extra! extra! read all about it!

I reckon this picture of Sean O'Casey bridge in Dublin was taken close to where they had their cameras set up for the scenes filmed at City Quay. If so, that's the biggest I will probably appear on the big screen in the final production.


So here is part two of my LifeSlice story about my film “career”. If you missed the first instalment you will find it here.

I left things just as I was being taken up the stairs and towards where they were filming for the first time. Though there was a lot of activity on the first landing I was taken even further up into the heavens toward the second one. There was electrical equipment strewn all over the corridor up there and people scurrying to and fro. Sarah directed me into one of the rooms near the top of the stairs.

Upon entering I could see it was set up to look like a bedroom from the mental institution. My fellow male nurse extra Hertz van Rental was standing beside the bed plus another guy in white who apparently was a professional actor. Lying on the bed was a kid of college student age and he was being strapped down as I arrived. I stood there for a few minutes taking it all in wondering what I was supposed to do.

There was a one chap barking out instructions in a deep southern English accent. I presumed it was John Boorman himself, but it turned out it was the 1st Assistant director. I will refer to him as Charlie. He and the actor chap were going over how he was to use the fake needle he had in his hand. Then the kid on the bed started flailing around a bit on the bed as Actor and Hertz began to practise doing the straps around him. I presumed I was eventually meant to get involved in the restraining. I was SO wrong…

At one stage as Charlie was moving around the bed to perfect the shot he stood on my foot. Despite the size of me, that was the first time he realised I was there. After apologizing, he asked me my name and then told me he needed me to go into the next room. At first I thought I had been banished for getting in the way. However when I got there I realised what he had in mind.

For some reason the rooms were only half separated by walls. From about four feet off the ground there was a window which was opaque for about a foot then clear the rest of the way up. Charlie wanted me to press my face up close to the opaque part of the glass to simulate someone looking through from the adjoining room to notice what was happening to the patient on the bed.

And so I put my face up close to the glass, but seemingly it was not close enough. One of the other guys came in and demonstrated exactly what I was to do. He put me into the crouching position I explained right at the very start of the first part of my story. My biggest dilemma was keeping the uniform clean. Though he wanted me to press my chest right up against the wall, I told him about the no-leaning ban so he said to get as close as I could instead.

If you tried that position as I instructed, you will realise it was awkward. Imagine what it felt like standing there for several minutes! When I was put into the pose the guy left to go back into the main room. Another chap ran back into me with electrical tape and put marks on the floor where my feet were. It gave me the impression that I was being used merely for positioning, but nobody told me to get out of the pose.

Through the window I could hear much mumbled discussion. Then I could see what was clearly the figure of Brendan Gleeson arrive in dressed as a patient. The college kid who was obviously also being used for positioning got up and let the main man lie on the bed. Then I was told to take a step to the left, so I complied and assumed I was still required to stand as I was. I wondered if they knew they would have to move the tape at my feet.

The minutes ticked by, and from my perspective I had no idea what was going on. Though my face was close up to the glass, I was extremely self conscious about my breath fogging up the window and affecting the shot whenever they were going to do it. A couple of times different people came in and made slight adjustments to my stance. I must have been there a good fifteen minutes all told before anything happened.

Then finally someone yelled “Rolling!”, a yell which was echoed by others right the way back down the stairs. From my limited view up against the window I saw everyone get into position so I held my breath one more time. Eventually I heard the famous cry of “Action!” and Hertz and the professional actor began doing their thing. Gleeson started flailing wildly on the bed and they strapped him down. I could see the camera moving slowly towards him and the light aspect was changing behind him.

Finally, came “Cut!” I was asked to move back to my right. They did the whole thing again. And again. And again. The more I stood there in my weird position, the more of a prat I felt, but I figured that was all part of the process so I guess I really didn’t mind.

Finally I heard someone from the corridor say that I could come out. When I emerged from the room I could see an elderly man seated in front of a monitor. Now I know I can be paranoid at the best of times, but all the people around him were definitely giving me that look you get when someone had said something funny about you. I doubt it was anything derogatory, I assume the man, who turned out to be John Boorman, made some remark which was empathising with my contorted part in that particular scene.

Sarah’s colleague Chris was at the top of the stairs, and he told me to go “to where the others were located”. I took that to mean the extras room from where I had been originally summonsed, so I went all the way back down there. When I arrived, however, the room was empty. Now I started to think I had made a balls of the whole thing and was about to be politely told I was done for the day. Luckily, that WAS just me being paranoid.

Chris appeared at the door and said “What are you doing all the way down here?” Seemingly he meant for me to go to the first landing, where they were to film another shot. And so I went with him back up the stairs and lo and behold there were the other two male nurses, Mr Extra and Billy the Kid. They told me all the other extras who were kitted out as patients, were in one of the other rooms shooting a scene. Seemingly they did not need us just yet but we were to be on standby.

That was about two thirty in the afternoon. At seven in the evening, they called a wrap on the day. In that time, all the male nurses did was wait. After about an hour we decided to flout the no-sitting regulations. Between idle chatter between takes and staring blankly out the window, there was not much else to be done. Pretty much anything out of the ordinary became interesting after a while.

One thing I noticed was that as well as “Rolling”, “Action” and “Cut”, they would also occasionally call “Stop the Traffic!” When I looked out the window onto the South Circular Road I could see that there were two gardaí doing just that when so required. I guess Bono was wrong, and it’s not just rock ‘n roll that stops the traffic!

It was also interesting watching John Boorman’s face as a scene was being shot. He always sat outside the room looking at the monitor, and you could always tell by his face whether or not a particular take was worth keeping.

