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Movie Extra

There aren’t many of us that don't secretly wonder what it might be like to be on the silver screen. Perhaps as the leading lady or the handsome hero, or maybe just for the experience itself. I definitely fall into the latter category.


I have never really given any serious thought to being an actress; at school, I had little desire to be the centre of attention and until very recently the mere idea of public speaking was enough to make me break out into a sweat. This being said, I have always been an avid period drama watcher, following on from a degree in History, and since starting 25before25, public speaking doesn’t hold the same terror that it used to.


So the shiny, new, confident Emma decided to give it a go, and signed up to an extras casting agency. Three months later, I finally got the chance to be a ‘supporting artiste’, which made the whole thing sound far more professional than it actually was.


The excitement of the idea of being in a film meant I was perfectly alright with the 04.30 alarm on a weekend, and for once got up without needing to snooze my alarm six times. Getting to the unnamed central London location for 06.00 meant at least there was absolutely no traffic either.


I walked into a large hall, filled with long rows of at least twenty dressing tables, with mirrors lined with lights on three sides; makeup and hair products covering the tables – exactly as you’d imagine they should look like.

After a quick breakfast, I was whisked straight into one of the chairs and had my hair put in tight rollers and my nails painted. The idea of being paid to have a full makeover was definitely a positive one, especially when I had a night out planned later.


I was then hurried over to the costume department and fitted into a floor-length purple ballgown, with padded shoulders and sequins down the left hand side – entirely appropriate for the scene being filmed that day. There were some surprisingly comfortable heels to go with it, and a black feathery headpiece for the hair and makeup team to weave in.


Back in the beauty chair and curlers out, my hair had shot up into tight ringlets, ending just below my ears. Sue-the-stylist managed to tame this mess into a 1940s-style elegant mass of curls, in a way I’ve never seen my hair before. With some deep reddish-purple lipstick on, it was time to get on set.

I had heard that there was often a lot of hanging around on set and behind the scenes, waiting for things to happen, so I’d come prepared with some work to do. However, I must have been with one of the most efficient teams in the industry, as there was virtually no waiting around whatsoever.


In the five minutes that I did have, an older gentleman in a crisp tuxedo sat down next to me and started asking what I did for a living. After trying to explain 25before25 in thirty seconds, I asked the same question. I had had the good fortune to sit down next to the leading actor’s father; his parents are extras in every film he’s ever been in, following him around the world from set to set. I had a new-found respect for the incredibly famous man I spent the next ten hours standing near.  


In another fortuitous coincidence, my ‘date’ for the day happened to be an old hand at being a supporting artiste, with several films and TV shows under his belt. Over the course of our rather intense ten-hour relationship, he dissected the film crew for me, pointing out who was the Director, 1st Assistant Director (AD), the 2nd AD and the several people who were 3rd ADs. There was the Director of Photography, the boom-holder and about thirty crew members who did everything from powder our noses in between takes to relighting our herbal cigarettes with a mini-blowtorch.  

All this showed how strictly hierarchical a film crew was, something I had no idea about beforehand; everyone has their own very particular job carved out, where they do no more and no less than that. The whole thing operated like a well-organised military machine, which perhaps explains the need for the strict structure.


What was also noticeable was the security – unfortunately I am unable to share any details of the film beyond ‘1940s’ and the opportunity of taking photos was very limited. I found this surprising; I’ve experienced far less stringent security around topics in the actual security world before.


The Verdict


I absolutely loved the experience of being on set and going through hair and makeup. Having the opportunity to totally transform yourself into a different person from another era is exhilarating, especially to a history buff, and I can easily see how people can end up doing this as a full-time career. 

Whilst I’m sure the novelty would quickly wear off, and as you can see this career ticked very few of my boxes, doing it every now and again as part of a portfolio career is definitely something I want to actively pursue because, hey, it was really fun.


My concern with working in Crisis Management, for example, was that it there was no non-desk based work and not especially creative – well this very strongly ticks exactly those two boxes. Perhaps combining these two careers would lead to a fulfilling career in two completely different industries.


But if nothing else, watch out for the long purple dress in a film coming to a cinema near you in 2018.

Have a read of other careers in 25before25 on the blog page.

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