Lucky Me? Maybe Not - A Day in the Life of a Vegas Extra, Part 1
I try not to complain too much about my money situation. I’m a freelance writer, so I made my choice long ago that my checking account will be forever frozen in the three digit status. I try to pick up some quick cash now and then, and occasionally I will do some work as a background actor (a delicate way of softening the reality - an extra).
I’ve done it for a few years and it’s hardly glamorous work. The treatment by the crew can be downright shabby at times, and some of the extras can have very problematic personalities, particularly those with delusions about being discovered by a scout on the set and given a principal part (i.e. dialogue) as if they were living out a hoary Hollywood myth.
Despite all this, bread is bread and cash is cash, so when the opportunity presented itself in late March of 2006, I picked up a day or two of work for the Drew Barrymore film, “Lucky You.” I wasn’t going to commit to more than that, but in early April, I got a call on my mobile phone. It was a representative from the agency that was handling the extras, an L.A. company called Rich King Casting. The message that evening went something like this:
Rich King Rep: Michael, this is Dan, thanks for coming today, I could use you again tomorrow. You’ll be a poker player for a World Series of Poker scene. Dress like you would if you played, and as you know, no whites. We’ll have the call times after 10 p.m., so call me back at (***-****), to find where you report and when you report to the set.
The message was a little garbled, due to my mobile’s waning battery more so than the rep’s articulation, but I have the info I need. Well, almost ...
I call the number to find out my call time after 10, nothing yet; 11, no luck; midnight, still no luck. I try one last at 12:45 a.m., before I hit the sack (that’s just enough time to catch Conan O ‘Brien’s monologue), but I still get the same line:
Hotline Message: Check back after 10 p.m., for your call times.
I wake up a bit later in the morning, around 6:15 a.m., and after I wash up, I have the presence of mind to call the hotline number. It’s a scene with a few hundred extras, as exemplified by the call times being grouped by alphabet (i.e. “if your last name begins with from a through d, your call time is...”). Rarely do you get your call times the morning of, and I felt it a little disingenuous when the hotline recording stated:
Hotline Message: It’s 10:15 p.m., and listen carefully for your all times ...
Funny, it wasn’t 10:15 p.m. at 12:45 this morning.
I wait for the alphabetizing process to run its course. My last name starts with a T, and sure enough, the “T-Z” people have call times of 9:12 a.m. Base camp is located downtown on an empty lot on Main Street and Ogden and they’ll be filming in Binion’s.
I arrive about 10 minutes early; no worries, I tell myself. I park at the Main Street Station Casino garage (great garage, there are always spaces available and no hassles with validation tickets, and this is even true for New Year’s Eve!). I check-in for my voucher and head into the tent. The craft service tables (where all the food is laid out) are clearly divided between “crew” and “extras.” The food for the crew looks reasonably fresh, with the assorted muffins and bagels; as for the rest of us, let’s just say the spread won’t exactly be featured on the Food Network soon. Add the fact that my call time is so late that it’s understandingly a dire selection. The scrambled eggs are so soppy that they run right through the strainer of the serving ladle; our bagels have an odd, putty like texture to them, and they were lacking in taste, sort of like the sodium-free, fat-free dinner rolls that my mom convinced (okay, nagged) my dad to eat when he developed high blood pressure.
Personally, I haven’t had anything so “taste-free” since I accidentally swallowed my dog’s chew toy when I was six (it was designed as a little hamburger; I’ve since learned my lesson). I settle for a glass of orange juice. “Yeah,” I tell myself, that should hold me over for the morning.
The tent is nearly empty, save for one other extra, a young Hispanic actor named Juan. I sit next to him and strike up a conversation. Friendly and literate, we have a pleasant exchange about films we’ve seen and actors and playwrights whose work we enjoy. Just then, a tall, gangly PA (production assistant), with a moppet of black curly hair roughly tucked under a hat that proudly emblazons the working title of our film, “Lucky You,” makes a decided beeline toward us. He clearly has a purpose in approaching our table:
PA: You guys have taken long enough slackin’ around. You’ve been here all morning, head to the set!
Me: What are you talking about? What do you mean all morning? Our call time was at 9:12.
PA: Well, it’s after 10, so you have to get to the set!
And with that he was off. Could it really be after 10 since it felt like I just arrived? For reassurance, I turn to John, whose quizzical facial expression offers me some comfort:
Me: What time do you have?
Juan: 9:19, I don’t what the hell he’s talkin’ about!
Me: He’s on his own clock, one for prickly PAs.
Juan: I guess we should head to the set.
And with that we hurry to Binion's.