In addition to being laid off, I have had very few interviews for all of my efforts. Two of them, including one for the position of Publications Editor at my former employer, turned out to be a bust and I’m still waiting for the word on one that I went to over two weeks ago. And it’s not like I haven’t been trying–I’ve submitted applications all over the place for positions that did and didn’t pertain to my previous positions as proofreader and writer. One of them, in fact, was for a local grocery chain that was in need of Team Leader, a position that I believed I as more than qualified.
The result? Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail I received from them:
We have considered your application carefully and unfortunately at this time we will not be progressing it any further. We will keep your application on file for one year to consider for future opportunities.
So despite my management and retail experience, I wasn’t even qualified to manage a small group of people or even stock pineapples at a grocery store. Well, fuck you and your fucking pineapples, man.
And that’s pretty much been the way things have been going all year.
As you can guess, at this point in my life I’m pretty frustrated with it all, but not to a point where I was planning to jump off of a bridge or anything. That would just be stupid, but that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling any more useful on the employment scene, although I have to admit that it sucks to be unwanted.
And just as I was about buy a bunch of oranges and start selling them at freeway exits from a Target shopping cart, a thought came to mind. I decided that if things weren’t going my way, and they damn well aren’t as of now, I was the one who had to start making things happen. My unemployment benefits are running out very soon and I’m not quite sure if I can get an extension so it is indeed desperate times for me.
In addition to still applying for jobs that I don’t seem to be qualified for in any capacity (at least in the discriminating eye of the employer), today I decided to take a step in a direction I thought I’d never go: that of an actor. Or in this case, an extra.
But let’s back up a bit. The last time I stepped on a stage was in First Grade when I read some dialog about Bing Crosby’s Mele Kalikimaka, something that the class performed or danced to or something for our Christmas program. Apparently, I was the only one in the class who was able to read the script in a manner that they felt was acceptable or, more than likely, was the only one in the class who spoke English fluently. I delivered those words so smoothly into that gigantic Shure 55SH (see inset) that people probably mistook me for Bing Crosby–a younger, fatter, Hispanic and very much alive Bing Crosby, but hey…
That’s been about the extent of my stage time and I haven’t been back since. Not by choice but just that the opportunity never presented itself otherwise. So why in the Hell have I decided to go this route? Let’s examine:
- Geographically, there’s no reason not to. I live in SoCal and I don’t need to remind you of all of the filming I see around here. People sell everything they have to have the chance to move to L.A. and make it big and here I am, some 41-year-old moron that’s lived here all his life and never really thought of it.
- I’m unemployed and can pretty much work whenever, wherever, and however long I’m needed.
- If my brother can do it, why not me?
In short, why the Hell wouldn’t I try to do this? I’ve lost the weight, I’ve changed my physical appearance, and I actually feel confident enough to give it a shot. And as I was telling Ann, I had to do something for myself after the crappy year-and-a-half I’ve had: something different, something new, something exciting. I guess this was my answer to all of those.
So a few weeks ago, I decided to send an e-mail to Christine, a former co-worker who has been through the whole process and knows the ins and outs of being an extra. (Note: she’s in this Honda commercial from :05 to :07). She verbally guided me through what I could expect before, when I arrived, and afterward.
I was hesitant at first but after getting that pineapple-stocker rejection e-mail, I was pretty pissed–and motivated to do more. So I decided that today would be the day to head down and get registered at Central Casting.
Now you may be asking yourself why I just didn’t ask my brother for any advice since he’s already been in a few shows and continues to get work. The fact is that we’re not really on speaking terms at the moment after I found out about him lying about my father’s past in order to make him (my brother) seem a bit more credible in the eyes of his Facebook friends. I’m not and haven’t been happy with that and it’s always been my impression that whenever I asked him for help even before I was unemployed, it was always a hassle for him, almost as if I was bothering him. And all he ever did was send me links to the Disney Careers Web site for jobs he knows I’m not qualified (read: lacking a degree). I don’t need to get into how defensive I can be about Dad.
And as it turns out, after speaking with Christine, it’s a more thorough process than the one he explained to me in this post. Gee, ya think I was lied to–again?
But I digress. I woke up early, juiced up the car, and headed down the freeway to get stuck in the usual Los Angeles traffic which, for whatever reason, there never seems to be a cause.
Central Casting is in Burbank, about 32 miles from Long Beach. It wouldn’t be such a bad drive but Interstate 5 can be a real bear most of the time and in fact, at one point during my drive I thought I wasn’t going to make it in time for non-union registration (between 10:30 and 11:30 am). But just as I was about ready to turn around and head home, traffic began to move once again.
One of the things that they stress about the experience is the parking situation. Registrants are required to park in the streets because doing it elsewhere will get them towed and when there’s a bunch of people there, parking is at a premium. So I ended up parking about 5 blocks from the building and had all of my paperwork filled out.
Then I waited in the crowd for orientation:
All of the people you see in that photo were here to register as well. As we stood in line, a woman went over everything we needed to know about the paperwork and refused to answer any questions until after she was done.
And that’s the one thing I learned today about getting involved in anything having to do with showbusiness: there are no exceptions. A prime example of this rule was when the woman running the show asked if anybody had a front-of-line card which, I guess, is some kind of privilege that is just as it’s name implies.
