Today I’m taking a brief diversion from my snow-path-to-Dingle series to describe my adventure as an extra on a movie set last week. Thanks to co-worker Melanie Skaggs I took a vacation day from my work responsibilities and signed up to be an extra on the set for Laggies, a new movie directed by Seattle-based Lynn Shelton. It was a full day to be sure, but interesting.
Laggies is a story about a young woman who does not want to grow up, and when her boyfriend proposes marriage she bolts and is set on an adventure with some high school girls, until she falls for her friend’s father. Kiera Knightly plays the lead. I admire Knightly for her work in Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and Pirates of the Caribbean. She seems so good in historical stories, maybe one day she’ll play Elvy in a screen version of Sharavogue.
Sam Rockwell plays the father, and Mark Webber the jilted boyfriend. I became a fan of Rockwell also after his roles in Galaxy Quest and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I did not know of Mark Webber and so look forward to his performance in this one.
Our day began at 9:30 am, Base Camp in a parking lot adjacent to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where I work and where the scene for the day would take place. Base Camp consisted of a set of trailers for equipment and office space, dressing rooms, wardrobe and whatever. It turned out there were only three extras available that day, including Melanie, Dave Arquitt (a Port of Seattle electrician), and me. We were asked to dress like travelers, not wear red or white, and bring along two or three extra outfits so they could select for us. There was a wardrobe trailer packed full of options, and they found Dave (who was just coming off a shift) a purple woven shirt to replace his branded work shirt. We had fun feeling like pros while changing in our tiny dressing rooms.
A van delivered us to the airport along with the hairdresser and makeup artist, and we headed for the TSA security line because the scene would be at boarding gate on Concourse A. We were delighted to find that behind us in line were Webber and Knightly, escorted by some film crew. Knightly tried to disguise her identity by pulling a lock of hair across her face. In truth, it was not much good because she is very recognizable to those who know of her and she is every bit as beautiful in person as on screen (Melanie and I were envious!). But no one bothered her and we progressed easily through the concourse, stopping once along the way where cameras were set up to capture the walk under the “Clouds and Clunkers” art installation. Melanie, Dave and I got to precede the stars in this shot, and I got my hair fluffed by the stylist — how cool is that?
At the end of the concourse crew members were like bees buzzing around with activity. We had no idea what they were doing and for a while it felt odd being in the midst of but not really part of the activity. When they were ready to shoot the scene they finally included us. Our cue was, “Background!” and we knew it was time to take our places. Knightly and Webber were seated in front of a window with the nose of a big jet in front of them. The Background was made of up people in airport seats–us and set crew members dressed as travelers–looking like we were waiting to board a flight to Vegas. When an actor/flight attendant called for boarding, we background members all got up in a sequence, and Webber and Knightly stood up, and sat back down, saying their dramatic lines for the break up of their romance. There was laughter several times when one of them flubbed their lines. “Reset!” meant it was time for background to return to our places and shoot the scene again, which we did four or five times. We had fun hiding in the jetway and trying to stay quiet while the filming was going on.
We took “lunch” at about 3 pm, then came back for the close-up shots. Faces and hands, including the moment when the two lovers’ hands separate. We background folks milled about in the distance impersonating a busy airport terminal, nothing more than blurry figures. Our two main stars left at about 5 pm, and on her way out we got a thank you and a big smile from Kiera and her body guard. Then background and crew kept working for about two more hours to make sure we had any filler shots that might be needed.
There was a lot of activity going on in the sidelines, for sound, digital work under a dark tent, and more of which I have no idea. We were working beneath 40-foot ceilings and ambient light that changed several times with the weather. Pipe and drape had to be moved, camera angles shifted.
It was just one day in a life for each of us, but fascinating to participate in this industry and see how these movies are made–all the preparation, effort and energy, and the many people it took to get just that one scene. I now have a much better understanding of why those credits are so long at the end of a movie, and the production costs so high. Many thanks to Dave Drummond, Phil Andrade, and Lynn Shelton for including us in this day and sharing their world with us. Can’t wait to see the movie!