Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.
Extra, extra, read all about it!
(What, did you expect me NOT to start with the perfect line?)
So there’s a party. Or maybe just some kind of event. Or maybe just some kind of public event where people are milling around. Either way, your characters have got to be there and it’s going to look really weird if they’re the only people there.
But never fear, there is a magical solution: extras!
These people are your friends, your classmates, your family, your cast and crew’s friends/classmates/family, and random people you don’t really know that just kind of showed up and you rolled with it. Extras are super important to make a party look like a party or to make a restaurant look populated.
The tricky thing is is that you either don’t know these people, or you’ve never had them on your set before. (If they’re repeat extras, that’s beautiful and I love repeat extras.) It’s hard to know what people will be like in a professional environment and it’s hard to coordinate extras and make sure everything is comfy-cozy for them when you’re wearing literally every hat ever and are doing ALL THE THINGS.
So, lo and behold, another list of things-- this time, tips for dealing with extras!
SET THEM UP (RULES AND OTHERWISE)
Spend a few minutes-- even if it’s right before your first take-- explaining what you need from them. An example of that would be silence during takes but still mouthing words. Let them know clearly what they have to do, even if it’s just carrying on a silent conversation. Spending a few minutes explaining how things are going to go and what their duties are will make the entire shoot as painless as possible.
Daria Miran and Hannah Licop in the foreground, cast members masquerading as extras. Anna Knigavko in the background
They’re doing you a solid. As long as you’re not super pressed for time or already way overtime, you can let them socialize between takes and get all their giggles out after things go wrong. They’re gonna get distracted easily. From time to time, it’s okay to let them.
Foreground: me & Abby Nyamuzuwe (cast). Background, clockwise: Lauren Reny (extra), Madeline Sadai (extra), Jake Vinken (cast), Jacob Miller (cast), and Arjun Saili (extra)
GIVE FUN DIRECTION
The biggest thing with extras is making sure they’re entertained. I was an extra on a professional set once and I was bored out of my skull (the guy sitting next to me and showing me Tumblr posts I’d seen a million times was not helping). What I found to be good with keeping some extras entertained was to give fun direction! Recently we did a party scene, where one extra ascended to featured and had some token mean girl lines. In the scene, I placed two other extras with her as her friends, and as direction I told them to go off of classic mean girl movies-- they were the Heather Duke and Heather Mac to the featured actress’ Heather Chandler, or they were the Gretchen Wieners and Karen Smith to her Regina George. It’s fun to make bitchy facial expressions in the image of iconic mean girl squads! I also let two of my actors, who were masquerading as extras, be that super-into-PDA couple in the corner. They really wanted to, for some reason, and apparently it went well?
The perfect mean girl squad, left to right: Allison Suiches, Lauren Reny, and Haley Paterson
GET GROUPS OF FRIENDS
The only thing more fun than being an extra is being an extra with your friends! When I was an extra on that professional set, all I wanted was to have my best friend with me because it was so cool and I wanted to share that experience with someone I knew. I literally did not stop texting her (and my other friends as well) for the whole day. If you have any extras confirmed to come, get them to ask their friends to come as well! It’ll be more enjoyable for them.
From left to right: cast member Kendall Prior and extras Lauren Reny and Allison Suiches
BE A TEACHER
With your cast and crew, you have to be a leader. With extras, you need to shed that skin and be a different kind of authority. You need to become your favourite teacher. You need to be approachable but command respect, walk them through simply what they need to do, and help them along the way. Also, you need to use teacher tricks-- such as separating people who won’t stop talk. All-in-all: be firm but kind.