A young woman raised her hand and she was called forward with the others that had just been called. When she went up to the desk, she explained that she does indeed have one but didn’t have it with her. She was promptly told to get back in line where all she did was bitch to her friend about how she should be at the front regardless of if she physically had the card or not.
Again, no exceptions. She should have known better if she had already been there in the past.
Then someone’s cell phone went off during the orientation. It probably wouldn’t have been too bad but it was loud enough for everybody in the room to hear and the ringtone was Simply Red’s version of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” The person was warned that if it happened again, they would be asked to leave.
They got the hint real fast.
Finally, after all was said and done, lines were formed. I had to be in about the middle of everything and surrounded by people of all shapes, colors, personalities, etc. It was a really diverse crowd but as far as casting goes, they never know who or what they’ll need so all of us in the room eventually have a good chance of landing something. More on that later.
It had to be about 1 pm when I finally made it to the desk and turned in my paperwork. Once copies of my required IDs were taken and verified, I was guided to the line that led to a small room where pictures of the registrants were taken. Not professional shots but simple headshots so that when we call for a potential job, they call up our file on the computer and see if we meet the requirements of the production.
I paid my $25 fee and stood against the white background. I think I should have smiled because I looked kind of evil, but that could be a good thing, I think. (The $25 is only due once if you continue to update your profile every 3 years.)
So now that I’m all official and whatnot, what would be my next step in the process?
Calling. Lots of calling, which is what I did tonight.
We were given a list of phone numbers, the first of which were gender-specific. Once you call your respective number, you get a recording of what movies and TV shows are casting and what they are looking for. And if you decide that you meet the requirements, you then call another number and that’s when your profile is viewed and the decision is made.
So once I had a few minutes of free time I picked up the phone and called the number to see if anything was cooking.
The first show* called for business-type men from their 20s-40s to play government-type officials and news reporters. I felt that I was a pretty good match for both so I took notes to call them afterward.
The second show* was easy: men between 20-45. Again, pretty simple.
And so my first steps toward getting my proverbial foot in the door were about to be taken.
Nervously, I dialed the first number and was asked for my ID number and name. My file then popped on the casting director’s monitor (I assume) and within a few seconds I was given my answer: “I’m sorry, you’re not what we’re looking for, goodbye.” *CLICK*
Then I called the second number and before I could finish giving my ID number, I was told that they were all filled. *CLICK* But I learned something from this one: call earlier. If I had, I probably would have gotten in.
And with those two rejections, ladies and gentlemen, I have officially arrived in Hollywood. It felt more than special–it felt friggin’ awesome! What’s taking a chance if you don’t set yourself up for failure from the start? It’s not like I was expecting to get picked on the first day so what the heck, right?
Besides, it beats being looked over for a pineapple stocker. Unless, of course, they’re looking to cast a pineapple stocker.
Oh, and you might be wondering what that Dianetics icon is for at the top of this post. No, it has nothing to do with me but it was funny.
Just as I exited the building, I was hounded by a few people that I noticed had been standing outside for a while. One lady approached me.
“Excuse me, are you doing anything tonight?” she asked. Uh…okay…
“We’re having a seminar tonight at 7 pm that will let you know how to get your SAG and AFTRA cards. You think you can make it?” All I could think was “Jesus, I’m not even a step out the door and I’m already being hounded by sharks out for my money.”
“Uh, I dunno. Just give me whatever you have and I’ll give it a look.” The people looked deflated when I walked away. And it wasn’t until I got home when I started to read the fine print on all of the cards, fliers, and other junk I was given. And wouldn’t you know it (play video for maximum effect)…
…they were pushing the Church of Scientology. Yes, everybody’s favorite religion dreamed up in the mind of everybody’s favorite science fiction writer was on the prowl for new recruits. I even got the “Free Career Analysis” quiz that is designed to change my life. You know, like the one Stan was filling out in South Park? That very same quiz. And the seminar? Yup, it was at their Celebrity Centre. Sorry, Tom Cruise and Company, but I do have my limits on how far I will go.
All in all, it hasn’t been a bad experience so far. If anything, it’s been very memorable and I look forward to finding something for which I’m qualified. So tomorrow I look forward to another day of calling for potential gigs. This will continue daily until I actually land something, so it’s not like I’m not looking for work because I truly am. And should I get something, there’s a good chance that this will help my unemployment benefits down the line because, after all, I’ll be getting paid to be an extra and it will show that I’ve made an effort and have the proof to show for it.
Extras aren’t paid very much but they are paid nonetheless. At least this will look good on the ol’ re-zoom. I think.
If not then at least I’ll be seen on TV or in the movies and at this point in time, my ego could use all the stroking it can get. All of this definitely makes up for the non-union paycheck 🙂
A bit of advice to anybody interested in working as an extra. As this post is any indication, you shouldn’t respond to any of those ads you see in the newspaper or online that are trying to get you to pay some outrageous fee in the hopes you will might be picked for TV or movies. Like anything, if you want it bad enough, you will do most of the legwork yourself and work hard in getting what you want. Anybody claiming that they will get you jobs as an extra after you pay them a crazy fee is not to be trusted. You can do it yourself for only $25 and an investment of your time.
*During this process, I will not mention the shows if I don’t get selected for them. And if I do, I won’t mention them until after shooting is complete.