Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Try not to bump into the furniture

Last Saturday, I was an extra in Cockneys Vs Zombies. Not a zombie, that'll come later, just a normal person going about their business. I wanted to be visible in the background, but mainly wanted to see what it was like working a proper, full day on set. Normally, seeing as my job is finished when filming starts, I swan in around lunchtime, watch them film, get in the way, and have some biscuits. But the cast and crew have to be there every day, around 5am or 6am depending on what needs doing, until around 6pm. The very least I could do is experience one day of that, in solidarity for all the hard work they're doing. Also, there are biscuits. Did I mention the biscuits?

I was told to report to the unit base at 6.30am, and could *not* be late. Unfortunately, because early morning trains from here are a bit sparse, and the tubes I need don't start until after 5am, I had to get up at 3.50am to make sure I got the very first train. 3.50am. I didn't quite believe such a time existed. Obviously, due to nervous excitement, I couldn't sleep for ages, so probably got 2 or 3 hours sleep. A good start. Made it to the train, which was eerily full of sleeping people. Got to a completely deserted King's Cross just before 5am, which was *creepy*, normally it's really crowded. Almost as if a zombie outbreak had really happened.

Eventually I got to the unit base, 15 minutes early, and met the other extras for the day. Had my life saved by the freshly cooked full breakfast. Inhaled two coffees. And was more or less ready. Wardrobe inspected the clothing options we'd brought, I ended up wearing my dark blue suit with a green shirt, to fully embody the role of "Bank customer", or "Man walking across room" as I later called him. Although we all decided that since we weren't addressed by name on screen, we could be called anything, so I'm going to give us very long, silly names. Minibus took us to the location, the Royal College of Surgeons, and we were inspected by the makeup team, who decided we were fine, and didn't need anything covering up. How bad would that have been, if I'd been the *one* person who needed work?? And after the early start, I was fully expecting it.

The crew were already hard at work, setting up the shots and lighting, blocking the scene with the cast, so we waited until we were needed. Most of our time was spent staring at this painting, wondering if they were real people, with the bodies painted first, and the heads copied from random photographs later:


We could NOT stop staring at the painting. I was convinced that if I stared long enough, I'd eventually see myself in there, smiling out at the world. You've always been the caretaker here, Mr Moran.

Finally, it was our time to mill about in the background, and we were told where to go and what to do. I suddenly got incredibly nervous, now that the reality had set in - when this film is out in cinemas, I'll be clearly visible on screen. What if I look stupid? Or act terribly? Even though I'm just walking across a room and then hiding, what if my walk seems stilted and unnatural? In a movie that I won't name out of kindness, there are two competition winners who got the chance to walk through a scene as extras, and they stick out a MILE, they may as well be wearing t-shirts saying "Hello! I won a competition to be here! Look at my excited face!" What if I'm even worse than that? What if everyone laughs? What if the whole audience is suddenly rudely yanked out of the film, and immediately realises that the idiotic writer has blundered into shot? What if I forget where to go, and bump into one of the cast? What if I sneeze, or trip over a cable, or bump into a wall, or look at the camera, or any one of a million other things??

Add to that the strange urge to get out of the shot, because I'm not usually supposed to be there, and I was a bundle of nerves. So I made myself think about who I was playing and why they were in a bank, constructing a ridiculously complex backstory for "Man walking across room" to fill my mind with details. This stopped me thinking about what was really happening, and I was able to relax a bit, enough to successfully walk across the room several times, and pretend to fill out a form. The rest of the day was made up of more angles of the same shot, and then some slightly spoilery stuff which I won't go into. Although if you've read the official plot teaser, you'll have a good idea of what might happen in that room. At the end of it, Matthias the director got some shots of us spontaneously reacting to him shouting various things, so that we weren't expecting them, and I think it worked really well. He's a lovely, smiley, softly-spoken chap normally, so it was a bit strange to hear him shouting, but it was purely to fit in with the spoilery thing, and helped a lot. Although after filming finished, he took me into an alley and beat me up, it wasn't on camera, so I'm not sure what that was all about. I think it's just his way.

Weirdly, the day felt much, much shorter than the days where I turned up from 2pm to 6pm. It must have been because I actually had a job this time, instead of standing around feeling useless and awkward. When you have a reason to be there, and are working, the hours fly past. Although by 6pm, I was utterly exhausted - all I did was walk across a room a few times (after a very early morning), the cast and crew have much more difficult jobs, and have to do this every day, for the whole film shoot. I already knew that they work incredibly hard, but doing a full day gave me even more of an appreciation for that.

It was loads of fun, very tiring, and fascinating to see the whole process from the other side of the camera - setting up shots, talking to the actors, seeing the preparations, etc. The cast were doing great things during the scene, tweaking stuff, ad-libbing, and I found it tricky not to laugh when two of them went off on an extended riff. We're very lucky to have them, and naturally I now want to put them all into everything else I'm currently working on.

Once it was all over, I ducked out of the pub drinkup everyone was going to (I know, I *must* have been tired) and hauled my weary carcass home to flop on the sofa. Thank you to everyone for putting up with me, I had a great time. And this week, I shall be a zombie! Although they could have used me as a zombie straight after that long day, I wouldn't have required any makeup. In fact, they'd have had to make me look *less* dead. I'm not very good with early mornings.