Reflections of a Washington actress on working as an extra:
"When a movie comes to town, they need extras, which implies crowd scenes or at least a good number of people, so it naturally follows that several people will be called to work. Sometimes they cast locals in bit parts. The auditions are ridiculous. How do you audition someone to say, 'Yeah, come on, Bob'?
" . . . You hardly know the name of the film, much less what it's about or who's in it. Well, it's probably a difficult audition from both sides. For those auditioning, you figure everyone in the room can say, 'Yeah, come on, Bob,' and in the end it comes down to looks. I think. Who really knows? If you get a line, the pay goes up significantly and you might even get a credit line . . . It's not that the person who says the line is any more talented than any one of the extras; it's just that for whatever reason, that person has the line . . .
" . . . I remember doing 'The Man With One Red Shoe.' We spent most of the afternoon sitting out in the sun on the grassy island off of Dupont Circle. We were served a nice hot buffet -- the food on shoots is generally quite decent. The people are generally nice . . . all types. Some read; some napped; others gabbed.
"The passers-by looked at us with envy. People asked what was going on. We were special to them. That's the feeling we had. And we got paid to do that . . . to sit outside on a gorgeous day, while others shuffled papers at some desk job.
"I guess the bad side is that, after a while, you wonder what you're doing. You're basically being paid to stand by patiently . . . To come when you're called and take orders. Usually you get to react to the main action that's going on. It makes you feel like you're acting. The director actually gives you 'motivation.' That day on the 'Red Shoe' set, I went up and down the escalator to the Dupont Metro stop. I also crossed the street several times.
"What kind of a life is that? It really isn't very satisfying. It can get to you after a while. But if it's only once in a while, it's okay. The problem is, once in a while is not enough to pay the bills. You've got to do something else as well . . .
"I don't know anyone who just calls him- or herself 'an extra.' You're either a model or an actor. 'Extra' hasn't a whole lot of prestige."