Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My experience being an extra on Grimm

I was scratching my head for new content on my blog last week when my weekly reminder email to write something hit my inbox. Nothing that interesting outside of normal every day life stuff had occurred since my last posting so I decided to wait until I had more to write about. That all changed last Friday around noon. I received a voice mail from one of the production assistants with the NBC TV show Grimm that is being filmed in Portland asking whether or not I was interested in being an extra. I called back within about 15 minutes and committed to doing it. This post will be about this experience.

Grimm  - airs on Friday's @ 9 pm central on NBC
I'll start off with how we got involved in this. Alethea randomly came across this opportunity a few weeks ago. She submitted her info along with pictures and was called back to be an extra. She wrote a blog post about here experience which can be found here. I was somewhat interested but didn't think there was much chance of getting called. I didn't submit my info until Alethea had already been contacted to be an extra which was only the day before she was needed. I didn't hear anything back and had forgot all about it. It was a complete surprise when they called on Friday. I jumped at the chance since I wanted to be a part of it for the experience.

1 of 2 extra photos I submitted to be an extra on Grimm - taken from our wedding last summer 
I received my email on Sunday detailing what I needed to do the following day. I was told to show up wearing jogging clothes and bring 3 changes of casual clothes for other scenes. My call time was 9:18 am. Yes, it was actually typed in the email as 9:18 am. Alethea had emailed the casting director after I had been called and mentioned we were a couple. She was then invited to come in as well but her call time wasn't until 11:18 am. To prepare for being an extra, which is something that I have never done before, I logged into a website Alethea has a membership with to learn about what to do and what not do. Most of it is common sense. It is pretty much don't bother anyone, do what they say, have a great attitude, and do what they say :-). I also went to Wikipedia and the NBC website (Grimm) to read up about the show since I had never watched an episode! The last thing I did was go to Hulu and watch an actual episode. I wanted to be somewhat familiar with the show and know who the stars were in case I interacted with them. It is definitely a different type show than I am used to but I found it interesting. I thought it was pretty neat that I recognized many of the locations here in Portland.

Second extra photo submitted for Grimm - taken at a pub in  Suzhou, China
The first part of the day turned out to actually be the most stressful part of the whole experience. Since we do not have a car I took the bus downtown to the location that I was supposed to check in at. I arrived a little more than 15 minutes early. It turns out I needed the spare time. The directions and location in the documentation that came with my email were not correct. I wandered around parking lots and buildings in downtown Portland asking people where to go. No one had a clue as to what I was talking about. The way I eventually located where I was supposed to go was because I remembered that in one of the email attachments it mentioned something about white shuttle vans shuffling people around from location to location. I happened to randomly see a white shuttle van stopped at a red light. There was no other traffic so I stepped out into the middle of the street to approach the van. As I got near it I saw a GRIMM placard in the dashboard. I knocked on the window scaring the driver half to death. She reluctantly rolled down the window and I asked her if she knew where Grimm extras were supposed to report. She at least pointed me in the general direction. I made my way over to where she said to go. It still wasn't marked clearly where to go. I ended up asking a police officer guarding some of the trailers in a parking lot. He was nice and helpful. He guided me over to a catering truck outside of a hotel that I had walked passed earlier that turned out to be the holding area where I needed to check in at. There were no signs anywhere to be seen. 

I was a little frustrated and upset because there directions weren't close to being correct and that I actually arrived pretty much right on time. All of the documentation and research that I had done said do not be late. I don't like being late for anything to begin with. The documentation for this event said you should be there 15 minutes before your call time. I was worried once I got in the room someone was going to say something or I was going to be sent home. Luckily, there was only a few of us asked to come in early and only one other extra that had arrived before me. I discovered later that I wasn't alone. Most of the other extras I talked to had the same problem. Three other people used the same technique as me by knocking on the window of a random white shuttle van asking the driver where to go.

