“On the Set of Beverly Hills, 90210”
Author’s note: Chloe is an L.A.-based, aspiring 22 year old actress with a Master of Dramatic Arts degree working as a TV and movie extra — and stripper — while she waits to break into the Hollywood scene. What follows is the opening section of a book titled Diary of a Non-Starlet. A work of fiction, the book begins January 3, 1997.
January 3 – Breaking in
Some people do this for a living. They’re the ones with portable lawn chairs, a small wardrobe they carry around everywhere on hangers and a cellular phone to make endless calls about the next day’s work. Some even have a call-in service that they pay for and that guarantees them five days of work each week as an extra. They’re the “professionals.” The average day is eight to twelve hours on the set. The first eight hours pays $50. for non-union and $100. for union members. Anything after that is overtime.
Naturally, everyone tries to get into the union and not only for the money. Union members get treated with a tad more respect. Union members are one rung up from the bottom.
For example, on some shows non-union extras get paper bag lunches while union members are allowed to walk over to the catering truck and eat whatever and whenever they want. There’s always a professional chef on hand, pancakes, grilled rosemary chicken… you name it!
When it happens to be a big cattle call, it feels quite barbaric. I feel kind of embarrassed ambling over to the catering truck in front of all the other extras. Like I’m some princess. Sometimes some famished soul asks me to bring back a hot roast beef sandwich. I hate it. If I were to say no, it’s like I’m some sort of Nazi. And if I say yes, I feel like some sort of spy smuggling contraband over the border.
Most of us haven’t given up hope of one day becoming what we went to school and trained for – to find paying work as actors and actresses with lines.
They don’t say ‘Extras’ when they call you, they just say, ‘Background.’ It sounds harsh, but really that’s all you are. And so you go where you’re told. You become what you are called, “Background.”
Mr. Megaphone picks up his instrument. “Background,” he bellows, and everyone puts down their books, magazines, junk food, etc., climbs out of their lawn chairs, and mope over to the designated spot. My habit of making the best of every situation doesn’t apply to this lousy job and I hate the happy nerds, the enthusiastic extras who jump up and try to look as if they’re having a good time.
Yet here I am . . . but what’s the appeal?
I get to read and write and there’s lots of leisure time and I don’t mind getting paid for that, even if it’s only $100. I’d rather do this than wait tables . . . so I’m doing this while waiting for a chance to act, which is what makes this extra work somehow endurable.
And it’s a continual process. You may land one acting job, but that doesn’t mean there’s going to be another and so you still have to do something in between . . . jobs in between jobs to pay your rent.
[sample… more to come…]
(copyright (c) 2008, Hannah Sward)
Hannah Sward lives in Los Angeles and is a recent graduate of Antioch University. Another sample of her writing, “Starving,” may be found in Alimentum, The Literature of Food, Issue 4, 2007. Hannah’s stories have appeared in a number of online publications.