Friday, August 20, 2010

Extras: On Set for Misfits, Series Two

I love the E4 show Misfits. When it came on TV last year, I couldn't stop talking about it. I thought it was the best show of it's kind to be on television in the last decade. It was witty, entertaining and risqué. When I was asked by the sister of a friend if I wanted to come along to some extra work she was doing for the second series, my heart thumped at the chance. I was told I would be paid £85 for doing it, but I love the show that much, I would have done it for free. 

Misfits is filmed in Egham on a sort of derelict site that used to be Brunel University. The first thing I saw when my lift pulled into the site was Robert Sheenan, the Irish dude who plays Nathan. It was very exciting. The area was full of caravans, including one for each member of the main cast, complete with leather sofas and fridges. After filling out a form, we headed over to this derelict chapel. The temperature inside was bizarrely significantly lower than outdoors. It was hollow apart from a few of those plastic chairs you sit on at school, a couple of tables and a clothes rack. It didn't take long for the rest of the extras to show up. First was a friendly looking woman who informed us that she delivered Stacey's baby on Eastenders. Next came a Turkish guy who, within moments of entering, reeled off his CV, including his time as an international fashion designer and his theatre career. When more extras entered, the first two slinked off into their cliques. The woman who delivered Stacey's baby joined up with the other middle aged women, whilst the Turkish guy paired up with an equally egotistical male. 

I was inundated with questions such as "Have I worked with you before?", "What agency are you with?",  and my favourite, "What is this show about?" Memories of scenes from Gervais & Merchant's Extras came flooding back as they compared their CVs and experiences on the sets of such shows as The Bill, Doctors and Casualty. I pointed the similarities out to them, to which Stacey's midwife piped up in response "I actually find Extras very offensive." Immediately I knew this story would warrant a blog entry. "Why is that?" I asked, on the edge of my seat.

"I think he exploited the whole thing. There is a lot more to being an extra than what the show makes out. It just showed a bunch of stupid, desperate people, sitting around all day. And it's not like that. It's a lot harder than you think." Stacey's midwife said before going back to sitting around all day and talking to stupid, desperate people. 

It amazed me how competitive these people were. They were aged between 40 and 60, and seemed totally deluded with their own importance and potential. They talked about being an extra as if it were a career. They made their living by standing in backgrounds on famous TV shows. It was depressing, and I found it embarrassing to be associated with them.

We sat around in the chapel from 9 am until lunch time at a quarter to two. It was one of the most boring experiences of my life. In that time, we had only sorted out costumes for our first scene. We had to have formal wear, like we were reporters. I knew that they would have a problem with my clothes. It turned out that I had left one top behind (not a good start), but as the day progressed, I realised it didn't matter as the costume department seemed adverse to letting me wear anything of my own. The other extras seemed to get away with all sorts: one girl opting for a giant fur waistcoat, and another getting away with wearing the exact same outfit for two different scenes, even though she was meant to be a different character.

I was put in an unflattering V neck top from Marks and Spencer's. The Misfits wardrobe seemed to resemble a GCSE drama class' dressing up box. I sat uncomfortably in nylon trousers and the flouncy top until 5pm. We ate lunch in a separate building that had been turned into a makeshift canteen. There was wood chip shavings on the floor, cobwebs on staircases and broken ceiling tiles. It was all so unglamorous. The class room layout reminded me of being in school.

I noticed as I was eating the only vegetarian option on the menu, that the main cast were sat at the largest table in the middle of the room. Only Lauren Socha, who plays Kelly was missing. 

After lunch we were taken to the set. I got to walk through the hallways and see where those lockers are that are featured in the show. We passed this hall which had tons of people in, including the Nathan character dressed in a tuxedo, and inside a glass box that was later lit up with coloured lights. I can't imagine what plot that image would be integral to.

We hung about outside for ages. There were a couple of trucks full of stuff like multi coloured gaffer tape and wires. There were people littered everywhere with walkie talkies, whose contribution to the show seemed minimal. I thought there was meant to be a recession going on, and then you have five runners for one scene, who's only role was to say "Turning" after the director yelled "Turning." 

When we were led inside into another set of derelict rooms which looked like a construction site, I saw the set which was supposed to look like a canteen. It looked ridiculous. Like a school play set. It will be interesting to see what it looks like on TV, as I imagine it's far more convincing. I was positioned at the back, just in front of the camera, for a scene where us extras were reporters and had to inundate a one episode character, who had just discovered his power, with questions. The scene was clichéd. It involved us all shouting over each other as the guy looked intimidated with his over made up, harsh faced press officer standing at his side. We did it about ten times. My given line was "What's your favourite cheese?" When it came to shouting random things at the actor, I continued on this line of questioning by shouting things like "Philadelphia or Dairylea?", and "Cheddar or Brie?"

