I’ve always been a huge fan of Dave Barry, the wildly popular syndicated humor columnist. He was writing his column for the Miami Herald during the same time I was writing mine an hour up the coast at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. But it would be wrong of me to leave the impression that Dave and I were on anything resembling an equal plane. Dave was THE columnist in South Florida (and through syndication across the continent); the rest of us worked in his large shadow, trying desperately to capture a sliver of his effortless wit while working equally desperately to not look like copycat wannabes.
At last our paths have crossed. Dave landed a role on the set of Marley & Me as an extra in the scene capturing my fortieth surprise birthday party. In real life, Marley crashed the party by diving onto a tray of appetizers, and wolfing down mozzarella and basil on toast squares, but I have to admit the birthday cake makes for much better visuals.
At any rate, Dave Barry being Dave Barry, he wrote a very funny column about the experience. And from my few days on the set earlier this month, I’d say very accurate, too. If you think being a movie extra is glamorous, try it for a day and see how you feel by the twelfth hour and twenty-seventh take.
Dave writes, in part:
There is a definite hierarchy on a movie set. At the top are the director and the stars. Below them are the lesser actors and crew members. Below them are the support people who provide food, transportation, security, etc. Below them are the stunt birthday cakes. And at the bottom are the extras. We are there strictly as background. In fact, the crew people actually call us ”background” when they herd us around.
”All right, background!” they say. “I need you all to stand over here!”
As an extra, you do a lot of standing around. First you stand around waiting for the set to be prepared. Then you stand around on the set while they rehearse the scene. Then you stand around being the background while they shoot the scene. Then you stand around waiting while they look at the scene to see if anything went wrong, which something always does. Then you stand around while they shoot the scene again. It goes on for hours and hours, the standing. But it’s worth it, because the money is huge.
I am, of course, kidding. For a day’s work — and it can be a long day’s work — they pay you $100, or what one of the extras, Joyce Newman of Miami, described as “one-third of a good pair of shoes.”
And Dave, I’ll look for the back of your head on the big screen. It’s going to kill!