background work (in fact, I’ve even been performing a new bit about it in my stand-up). Reason being:
-Low/nearly nothing pay
-Fellow extras are crazy people/creepy dudes
-You’re treated like cattle
-Did I mention the low pay?
However, I got a call to do background for one of my favorite shows EVER – 30 Rock!
In this economy (and due to the fact that I am a huuuuuuge TV junkie who would completely whore myself out to be on the set of one of my favorite shows), I decided to do it! My friend Juliet works a ton on 30 Rock and is sometimes the stand-in for the chick who plays Cerie, so I lived vicariously through her stories of being on the set. However, there was no way I could pass up the chance to experience it firsthand!!! Especially since Tina Fey (who smells very nice, BTW) is my idol.
And a major bonus: JON HAMM was in the scenes we were shooting! He’s on one of my other absolute favorite shows, Mad Men.
What a dream come true! And I must tell you that he is SUCH a hunk in real life (though shorter than I thought). At any rate, the man is gorgeous – perfect! And even closer to my specifications of literary hotness with the glasses they put on him. And BTW, the wardrobe person hilariously carries around three pairs of identical spare glasses for Tina.
Although I was personally superstoked, the day was pretty uneventful. (And I also would have LOVED to have seen Alec Baldwin or Tracey Morgan in action. Or Jane Krakowski, who could kick Kristen Chenoweth’s ass anyday!)
I got to holding ( a church on West 86th Street and West End) at 12pm and we all sat around. And waited. And waited. And waited. This “job” is not for people who are easily bored. It’s for people who have an entertaining voice (or voices) in their heads, like to read, or have the steadfast ability to feel “alone” in a room full of people. Plus, sitting in the actual church pews was a nice change of pace since they usually stuff us in a Sunday School room with folding chairs and terrible florescent lighting. The biggest drawback was the awesome acoustics in the room, which are great for learning about morality or hearing a choir sing, but terrible for trying to relax while a Jersey girl speaks loudly on phone using f*** as every other word. Yeah…IN A CHURCH.
Five hours later, I was in a group of about 10 people who had still not been called to set. We were unceremoniously dismissed for a “walk away” lunch. I’ve done background about six times in the past year (Ugly Betty, Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Cold Case, Bored to Death, Lipstick Jungle, 30 Rock), and the first few I did always involved lunch. TONS of lunch. Since the economy has gone downhill, lunch has been nowhere to be found. It hurt to spend $7 at Ollie’s for a noodle soup. However, it was the cheapest meal I was going to find on the UWS other than street meat (which didn’t even seem to exist up there). Long gone are the days when I’d spend $10 for lunch at Whole Foods. What a fool I was!!! A FULL-TIME EMPLOYED FOOL!!!
Anyway, we came back from buying our own lunch, and a youth orchestra had taken over the back of the room for an after school rehearsal. Being a musician and having worked in music education I immediately thought, “Great! Children playing music. This will be cute and uplifting!” I especially expected a lot from these kids since they live in a rich zip code and presumably have every resource at their disposal – including the Suzuki Method, wutwut! But I must say that I was sorely disappointed.
They sounded BAD. Someone got yelled at for eating M&Ms during rehearsal. Who eats chocolate in rehearsal (hopefully not a reed player)?!?! The horns were especially sad. It seemed like no one was counting (and trust me, they didn’t have natural rhythm). And you know what?? I’m not going to go easy on them because they are kids! Boy, was I spoiled from those superstar students “with need” that I worked with in jazz education. Sadly, I think that this orchestra had some high schoolers in it too. Oy vey. Money can’t buy everything, but it can make you do what your parents want you to do. In a church.
I finally got called to the set (Barney Greengrass) around 6pm. Suprisingly, it didn’t smell THAT much like fish, but it was painful/fun to pantomime buying $9/lb smoked salmon – but I didn’t even want to think about the caviar that was being sold at $695 for 7 oz (and it was written on the board, like it is SUCH a common request…like a latte)! In the middle of filming, the crew got the news that 30 Rock had been picked up for a fourth season. Lots of cheering – yaaay!!! It was pretty cool to be there for that moment!
But unfortunately, it kind of went downhill from there. Since the location was small, there was nowhere for background to wait INSIDE if we weren’t being “used”, so we just had to stand outside on what was no doubt the coldest day so far this winter! It was basically -15 degrees with wind chill. And the 1 heater: 20 people ratio worked about as well as the US presence in Iraq. Yes, I had been sitting in a warm church for 6 of the 9 hours I was “working”, but this SUCKED – especially for $7 an hour. That’s right – $7 an hour. I’ve GOT to find myself another part-time or freelance gig soon!
Also, it was humbling/depressing to think that a year ago I was meeting with NBC casting chief Mark Hirschfeld (who told me I was “very talented”, wut?!).
And now I was standing in below-zero weather to be an uncredited on-screen blur for $7 an hour. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to be in good health, living in New York City, having great friends and family and doing what I love. I’m just saying that the sentence before the previous pretty much sums up the downward spiral that my “career” is going in…. I’ve already flushed. Now I’m just waiting to make sure it all goes down before I leave the stall.
But anyway, that’s quite dark – and it’s too early in the year to be that negative! Beside, Chinese New Year is coming up soon, and I get to start over again because I grew up with two cultures!
And if you watch 30 Rock, you can look for me in an upcoming episode. I’ll either be in a purple hat ordering food in the deli, or in a grey sweater pretending to eat food in the restaurant. I’m not sure which episode this is or when it airs, but I do know that Jon Hamm’s first 30 Rock appearance will be February 5, 2009.
So do I recommend being an extra? No, not really. It’s a good “job” to do if you are unemployed/freelance/truly have time on your hands. You definitely don’t do it for the money. It doesn’t count as a TV credit. You do it for…I don’t know…but you have to find your own reason and it wouldn’t kill anyone to try it once. For me, it’s partly for the money, partly because it’s doing something not sitting in front of a computer, partly because this is the industry I want to be in and partly because I just truly truly love certain TV shows. Now I’ve done two of my favorites (Ugly Betty and 30 Rock), so the only show left that I’d stand around at $7 an hour for is Gossip Girl. Of course.
If only Mad Men filmed in NY! But then again, there were no Asian chicks running around in the 60s, so there obviously wouldn’t be any running around on a 21st century TV series about the 60s.
So maybe me being an extra is progress. $7/hr, uncredited, non-speaking progress.
And then I will spend that $7 to buy noodles at Ollie’s. Yeah. Giving back. DOES THAT BLOW YA MIND?!?!?!