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Movie Extras Needed: Testing NYC Jobs You DON’T Want

Submitted by on March 24, 2010 – 10:43 am
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craigslistCraigslist can be a wonderful site: there are valid job offers, opportunities for finding true love, and good deals on mediocre, out-of-date electronics.  Yet venture towards the bottom of the “jobs” section to find the section labeled [ETC], where there is a gold mine of “too good to be true” offers.  One day, I came across a posting (in ALL CAPITALS, of course) entitled “MOVIE EXTRAS NEEDED.” Be an extra in a movie?  Why not?  Being an extra in a movie has everything I would want in life: being paid, standing around, being paid to stand around, and of course, being paid to stand around while being filmed for a movie.

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Being the curious and industrious person I am, I called the number listed on the ad, and promptly someone returned my call.  They told me that they were having an “open casting call” for extras between eleven and five, and if I wanted to, I could come down and audition.  “Don’t bring anything,” the woman on the phone said. She sounded sexy. “You won’t need a resume, or head shots, or anything else.  Dress casually.”  She told me the number of the room I was to go, and hung up.

I wondered if being an extra for a movie was going to be this easy.

In the heart of midtown, the second floor to this building was a series of yellowed hallways, winding and twisting in random directions.  I went down a few corridors, looking for the number of the room the woman had told me.  I came to multiple dead ends.  Frustrated, I walked past the elevators for the second time, and at the long end of the last corridor was a man in a wheelchair, half-asleep, pointing to his right.  I felt like I was in The Shining.  I nodded as I turned where he indicated.

I found myself in a small inlet, one side of it lined with a big window, a glorified box office. A young man with a very nice watch looked sat in the room behind the glass, looking bored.  He looked up when he saw me, rolled his eyes, and said, “You here for the movie extra? First time?”

“Uh, what?” I asked.  I felt nervous. Fantastic, I thought. You can’t even approach a window without getting anxious.  Sure, they’ll hire you to be an extra. The guy who can’t stand without sweating.

“I said, is this your first time?” he asked, emphasizing the words he had to repeat. He spoke like he was asking a third grader if he had heard of long division.

“Oh, yes,” I managed to get out.  “This is my first time.”  Great job, Paul.  You can use words– too bad you won’t need them as an extra.

I opened the door, expecting a small yet professional office, only to find instead a long hallway, lined with a dozen chairs on either side, and a roomful of eyes suddenly peering up at me.

“Uh, hi,” I said.

Everyone nodded in my direction.  There were at least a dozen people there, clipboards in hand, waiting for their turn. I sat down quietly, and began to fill out my form.  At the bottom, underneath all the standard questions, was a place where you could write in any “special talents” you have.

Well, I’m applying to be an extra in a movie, so… I wrote, “I can stand and look good doing it.” I looked at, satisfied, and put my form away.

Eventually I was called into an office, and a man behind the desk looked right at me and said, “I like your look.  I have a client that’s interested in you.”

Although I was flattered (who doesn’t like to be told that they look good?), I immediately was skeptical.  How could he already have a client for me?  He just met me fifteen minutes ago.  Still, I decided to listen.  I’ll give a couple minutes to someone who can complement me well.

He talked like he didn’t have any spaces between his words.  In what seemed like one breath, he spouted two success stories of extras who made thousands in a single day, being picked off the lot to model for Yahoo’s newest ad campaign.  “These were regular people, just like you,” he said.

Oh great, now I’m just regular?

Then he told me that he could he could get me regular work on movies, and showed me a web site where I could upload a profile and my head shots.

“All for only ninety-nine dollars,” he said.  He had finished, and was now pausing.  He raised his eyebrows.  “So whaddya say?”

IMG_3091I took a breath, and said, “I say that I didn’t really come here to spend any money.”

In one fluid motion, he stood up, gave me his business card, ushered me out of his office, and told me to contact him if I changed my mind.  On my way out, I heard him say, “Next!”

An hour later, I stood waiting for the subway to come.  I checked the time: the whole extravaganza had taken almost three hours, not including half an hour each way to and from Brooklyn.  Leaning up against the yellow beam, I reflected back on my experience.  Sure, I suppose that if I had paid the ninety-nine dollars, there would have been a chance that I could be making money as a movie extra as early as the next week.  But it’s exactly that thought, I decided, that ropes people in to scams that are too good to be true.  I imagined that it’s how a company like that makes money.  They promise you easy money– just as soon as you pay a nominal fee.

Money isn’t easy.  Yet an hour later I sat at my computer, again scanning that long list of capital, blue letters.  “MAKE $400 A DAY WALKING DOGS!!!!!” said one of them.  Hm, I thought. Maybe this one’s real…


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