Extra Extra work

Since organizing writers’ conferences and writing a novel don’t pay the bills (yet), I’ve taken on work as a background artist for television. Artist is a strong word in this context. I get hired to be one of those people who walk behind the main actors to make the scene look more realistic, or I sit at a table and quietly repeat, “watermelon cantaloupe,” so a scene looks vibrant with happy cafe-patrons. I’m basically a human prop.

Me as a guest at an Indian baby naming party for Royal Pains.

Me as a guest at an Indian baby naming party for Royal Pains.

So far I’ve been an onlooker at a murder scene for Unforgettable, a reporter for Person of Interest, a scared pedestrian for a new pilot with Debra Messing, a party guest for Royal Pains, an audience member for a test show for Suze Ormand, and a few other nondescript pedestrian roles. I’ve never actually seen any of these shows, which keeps me from getting too star-struck; however, I did get to charge my phone next to one of my favorite actors from The Wire, so that was pretty fun.

The best part of the job is when they do your hair and make up. For a few minutes I feel like a pampered celebrity…until the director calls out, “Where’s goblet girl?” Yes, that was my name for 6 hours because my job was to hold a goblet of champagne which the cameraman used as a marker for the far left side of the scene.

The other perk is seeing some beautiful parts of New York I’ve never seen before. I got to film in a stunning old bank in Wall Street, a stunning old castle on the water, and at a stunning view of the Brooklyn Bridge (where Mike proposed to me). My main goal was to get away from my computer and meet some interesting people while making some money, so I’ve definitely accomplished that. The pay is pitiful, but then again I am getting paid to stand around. When I’m done with my work, I’m able to come back to my writing with absolutely no stress from the work day. It’s working out pretty nicely for now.

Here are two side notes I’ve picked up from doing this work. If you’re a single woman, I have never met so many great single guys as the crew on a film set. Overall they’re hard-working, down to earth, good-humored people. They have crazy hours because a film shoot can run for 18 hours straight, which might explain why so many of them are single. Also, I have so much more appreciation for actors. To shoot one minute of television it takes almost ten hours of filming. The actors have to say the same lines a hundred times and sound fresh and energized each time.

12 comments

    1. I should mention this job is the exact opposite of glamorous :P It’s fourteen hours of standing outside in the rain and pretending that it’s a warm sunny day. It’s getting herded around like cattle. It’s wearing someone else’s pit-stained shirt as a costume. Somehow all that ends up looking glamorous on the screen :)

  1. You can learn and meet great people doing just about anything. Maybe there’s a story for a novel that’s out there on one of these gigs. Inspiration comes from all sorts of experiences.

    My wife worked the 3rd shift in a computer operations center when she was just out of college. I was a young business analyst working 18 hour days struggling to climb the corporate ladder. I usually worked past 10pm which is when my wife (to be) would show up for work. This is where we met. This was the best job ever.

    Good luck – maybe you can name one of your novels “Goblet Girl.” Ok, maybe not.

    1. Thanks for sharing such a romantic story! I’m glad the 18 hour work days and the third shift worked out for you and your future wife :) I definitely think these experiences will come back in my writing. I’m not sure how yet, but for now I’m just going with the flow.

  2. It sounds like being a “background artist” is as painful as giving an interview for shows. Yikes, I had not clue what you all had to go through. My daughters decided after one our interviews to share my story that they never wanted to work in Hollywood. Walking across the same driveway a dozen times to make sure their feet where taped perfectly about put them over the preteen edge. :-)

    Thanks for sharing about your experience. I will look at the television shows a little differently now.

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