When I was at Florida State University, I was heavily invested in my Media Production classes, and every so often my narrative writing teacher would send us e-mails about potential job opportunities or interesting articles. One day, back in 2007-2008, I received word that HBO was filming in Tallahassee for the film “Recount”, a retelling of the 2000 presidential elections, directed by Jay Roach and starring Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary, and Laura Dern. Auditions were being held in the Tallahassee Mall, so my buddy Karl and I hiked over and signed up for a day of filming; filming was all week, but we had classes, so we could only do a Saturday. Since we’re both averaging looking guys, we were locked for two extras, one conservative and one liberal (I’m about as political as Peyton Manning is a bad QB, so I had no qualms there).
The morning of filming, my friend and I woke up at 4 AM and drove to the old Capital Building, where filming was taking place. We arrived at this huge tent where we had to sign in and then directed to sit in the tent with dozens of other people, huddled around each other filling out pseudo-Union cards. As we waited and waited, more people came in with their coffee and information index cards. It was pretty dull, trying to wake up and stay pumped even though the start time had been delayed. By around 9 AM, we were finally told by a production assistant that they were just about ready to begin. FINALLY. I had been sitting around with mostly strangers, engaging in small talk, waiting to meet Kevin Spacey, and now they are almost ready. This was the first lesson I learned about film-making that day: it takes forever to set up.
We finally get organized into groups, depending on what type of extra we are: republican, democrat, food vender, sign holder, etc. Then, I get to spend some quality time with the wardrobe director, a woman who’s so frazzled because some of us didn’t read the e-mail carefully. See, a day before, all extras were e-mailed about what to wear and what not to wear. Since the scene in question called for everyone to dress like it was winter (as it was during the actual recount), I went with some long jean shorts, figuring it’d be OK. Nope, the wardrobe director is freaking out that I’m wearing shorts, so I have to go borrow khaki pants from the wardrobe truck. I must add that they were very comfortable.
Alright, now I’m dressed appropriately, and I’m ready to go. We make our way to the capital building, and the filming begins. The producer, Michael Hausman, is getting everyone pumped up for each take, while director Jay Roach is running around like a madman getting everything in place. It was surreal to be a part of a film, HBO extra or not. I was standing mere feet away from actors like Tom Wilkinson, Ed Begley Jr. and even Kevin Spacey. Oh, did I want to talk to Kevin Spacey so bad. Arguably one of my favorite actors, he just looked so chill on set. He actually appeared out of nowhere (when everyone was wondering if he was going to show up for that day’s particular shoot), emerging from behind one of the capital pillars, smoking and taking a break. At one point, during a lull in action, I walked to the concession area to grab a quick snack and ended up walking right in front of Spacey and Begley Jr. sitting down and talking. I was THIS close to saying hi, but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut, my reasons being that 1) while I’m sure Begley Jr. is a good actor, he’s not one of my favorites, so if I greeted just Kevin Spacey, it would’ve been an unfair snub, and 2) Kevin Spacey was probably in character, so for me to interrupt him and waste his time would’ve been disastrous. Shame I brought my Usual Suspects DVD cover slit with me for a potential autograph, but then again, had I bothered him, I would’ve been sentenced to a “Keyser Soze” attack on my loved ones.
What was remarkable about the whole process of being an extra was that I was officially a “Republican”, but throughout the day, I was a Republican, a Democrat, even a news producer (or maybe a production assistant). It was pretty fun to take on a variety of roles. I felt distinguished, even for just a short time. The only negative aspect was we had to appear as though it was winter, when in fact, it was spring heat, so standing around in khaki pants and a sweatshirt wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Despite all the positives and minor quibbles throughout, however, my biggest regret came late in the day. At one point, the scenes required were of random people in the crowds protesting the recount. One of the characters (it was either a man dressed like a big baby or a man dressed in wizard garb, I can’t remember) was enough of a spectacle that they needed extras to pass by as random onlookers. I was one of the extras supposed to pass him by, and I was admittedly nervous, but optimistic. This was my chance to get some screen time, I felt it. Unfortunately, I was confused by what I was asked to do, and when the assistant director signaled my time to walk through, I paused halfway and just stood there, looking at the main character. I didn’t realize I had to keep walking. The director said “Cut!”, and told me thanks, but they’re going again, and they sort of brushed me aside. I told them I can do it again, but he smiled and said “No, don’t worry about it.” It was truly disappointing, but I learned a valuable lesson: Pay Attention!
By the time filming was wrapping up, it was around 9 PM, and as enthusiastic as I was about being on set, even I was starting to get tired, not to mention a bit impatient. Filming requires multiple takes for every scene, but as an extra, it’s grating to stand there and wait…and wait….and wait to be told what’s going on. I was so ready to leave, but each time we finished a take, they wanted another one, so it was a waiting game. When production officially ended, I was so relieved, until I remembered I was still wearing official film apparel. I should’ve taken them with me, but then I probably wouldn’t have received my hard earned $96 for the day.
When “Recount” eventually premiered on HBO, I frantically looked for any shot of me in the Tallahassee scenes, but I was not lucky enough to make the cut. Interestingly enough, out of all the extras out there, I did recognize one guy that I had talked with; I can’t say “befriended” because it was really just random jawing in between takes, but it was still cool to find someone familiar out of all the extras. I still love that I can say I was in a film, despite me not having any screen time. My friend immediately put himself on IMDB and started his career with “Recount”, listed as “Food Vendor” (I was disappointed to find that he’s not on the site anymore). The fact that “Recount” won 3 Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe is even more prestigious.
Maybe I can add Emmy Award-winning Extra to my resume`…