By the time this segment was complete, it was about five o'clock. We had to undergo a costume change which once again involved me being given tatty attire from the wardrobe. The next two bits that were shot were unbelievably dull.  They involved us entering the canteen and ordering a coffee, then sitting down, one by one. We did this over and over again. They kept changing the order we came in, changing where we sat, sometimes dropping people out of it altogether. I have no idea where the logic was in ordering. The other extras would get so pissed off if they were excluded from a shot. They'd walk off with a sour face and say bitterly "So I'm not wanted for this bit," then look at everyone for a reaction. This walking in and out in different orders went on for two hours. It seemed really disorganised and the extra director dude would tell one person what to do at the top of the queue, and ignore the rest of you. It became frivolous and tedious. I started to think that 85 quid weren't enough for all this phaffing about. 

It got to 7pm, and we were told we had two more bits to shoot. Luckily these were brief. The next one was done in one take, and involved us extras having to watch some UHT milk pots explode, before applauding and cheering. For the last bit, we had to resume our original positions in the canteen as the female lead of the scene walked in, ordered a coffee and sat down. She is meant to be the one off male character's love interest. Predictably she's a bitch to him and doesn't notice him until he develops his special power after the storm. The lack of original ideas or humour started to make fearful of the second series. What I had been a part of seemed bloody awful.

This female lead was dressed immaculately and had make up reapplied and her hair retouched every couple of minutes. The male protagonist avoided looking at the extras in the eye as though he might catch something from them. I began to really detest the whole thing. 

All the important jobs like sound, camera, framing, props, lighting etc. were all done by men.  There seemed to be an air of arrogance in their disorganisation. The other extras looked up to the cast and crew in a way which the latter two seemed to recognise, hence their blasé treatment of us. It really pissed me off, because I didn't feel like that. The scenes they were filming were rubbish. They were not making important television. They were simply following trends from other TV shows, such as the press conference bit, and the glamorous female lead paying no attention to the underdog, as he looks longingly at her and hangs on to her every word.

I got to casually walk past the main cast a few more times. I liked it because it made the process seem penetrable. The amateurishness, the apparent over staffing of runners, the unkempt site and naff script made the whole situation look like a bunch of people who got lucky, and the luckier they were, the higher up on the pecking order they appeared. So don't be fooled by glossy, televised exteriors, because behind it is a lot of bullshit, people with mediocre abilities and ideas who reek of self importance to make up for these facts. In other words(those of Friedrich Nietzsche to be precise) ABANDON YOUR IDOLS.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Do You Speak English, Alejandro?

I had an interview on Saturday. It began with an application to an Italian restaurant that is situated nearby. I got a call the next day from a man who was rambling at me in Italian for thirty seconds, before deciding to ask me "Do you speak Italiano?" I struggled to understand him as he spoke limited English down a crackly phone line, peppering his sentences with Italian words when, I guess, he didn't know the English equivalent. By picking up on key words such as "come in" and "day," I asked him if he wanted me to "choose a day" to come in. He misheard this as "Tuesday," and followed it with several "No's" before asking me to come in tomorrow at any time after twelve.

I strolled up to the Italian restaurant at about 1 o'clock the next day, and stood at that plinth fixture that they expect you to wait at before being seated. After a couple of minutes, I was approached by a waiter. "Hi, I'm here for an interview." He looked confused. 

"Two?" He asked, obviously not having the word "interview" in his vocabulary and assuming I was requesting a table. I repeated myself, slower and louder (the old foolproof method), to be met with a baffled stare. A woman then hurried in our direction to take over, and I informed her of my visit.

"Yes...?" She answered. "My name is Dolegirl," (obviously I said my real name) "and I have been invited here for an interview." The woman seemed to understand me, but looked as though I had come to the wrong place. I thought I had better name the bloke I spoke to yesterday, "I spoke to Rodrigo."

"No one called Rodrigo works here, " she replied. Oh shit. 

"Fernando?" I second guessed. The woman shook her head.

"Roberto?" I seemed to be reeling off the names that occur in that Lady GaGa song. After checking that I had come to the right restaurant, the woman said she would ask around. After an awkward wait in the doorway where I continued to try and work out the guy's name, the woman returned and told me "Antonio will be with you in a moment." 

I waited for ten minutes, watching the Italian waiters walk past me lackadaisically, wondering whether they should take my order or not. Eventually Antonio came out of hiding and led me to a table. "Are you English?" Was my first question he fired at me. Easy enough. He then asked me the same questions which he asked me on the phone: "Do you have experience?", "Did you serve Italian food?", and "Do you speak Italian?" He then rambled something and pointed to the cutlery on the table. I gave an equally rambled answer about customer service. I didn't think it mattered much as we both seemed to be pretending to understand each other. 

