“That’s a cut” and “Back to first position” are just two of the new phrases my daughter and I heard a lot over the last couple of weeks as background actors for two films being shot in Sault Ste. Marie.
Having done a few local musicals, including a lead role with her beautiful tenor voice, my daughter became more interested in acting. When we heard of the movies being shot in town, I told her about the background and acting work I’d done in Ottawa in my twenties.
A casting call was posted online, and she said she’d like to go. After standing in line with more than 500 others, my daughter was cast as a background actor for the Hallmark movie. As she is not 18 yet, I also dusted off my acting profile and was also cast. For the second movie, a friend put us in touch with the casting person directly.
My daughter knew how much work it was to be part of a musical, but I wanted her to learn more about the business of film, if she was even mildly serious about pursuing it.
Background acting has been referred to as one of the more glamorous blue collar jobs. If you haven’t done it before, in a nutshell, you get paid minimum wage, or close to, for blending into the background. People looking to be discovered typically try to stand out, and that is exactly what they don’t want.
You bring your own wardrobe, usually at least two options, for the costume person to vet, which can’t be bright colours, nor patterns, and visible tattoos may be frowned upon, depending on the film. You also do your own makeup and hair, which may be adjusted on set.
Then, you wait.
I’ve had times were I was on set for only 1.5 hours, and other days that lasted 11 hours, but only 1.5 hours of that were anywhere near a camera. One of our days together, my daughter and I did shoots for both movies changing from summer student wardrobe to winter carnival goers.
Once you’re called, you get brief instructions on what they’d like you to do (which many extras seem to ignore) and then you repeat the same scene multiple times, until the director gets what they are looking for. Then you’re back to the holding area, waiting to see if they need you in another scene, or if you are “wrapped” for the day and can go home.
Like the mayor tweeted, these movies are “great news for our community. Productions such as this bring an economic boost.” Out-of-town cast and crew need hotel rooms and food, and they use local caterers and venues. Of course there are also the short term local jobs created.
Perhaps I was hoping that my daughter would be turned off the process of “hurry up and wait,” but I have to admit that it was a lot of fun doing it with her. She seems undeterred, so I’m happy to hear that Future SSM is looking to attract more movies. Until next time, my daughter will be waiting to hear her cue. With any luck, she will be performing when she hears “Action” and not when they then say “Background action.”