An 'Exclusive' Experience

Diary of a Movie Extra

A few weeks ago, Daren Firestone ’96 circulated an e-mail through Harvard acting circles looking for people to volunteer as extras. The film: Exclusive, a new independent short film he wrote and produced. Directed by Scott Schwartz ’94, the plot focuses on “a young Jewish girl who must hide her religion from her friends and herself.” Seeing as the film occurs in an exclusive country club, the desired respondents needed to have that certain ritzy look. So, I parted my blonde locks, washed my boyish face and gave Daren a call.

We met for an informal audition for the part of Jimmy the pool boy, who had all of two lines. Despite my performance as the Mysterious Man in Into the Woods junior year of high school, my acting lacked serious experience and needless to say, I did not get the part. However, Daren still invited me to come as an extra. So, last Sunday I traveled to Newton to be a part of Exclusive, with the desire to see how films are created and the vain hope of being in a movie. Here is a diary of my 15, er four, minutes of fame:

6:00 AM: My alarm begins beeping incessantly.

6:10 AM: I struggle out of bed. Two nights before, I had stayed out late for a Wesley Willis concert. Then last night, I was stupid enough to attend Quad parties until 2 am in the morning. I am such moron sometimes.


6:10-6:33 AM: After showering, shaving, and generally making a racket in my Mather bathroom, (much to the chagrin of my eight suitemates), I head off to Newton for the shoot.

7:01 AM: I arrive at the Levinthal-Sidman Jewish Community Center. The irony that a Jewish girl has to hide her religion in Newton, which is largely Jewish itself (much less in a Jewish Community Center) is not lost on me.

7:05 AM: I say good morning to an already busy Daren, who tells me to meet with Sarah, the woman in charge of extras. When I introduce myself, Sarah tells me to talk with Daren. I am still groggy and very confused.

7:11 AM: I put my bathing suit on underneath my clothes. This early morning in the middle of September is a balmy 45 degrees Fahrenheit. I have not jacket nor sweater. I hate myself as I shiver but the fog rising from the swimming pool creates this very cool swamp-like feel which makes me a little happier.

7:25-7:59 AM: After a hardy breakfast of coffee, a small muffin, an apple and coffee, I begin chatting with one of the other extras. It turns out that she works at the Harvard Medical School. Small world.

8:00 AM: Sarah calls us to get ready for the first scene. It is amazing the amount of technical equipment required to film a movie, even in a smaller production such as this one. There are the lighting people, the sound people, the camera people, the people to tell us extras what to do, not to mention the producers and the director. The actual actors are outnumbered 10 to one.

8:01-10:15ish AM: Shooting the first scene. “Scene 3, Take 1! Ready! Background! Action!” The commands are repeated over and over as Scott tries to get the scene exactly how he wants it. The three young actresses, aged five, seven and seven, repeat their lines; the girls bob up and down in the water, singing and playing between takes. My job is to sit by the pool and read a book. Things are looking up: I get to wear a white T-shirt so I don’t freeze to death and I have the greatest Civil War novel, The Killer Angels, to read. I pray that I don’t screw up. I don’t know how I could really, but I still have that nagging fear of messing up the one take which would have been perfect. “Take 18. Background. Action.” At least I’m not in the water.

10:30 AM: Break time. I soak my toes in the warm water to try and restore some warmth and semblance of feeling. The whole day I have chatted with the other extras. We discuss the terrorist attacks, our jobs and schools, movies and a wide range of other topics. There is even another Harvard student, a fellow Matherite. My only regret is that the extras were all normal and intelligent; there is no one to make light of in this diary.

10:45 AM: We get back into position to do the same shoot again, but this time from a few new angles. I get to read my book again.

11:07 AM: Colonel Joshua Chamberlain leads his Union troops in a desperate bayonet counterattack, crushing the Rebel attack on Little Round Top. This is one of the many key moments during the fighting at Gettysburg leading to the Northern victory.

Circa noon: Lunchtime. We have a whole hour to recover from our grueling sessions of chilling around the pool. I have a nice big turkey sandwich, a bottle of water, a bunch of carrot sticks and some M&Ms. We chat with the mother of one of the child actresses. The girl’s resume is already impressive: professional plays, competitions, sometimes beating out 300 other girls for three spots. Now her mother is considering hiring an agent for other movie and commercial opportunities. I feel as though I have done very little with my 20 years of life. Scott, the director, comes up in conversation. He directed Jane Eyre on Broadway, which was nominated for several Tony Awards, and he is currently directing two off-Broadway shows which are highly praised. This is his first film project. We are lucky to be working with such a talented and up-and-coming director.

1:02 PM: We are positioned for the next scene, and the air has warmed up considerably. To have a different appearance, I change my bathing suit and go bare-chested. I suddenly regret not having done 500 sit-ups a day for the past six months. Again, I am reading my book, this time in the hot sun on the opposite side of the pool.

1:34 PM: Since I only got four hours of sleep, I am quite tired. Lying in the afternoon sun creates a real struggle for me to stay awake. I relax my eyes in between takes, but luckily I maintain consciousness. At least I am getting a last little bit of sun before the long New England fall and winter set in.

2:09 PM: It dawns on me that I should perhaps be insulted that I have the right look to be a preppy anti-Semitic country club member…

2:45 PM: Another break. I drink a Coke solely for the caffeine burst. In the next scene I am a golfer walking in the background behind the central actors. I put on my khakis and polo shirt. Luckily, I have some caddying experience so I can carry a golf bag and look like I know what I’m doing.

3:05 PM: We begin shooting the next scene. I remember how golf bags are extremely heavy.

3:23 PM: My shoulder begins to get a little sore from all the walking back and forth with the golf bag.

3:40 PM: My right shoulder is killing me; I am forced to put the bag down between takes.

3:45 PM: I am told that the golfer is being cut from the scene. My four minutes of fame are down to two. Oh well. I sit in the shade to watch the scene with a cup of water.

3:54 PM: Suddenly, some of the crew are calling for the golfer again. I scramble to get the bag again, tripping over a lounge chair in the process. I am back in the scene, though a little more in the background this time.

4:30 PM: The crew is still filming the same scene, but now close up on the actresses. I get to relax and go sit down. I hit the Skittles on the food table, which melt in my hand and leave a sticky rainbow.

4:57 PM: Sarah thanks all the extras for our work. They are planning on filming a bit more but they have finished with the scenes requiring extras for the day. I thank her and Daren for this cool opportunity and leave, ending my brief brush with fame.

Spending the day around a pool is not such a bad use of a Sunday. I have a newfound respect for the complexities of making the films which we enjoy. For just a few minutes of mindlessly watched footage, countless hours of preparation, shooting and editing are required. Most audience members associate movies with Hollywood glamour and red carpet awards shows, but those who work on films still have to do a lot of very unglamorous work before a project is complete.

I’m told that Exclusive will be available on the Internet once editing is completed in a month or two. It will be cool to see the completed product of everything I experienced this past Sunday. Look for me, I’ll be the “Man by pool” or the “Man carrying golf clubs.” But I’ll still have my four minutes of fame…