Being and extra on a big budget film (for Australia)

Well, on Monday I was an extra on a reasonably large budget film, and I can tell you that being an extra can be summarised as interesting but boring.

I got up at 5am, so I could pick up a friend at 6:15am, to get to the Rosewater Oval in time.

To be honest, I didn’t sleep much the night before, I kept thinking about what if I forgot something, or what if my clothes aren’t good enough, or how awesome it would be to help out.

Well we arrived at location, with the early morning mist still hovering in the air. After handing in our model release forms we waited, and waited. Eventually around 7:45am all the extras were gathered into a group and given a brief talking to. The scene was that of a football match (as the email we received the night before explained), and we were the crowd. The extras were lined up along the oval, then sorted roughly into teams before being given our final places, where we stood and waited. I’d forgotten to bring any decent reading material, but spent the spare time talking to my friend.

Eventually the film crew rocked up, and my eyes lit up. Goodies! Big cameras, tripods, reflectors, diffusers, and people running around with radios talking to each other and organising stuff. Having done a lot of work towards making Schoolyard Justice, I appreciate the amount of work required to create a reasonable Australian/Hollywood movie. I heard estimates that the production has a budget of ~$3million.

Back to the waiting. The football players, seemed to be mostly wannabe actors who were previously extras in other scenes that had been roped into playing. Although some were too young for that. Still, they managed to spend their time warming up, while I was glad I was rugged up with a bright blue jumper and nice thick red scarf. The football players/actors then had fake dirt, and sweat (I think it was spray on grease) applied to make it look like they had been in the dirt, although some of them had been already. After the film crew had setup the game began… probably over 8 times. That’s the thing with films, once isn’t enough. I think every shot, from every angle was redone at least 5, and usually 8 times. When the actor steals the ball at a toss up, and the crowd goes wild, they have to do the sequence many times, and on demand. The hardest bit was that we were meant to be looking at the football game, but the players would play for a little bit, and then the camera might focus in on the coach, and with the players no longer running around you had no reference point, no idea if you should be cheering or booing, and your eyes drifted to the camera. A big no, no.

Things perked up when Alex Vega arrived on set. She was the main girl in Spy Kids, but has significantly grown up, and filled out since then, and in all the right ways. She was very hot, and was very good at being the peppy American. She had people fussing over her occasionally, and at one point someone gave her a slurpy (iced soft drink), and I almost felt sorry for the person who had to drive around and get it. But in general she seemed very nice, was happy to talk to the occasional bunch of extras when she wasn’t in front of the camera, and occasionally had her photo taken with them. She also seemed a little flirtatious with some of the ‘spunkier’ male actors, but I think that’s probably just her personality, especially when compared to all the Aussies on set.

As the day draw on the the extras were moved a couple of times, and at one point the blonde girl that had been standing next to me and occasionally keeping me from being too bored, was moved next to Alexa and was meant to look like she was her friend. If they use that shot, she’ll get some decent and recognisable screen time for a random extra.

At one point we had to film the crowd leaving at the end of the football match. Initially my friend and I were told to walk behind the main building, which we had to repeat 10 times, even though the camera wasn’t on us. We were then told to walk another way, around the front to the other side of the building. Again repeating until our feet didn’t want to move. Then they changed their minds again, and we were told to stay and chat to each other, while most other people left. So there’s possibly some footage of us two talking to each other, in the background of some scene where Tommy (played by Luke Arnold) talks to his love interest Kat Rogers (played by Alexa), after the football match.

Some things I noticed about how the movie was being made.

  • They had two RedOne cameras. The RedOne is something I dream of owning. It’s a high quality, fully digital camera, with all the mod cons, designed in a modular way. A film makers delight, and at very attractive prices, except when your almost broke…
  • They were filming at 4K res, in Raw. The best quality you can get, although the sheer hard drive space, and post processing required is incredible. I’d guess they would need over 1.5Tb of Hard drive space for the raw footage alone.
  • They were using high quality Arri zoom lenses.
  • The second camera was setup on a steadicam, with a more simple (likely prime) lens, and the camera operator attached the setup to the suit on their body using a pneumatic looking arm.
  • When using the steadicam, they had a remote controlled focus controller, and viewing monitors!
  • They only used one camera at a time (this one perplexed me, there was times when they could have used both, maybe they didn’t have enough people, or the configuration of the cameras didn’t allow it easily?).
  • On the main camera they had two display monitors, with different extra information depending on the person viewing. Histograms and basic information for the DoP, and some other display (that I didn’t recognise) for the focus puller.
  • They physically measured some of the distances with a measuring tape, and used a laser range finder at other times. I believe they physically measured the distances for when the focus needed to be very specific, but used the range finder when there was going to be a lot more action and they likely closed the aperture (increased the DoF) as it wasn’t going to be as predictable.
  • The lenses had very nice bokeh (from what I could see), and generally a very shallow Depth of Field.
  • TRUCKS, there was 2 trucks just for all the diffusers, reflectors, tripods, tents, chairs, and basic equipment, another bunch of trucks for everything else, and Alex Vega got her own trailer.
  • They used diffusers whenever the sun was out (and especially when filming a close up). They had two main diffusers. One was an approximately 1×1.5m rectangular frame with a soft light diffusing material inside. The frame could be held up by a single person, but it would usually only affect 1, maybe 2 people onscreen. The second diffuser was a giant frame, probably 5x5m square, and required assembly by two people, with a big, but translucent canvas stretched around the metal frame, which was held up by two heavy duty tripod like legs, which were sand bagged to prevent the setup falling over. The whole thing needed at least two people to move it.
  • They only used reflectors near the end of the day when the sun was nearly gone, and dark clouds had filled most of the sky.

Some interesting notes. Only about 1,700 RedOne camera’s have been produced so far, to have two of them indicates that the production team either put an order in early, or are likely hiring the equipment. Either way, I’m jealous.

Please note : At no point did I sign anything that even resembled an NDA. However should someone have an issue with the content of this post, I will obligingly remove it.

Categorised as film

By Michael Kubler

Photographer, cinematographer, web master/coder.

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