My Time As A Pretend Stewardess in a German Film

(aka my first movie extra experience)

Not from the movie

I fully recognize that my acting skills are … well, they’re on the same level as a lot of TV and movie stars, actually — but still extraordinarily shitty.  However, that has not stopped me from aligning myself with a casting agency that specializes in extras.  Because life is too short to never be a blurry figure walking next to something in a TV show.

Usually (and by “usually,” I mean, “Every single time up until now”), I would throw my name into the ring and be met with silence.  Understandably so: aside from the fact that everyone and their brother is signed up for this casting place, very few casting directors are interested in putting an unnecessarily tall woman into the background … unless the scene calls for unnecessarily tall women to be in the background.

But, Monday night, I got the call: I would be part of the airport scenes in an upcoming movie.  I would need to be at Logan Airport by 6 am — could I get there in time, and hair & makeup ready?  Oh, of course.  It only means I have to wake up at 2:30 to be out the door by 3:30, in order to catch the first blue line train into Boston, in order to get to Logan at 6 o’clock in the %$&#ing morning.

And that’s exactly how it went down: I woke up at 2:30 in the morning (and — at that point — I didn’t really “sleep” so much as I took a long nap) to do my hair & makeup and chug enough coffee that would kill a small mammalian creature.  I get out on the road by 3:30, swerving my way around night construction until I get to the Wonderland Station in Revere, feeling every bit like a hungover stripper, complete with the glitter makeup and excessive hairspray.

I get to Logan airport right on time and sign in at a conference room at the Airport Hilton.  Within minutes, the wardrobe lady comes in and asks if any ladies brought black high heels and is a size 8.  I’m a size 8.  I have black heels.  I raise my hand like the proud schoolchild I am and like that I am upgraded from unnamed patron to stewardess #3.

A brand new wardrobe, touch up on the makeup by a professional … I look like something out of Pan Am.

After getting my hair and makeup redone, we’re brought out to Terminal A in Logan.  The producer looks vaguely familiar and the director looks like Phil Collins mixed with Bob Hoskins.  I look over and see two more stewardesses, only with incredibly more detailed makeup and intricate hairstyles.  I genuinely wonder to myself why I didn’t see these extras in the conference room.  After listening to the director, assistant director, and two done-up stewardesses, I realize two things:

1) This movie is very much not going to be in English.
2) The extras I was gawking at were actually the stars of the movie.

Every extra ends up being used throughout the entire day, which is usually unheard of.  According to those who are extras on a regular basis, the day is usually spent in the conference room, wasting time until they call your group up.  Instead, we spend all of the morning and afternoon walking up and down the skywalk by Terminal A. One scene involves all of the flight attendants to walk down the hallway together (until another main character stops one of the stewardess main characters and we continue on our merry way).  After walking behind the not-actually-extras-but-big-name-actresses-in-Germany for a few hours, the scene is completed and we move to a different part of the hallway.

For another scene, everyone walks down the corridor and around a corner as two characters talk.  As a “noteable” extra (aka someone in costume), I only walk down the hallway once.  Everyone in everyday clothes turns to walk in the other direction once they reach the each end of the hallway.  I watch from the sidelines in awe, amazed at how much timing and organization is involved to make the hallway look like a regular, crowded airport corridor.  I’m also amazed that I’ve never noticed this trick of using the same extras over and over and over for the same scene in any movie or TV show I’ve watched — which I guess is kind of the point.

Halfway through shooting, it became obvious that the language barriers were becoming quite the insurmountable obstacle.  We would be directed using words that were close to what the director wanted, only to get frustrated that we weren’t getting it and start manhandling people instead.  Or perhaps that’s more of a culture clash than a language barrier.  Who knows.

But nothing is as funny as the people who would inadvertently become extras.  While some areas would be temporarily blocked off for key scenes, others — like the one where everyone walked up and down and around the corner — were kept open.  And I’m not sure what was more amazing: those who would ruin a shot by standing around, pointing at the camera and talking, or those who were so wrapped up in catching their flight that they zoomed on past, looking very much like the airport patrons we were trying to portray.

