BillM

My work requires an extra effort because: I. Am. An. Extra.  

Over the years Guthrie has hosted many film productions. They come shoot their movies throughout town and Logan County.  Often, they look to locals to fill the parts written for extras.

When you watch films or television shows scenes usually feature the primary talent in the foreground, but look at what is happening in the background, people doing stuff or pretending to do the stuff are the extras. Also known as background or atmosphere, we are the people behind the stars in the scenes, providing a layer of realism. If you are lucky, you will get a principal extra part - interacting with the star in the scene.

Film extra work for me began in the 1970’s in Hollywood, California. The GI Bill paid for my full BA degree while I managed apartment buildings and worked as a non-union extra. The SEG, Screen Extras Guild, union members got paid $46 per gig, where I received $25 for the same job as non-union. Now the pay is $58 a day which could be 12 hours or less, with lunch.

Back then $25 wasn’t much but the job got me where few got to go; Universal Studios, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount Movie Ranch. All the major studios gave me access to do my job along side the popular stars at the time. Here’s where I “name drop”; Sam Elliott in “Lifeguard”, Harvey Keitel and Dyan Cannon in “Virginia Hill”, Jimmy Coco and Raquel Welch in “The Wild Party”, and many more.

In Guthrie I have worked with Bo Derek and Shelly Long in “Christmas in the Heartland”, Peter Coyote and Mira Sorvino in “The Mustard Seed”, and Dean Cain in “Gosnell” where I played a news photographer; which happens to be what I did in real life at KWTV 9 for 30 years. My journey has taken me from in front of the lens early in my Hollywood career to behind the lens in television news until I retired. Now I am back in front of the lens again and barely noticed by anyone watching me - as an extra.

It starts with a “we’re looking for” email notice. I respond by sending in a photo of me looking as much like what the casting staff is looking for as possible. Then, hopefully, comes the congrats you got the part rush.

When I show up on location at wardrobe I dress like what the instructions stated. My personal preference is to wear one of my dozens of hats in the scene, but first I have to get it okayed by wardrobe supervisor. If you are watching a film I’m in, look for the hat in the scene and there I am. So far, I have worn hats in six films in a row. 

When I’m done in wardrobe I go to makeup and then on to meet the firs assistant director who gets to tell me what they want me to do in the scene. From there I go sit with the rest of the extras until needed. While sitting we usually talk with each other about what movies we have worked on.

We have rules to live by as an extra. Most importantly, do not distract the crew or stars. They all have jobs to do so let them. If a star talks with you then we enjoy the experience. An occasional selfie opportunity may happen, but let the star suggest it.  I have seen many, not in Hollywood but here, with no shame about getting their star selfie. A big no-no but done anyway. 

The last film I worked on was “The Mustard Seed” along with 50+ church going extras. We had been sitting in church for a while and in the pew behind me Kevin Sorbo and Peter Coyote sat. An aggressive lady extra got her selfie with Kevin Sorbo. 

When she was finished, I gave the stars my traditional folded hands move from heart to forehead and said, “I, as a Guthrieite, just want to say welcome to Guthrie.” 

Peter Coyote ended up talking to us at length, sharing an amazing personal story with us. I didn’t talk, I listened and learned, making the experience all worth it.  

It is fun watching directors do their thing. During filming of “The Mustard Seed”, 50+ extras were going to and from church with filming happening on the exterior and interior shots.  

After several takes for the sermon, the director said, “Cut! Let me give you a new line to finish the sermon.”  

He told the actor playing the preacher and the actor wrote it down.  The director calls, “action” and we extras are sitting there hearing the same sermon again but when the added line hits us, it got us in our emotional barometer and pow we were believers!  The director, Rich Correll, yells, “cut!” and we, as the congregation break out in applause acknowledging how magically different one small sentence addition made the scene.  It was great to experience and emotionally feel a professional at work.  Praise the word.

If you are interested in being an extra, keep an eye on the Oklahoma Film & Music website www.okfilmmusic.org/crew-and-casting-calls. When you see a part that interests you, go for it! You never know when a star will be born. 

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