Once I arrived I sat in a hotel meeting room for about 15 minutes before the extra's casting director gave me some paper work to fill out. A wardrobe person then came over and looked at what I was wearing which was the running clothes outfit I was asked to wear. She told me I wouldn't be wearing those clothes until evening and wanted to see what else I had brought. I opened my carry on suite case that I brought with me which happened to contain almost all of the casual clothes I own since I have donated most of my clothes to charity after losing 60 pounds over the last two years. Once she selected my outfit I immediately changed clothes in a bathroom down the hall. I then returned to the holding area where I waited around for another ten minutes before the extra's casting director grabbed me along with the other extras and told us to follow him.

When I got to the set I was able to confirm what I had learned about being an extra. I am not supposed to go into detail about the scenes or even where we filmed. We did spend the next roughly 6 hours filming just a couple scenes a few blocks from our base camp. It was the same scenes over and over again shot from different angles. I wasn't selected to be in any of the first set of scenes. I actually didn't do anything for about 3 hours. I just chatted with other extras and observed what all was going on. I wasn't put to use until after Alethea had arrived and then it was pretty basic. I just walked back and forth on a sidewalk across the street from a crime scene. We pretty much did this until dinner which was around 4 pm. I was hungry by the time dinner was served since I had breakfast around 7 am with only a few snacks to hold me over.

The second half of the day was a little bit more interesting for me at least. First the dinner they served us was pretty good. I was advised we were eating better than normal extras since there weren't too many of us and we were eating with the crew including the stars of the show who were just a couple tables away. The humiliating part is that everyone other than the extras gets to eat first. It felt kind of awkward that everyone else was eating except us. About the time Alethea and I were finishing with our dinner the extra's casting director told us to change clothes for our evening scenes. I immediately stopped eating and went over to my suite case with the clothes in it and changed behind a sheet outside the main dining area. We waited a little bit, packed up our bags, and were shuttled over to another part of town where we filmed the evening scenes.

At the second location we spent the next 4 to 5 hours shooting a few scenes and doing quite a bit of waiting. I actually may have a shot of being on TV. In one scene me and another woman jog up to a point on an overpass where we stop and stare down at a dead body. If the camera pans up then it should include me in the shot along with some of the other extras. We filmed this scene multiple times. Alethea was positioned well off from the main scene. I am not sure she'll be in this scene but you never know what they might use. Alethea was used as a I believe a jogger in one more scene while I wasn't selected. Most of the rest of the evening was spent in the holding area or just off the set by a propane heater with the other extras. We wrapped around 9:45 pm and were checked out around 10 pm. Alethea and I then walked over to a nearby bus stop to catch a ride home. It turned out we were only a couple blocks away from the bus line that runs nearly in front of our apartment so it was pretty easy to get home.  We ending up getting in around 10:45 pm. It was a long day since I had left around 8:15 am that morning.

Overall I thought it was a very interesting experience. It went pretty much as I expected. It isn't really all that glamorous. What I enjoyed most was just watching how things are done. I was little frustrated at first with how the day started but I quickly adapted and had a good time. I enjoyed interacting with some of the other extras who live here in the Portland area. One of the most amusing things I saw was during breaks many of the police officer and crime scene investigator extras were taking pictures of each other in their costumes and posting them to Facebook. They looked pretty real in their costumes. Some people on the street came up to them asking questions as if they were real police officers. One other great thing about my experience was that I will get a paycheck out of it. I was paid by the hour from the time I showed up until the time we were checked out minus 30 minutes for lunch. I even got overtime pay after 8 hours. We get paid no matter how much they used us or not so I didn't really mind waiting around doing nothing but I would have liked to have had a better shot of being in an episode or just doing more in general. By the way the episode we might make an appearance in is number 18 and is due to air some time in May. I'll keep an eye out for it and post it on here and Facebook when it airs.

Alethea and I have communicated to the casting people that we would be interested in doing additional work at least through the end of March. I'll be glad to be an extra or a stand in. It is an interesting way to earn a little money while we look for more regular types of employment. We'll see if we get called back for any additional work. If anyone has any questions or comments feel free to post them on the blog or just email me. Take care!