Friggen Reveeyah

We were dismissed after lunch and I made my way back to the Hilton, changed out of my clothes, and started my long journey home (with a brief stop-off at Revere Beach to soak my aching feet in the cold Atlantic Ocean).  As I’m slowly making my way up 93, I got a phone call from the casting company, letting me know that there has been a change and they wouldn’t need me tomorrow after all.  I thanked them for letting me know and continue on, slightly let down that I wouldn’t be working a second day.  Fifteen minutes later, I have this phone conversation:

“Hello, Abby?”
“This is Becka from Boston Casting.  Were you a flight attendant today?”
“Ah, yes, I was.  I became a flight attendant at the last minute.”
“Okay, so I know we just said we wouldn’t need you but… can you come in tomorrow after all?”

Since I was technically a character extra, I had to come in earlier on Wednesday.  Since I was coming in before the T was open, I was told to park directly at Logan (where they would take care of my parking expenses).  Because that’s just how public transit works, I found myself leaving at the exact same time as I did on Tuesday, because getting to Logan via car by 5 a.m. takes about the same amount of time as getting to Wonderland Station by 5 a.m. in order to take the 5:15 bus to the Airport station (and a shuttle bus to the terminals).

Day Two. Exhaustion is starting to kick in.

Shooting that day was a little different than on Tuesday.  For most of the morning, we hung around, with only a few extras being used at a time.  We were also in Terminal E, right on the ground level where arrivals from international flights, well, arrive.  This meant we had more time to sit around and chat.

My favorite part about modeling has always been getting to meet new people, and being an extra was no different.  I might’ve idly chatted with a supposed German celebrity on Tuesday, but my eyes lit up when I talked with one extra whose side job was coaching MMA fighters for Bellator (aka the minor leagues compared to, say, the UFC).

Being on the sidelines meant I also got to watch everything go down, which included the inadvertent extras.  While we had our gawkers, our too-busy-to-notice passengers, my favorite had to have been one lone Asian college-aged boy, who walked right into the shot before turning around, seeing the cameras, and stopping to watch until the director yelled cut.  Coming in second was the lady who just had to use the Pay for Parking kiosk right by the cameras (as opposed to the five others around her), giving everyone the stink-eye for daring to block that kiosk (as opposed to the one that was fifteen feet to her right).

I spent the afternoon walking over and over again in a crooked C shape path, strolling into the shot with a fake pilot and back out.  We had to pretend like we were knee-deep in co-worker pleasantries, which involved saying the phrase, “Nice day for a flight” over and over and over again.  The next shot called for me to walk straight down the hallway next to a male flight attendant, also while knee-deep in pleasantries, although his comments were sardonic enough that I couldn’t help but break from of my Stepford Wife Smile.

At some point, my shoes became the topic of conversation.  I had learned my lesson the day before and went in with bandaged toes to prevent blisters.  I was also taking off my shoes every damn chance I get because girls who are 5’11” are not used to wearing heels for longer than 10-minute sessions.  Both the director and producer said something about how my feet must hurt — or, at least I think the producer said something to that effect.  He pointed down to my shoes and said something in German, and I responded the way everyone does when they don’t know the language: smile, laugh, and shrug.

The shoot wrapped two hours later than the day before, but somehow I got out of Boston with less traffic to deal than on Tuesday.  I then promptly went home and took a nap, because — while I tend to avoid naps even when I’m bone-tired — waking up at 2:45 two days in a row will throw off your concept of day versus night.

Three days later filming and I’m still trying to get back the sleep I lost on Tuesday and Wednesday.  But it was still an incredibly fun experience.  As a non-SAG member, I didn’t get paid very much; broken down by hour, I essentially got Massachusetts minimum wage.  But no one was there for the big bucks.  Everyone was there because it is actually a lot of fun to do.  It’s a break from whatever routine we usually have going.  It’s a chance to meet new people and try new things and gain a little bit into insight on how this crazy movie-making process works.  Maybe you’ll get a chance to see the back of Denzel Washington’s head (not in a German movie, but I’m sure in others), but that’s just a somewhat-unexpected perk.

The only drawback is that life kind of goes on pause when you have to be on set by 5 or 6 a.m.  Going back to being a proper adult is difficult when you have barely hit college student levels for the last 48 hours.  And it’s only made worse when you decide to blog about it instead of, say, doing dishes or returning emails.

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