Then at one stage the pseudo-mental patients were sent for a short break down to the extras room. As they filed down the stairs someone above from the set which was one flight up dropped quite a heavy piece of equipment down the gap between the banisters all the way to the ground floor. Luckily it went straight down and made its loud crash without hitting anyone. There was a collective silence for a few moments was even quieter than a take from the shooting.

Alas the only other thing of interest from the afternoon was Charlie and a few of his associates staring out the window trying to ascertain which way the clouds were going to move so they would have sufficient light. The rest of us were just sitting around staring blankly into space. I suppose it was all hardest for Billy the Kid. At least Hertz and I got a bit of action, and Mr Extra had seen it all before. Billy threatened to go home several times, but we told him he was mad to do so since you would not be paid unless you had your docket signed by either Chris or Sarah at the end of the day.

Speaking of Chris and Sarah, and one point an older blonde lady walked up to Sarah and whispered in her ear. I was well into my trance of having been waiting in the same spot for hours, and I was drawn to noticing that the lady looked like an older version of Sarah herself. Just as it was occurring to me that it could be her mother, the lady walked away, and Chris walked up to Sarah and whispered, “Hey, you know what, she looks like she could be your mother!”

I guess the point of telling you about this incident was just how little it took to seem interesting, what with all the waiting around. I let out a loud gasp to show how weird I found it that Chris thought exactly the same as I did. He pointed to my reaction to prove to Sarah that he was not the only one to hold this view. She said that she had never met that woman before and quickly ran after her to see what she looked like!

Yes, the afternoon really was that boring. Finally, around seven, I heard the phrase “OK, everyone, that’s a wrap!” Thank God for that. The rumours throughout the extras room as we were leaving was that the male nurse scenes would be shot the following morning, and we were to be there at 7am.

And so it was time to come home and tell Sandra all about the day. Then around 10pm I get a call – it’s Chris. Funnily enough he introduced himself as “Hi, this is Chris from the film production of A Tiger’s Tail!” Er - yes sir, I do happen to recall where I was earlier that day!

Anyway – he asked me if my face had actually been used in shot that day. I guess I should have just said no, but instead I went the long way round and tried to explain what I had actually done. He cut me off mid sentence with a “so that’s no then” and told me I didn’t have to come in until one the following afternoon. Not only would it be a shorter day, but it would be more money since this time, they did need my car.

The second day was not only shorter, but a lot less interesting than the first, and that’s REALLY saying something. Around three o’clock the whole crew packed up and moved up to Collins’ barracks which was where the driving shots were going to be taken. The entrance to the premises was done up to look like that of a mental institution. All I had to do was drive back and forth up the Arbor Hill road and honk at people as they tried to cross the road.

Funniest part of the second day was being given directions from one location to the other. Sarah nominated one of the other drivers to give directions to the group. He was a short Dublin man in his late forties I’d reckon, and as he looked squarely at just one of the other drivers, this is something like the directions he gave:

“Well ya know da road dat leads up ta Kilmainham? Yeah, that one. Just take dat, then ya know the way ya toorn right den left den roight again, den straight on dowun, den its over the bridge and, yeah, ya know when ya toorn roight den left again at da pub on da corner der, well Arbor Hill is roight on yer left after dat!”

I was standing right behind the guy he was giving these wonderful instructions to, and apparently the look of confusion on my face was a source of amusement to everyone. When he finished I just said, “In other words, everyone follow this guy.” It was ok, sure I knew the way anyway.

And so we drove back and forth past Brendan Gleeson and the other mental patients for a couple of hours, when it wasn’t pouring rain that is. Billy the Kid was actually used this time as a male nurse escorting the patients out of the hospital, so he was happy.

Around half past five, we wrapped. I got my docket signed, and so my movie career was over. Or so I thought.

Having composed the first half of my blog post last Wednesday, I decided to let the Easter weekend pass before I finished it off. Then, as I was out drinking on Saturday night, my phone rang. Once leaving the pub so I could hear, I found out it was Sarah asking me could I do another couple of days’ shooting. This time it was to be downtown at City Quay beside the new Sean O’Casey pedestrian bridge. It wasn’t to be until eleven am, so I agreed to forego both my Easter Sunday and Monday.

I only need one paragraph to describe the two days. Apart from a bit of walking back and forth over the bridge as Brendan Gleeson ran past, together with a bit of driving in loops back and forth across the river Liffey, the bulk of the two days was spent waiting around the double decker bus that had been converted to house the extras on the set, which was located behind the Grant Thornton building on the quays.

So now, I reckon my movie career is well and truly over for now. All I can say is that even though it is nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds, even when you do get to be on set, it is definitely a worthwhile experience.

If it sounds like something you want to do and you live in Ireland, I recommend you sign up with www.MovieExtra.ie – you can tell them exactly when you would be available so that if they do get in touch, you can be sure it will be for something you can do. They need people of all ages and of all shapes and sizes. You even get a few extra quid in your pocket to go with it.

Just don’t be surprised if you are waiting around for long periods of time. You realise quickly that you are at the very bottom of the pecking order to those around you, though in this case at least, they do what they can to accommodate you – I was never found wanting for refreshments and the like. If I were asked and I had the time, I would definitely do it all again.

Now all I have to do is wait until Autumn 2006/Spring 2007 for the big release and see if my mug somehow gets its way into shot.

Click here for a full list of the "Lifeslice" stories


~s~ said…
What a great experience. I've gotten on T.V. a couple of times (talk and game shows). A friend of mine runs a talent agency and is always looking for extras. I might give it a try as well.

It would definately be fun to show your kids.
Anonymous said…
^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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