Antonio told me to come in on Monday and work a trial shift. I agreed and left. I didn't do it, and you may think I'm an idiot for doing so. Beggars can't be choosers and all that crap. But can you imagine the problems that would occur through not speaking the same language as your colleagues? Trying to explain that I was there for an interview was hard enough, never mind asking how the coffee machine works, or if table six got their meal, or did they remember that the child seated at table eight has a nut allergy. That is all my overactive imagination could think about.

Maybe beggars can't be choosers, but surely they can beg in their first language?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Young Ones

So last week I heard the news that Iain Duncan Smith wants to introduce incentives for the unemployed to relocate and seek work elsewhere in order to redistribute unemployment so people can break out from the "ghettos of poverty."
Now I'm aware of Ed Balls tirade against this, the similarities drawn with the old "get on your bike" Tory comment and how this proposal poses difficulties for those who have families and the uncertainty of keeping a job after you've got one. But when considering Duncan Smith's idea, people only seem to be thinking of it in terms of how it will affect those middle aged folks who have been unemployed for a long period of time, and have a council house to lose and a family to consider. No one at all looks at how this could possibly benefit the unemployed youths who are on the scrapheap, not even Duncan Smith himself.
As you're probably aware after visiting this blog, I'm 21 and have been unemployed since leaving college a year ago. It looks to me that it is fucking hopeless out there. I live on a council estate in Surrey which is plagued with underage pregnancy and unemployment. A majority of the people who I went to school with who live here follow an all too familiar pattern of leaving school without GCSEs or with very bad results, getting pregnant/a girl pregnant, and can be seen frequenting the streets having arguments with their partners , pushing their forever multiplying children in their pushchairs, whilst they walk with the generation before them who did the exact same thing. Now I'll take the opportunity here to point out that these people probably aren't trying to look for work, and have chosen unemployment and claim benefits as a lifestyle choice. However, I haven't. And I'm stuck here.
I look for jobs every working day as no one ever posts ads on a weekend. If you find ten new jobs in Leatherhead a week, you're lucky. You're even luckier if you find something you can actually do. At this point after a year of job searching, the only job I've been able to apply for and get an interview for in my home town was that one at Surrey County Council, and they called me last week to say I was unsuccessful. Of course I've widened my job search as far as Kingston one way and Guildford the other, and I've already bitched to you about the having a degree / working unpaid dilemma, and the seldom responses I get back from my applications, so I won't reiterate the extent of the job search frustration I have encountered. One thing I have noticed however when I look outside of my traveling limits is that there is a preponderantly more jobs in the direction of London. I live about 10 miles outside of what is officially considered London and I'm around 45 minutes away from Waterloo. To secure a job I would happily travel for 45 minutes or more, but I am stuck for there is no way I could afford the train fare.
The jobs I am referring to include your generic retail work and bar work. Shops always seem to be hiring at Westfield's and the like and in multiple bars. I must have sent about a hundred applications to different shops by now, and none of them have ever got back to me. They still may not get back to me in London, but at least the opportunities are not as few and far between.
As for bar work in my area, I would have to travel to get there, and that poses as an issue when you have to work late shifts as my last bus and trains would clash with the closing, leaving me stranded or having to permanently take residence at a mate's. If I could be relocated however, this would be solved.
It's not like my aspirations lie in bar and shop work for the rest of my life. But without a degree, and maybe even with one for that matter, I'm going to have to graft. There aren't opportunities for me in Leatherhead, and I need to make money to be able to travel outside of here, or maybe take driving lessons, get a car, and sort it out that way. The problem is that I can't seem to get a job at anything, anywhere. To start making something of myself, I need a bit of money behind me. At least a bit of bloody dosh just to be able to support myself finally.
So what if they got a bunch of people my age who are in a similar position, who want to work and make something of themselves but are struggling to get something in their area, and chuck us all into rented accommodation somewhere where there is more work? Obviously there's the issue of a deposit and if all the residents could find work in time for the next rent due date. So maybe a bunch of us should be given options of where we can relocate to. You pick a place that you can comfortably travel to from your current place of residence, receiving help with travel money if you don't have enough, and start applying to jobs. If you get an interview, you go. If you get the job, you get to move in.
I'm not saying this is flawless, but I believe it's workable. It would help me massively, whether I was relocated somewhere in London or just moved 35 minutes up the road to Surbiton.
After all, this estate terrifies me. I can see what it's done to generations of people. They fester in the ennui of this place. All I've thought about since I can remember is getting out, before I become disillusioned enough to drown with the