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.


  1. Enjoyed reading this! I was an extra in a film once too, you summed the experience up well there. A very odd bunch of people, extras. Bit dissappointed to hear of your bad vibes about the second series. Although, I was thinking, a lot of the constituent parts of the first series could have come across pretty dumb on their own too - I always felt like it was the strong character bits that was what made it come together really... hmmm... fingers crossed anyway! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ah cheers. Yeah I agree with what you said about the strong character bits. I'm hoping that the stuff with the main cast will pull the series through. Just seems like, for this series, they're introducing a lot more one off characters. So yes, we shall see...

  3. Hi there

    I was actually an extra on that show too! It did seem to be pretty badly organised and throughout the filming they didn't seem to know when they needed us extras or even what we were doing! It was all very confusing :s
    -Mark Corrigan

  4. Oh really? You have the same name as David Mitchell's character in Peep Show!

  5. Who do you think the character was based on? ;)
    =Mark Corrigan

  6. I must say that reading this blog had been informative, and a little daunting since I have agreed to be an extra on this show tomorrow for the 3rd series. I have never watched the show, so know nothing about any of the characters, or the storyline, so will probably offend those who will expect me to be in awe of them... If I had anything better to do I would probably give it a miss, but as I am un unemployed student the measley £65 they are offering for the day is sadly tempting...thanks for the heads up on what to expect.

  7. I just stumbled across this blog -- and I appreciated your name and shame list! Since you're not posting anymore, I'm assuming that you got a job. Can you update us sad-sack jobseekers? What happened? How did you do it?

  8. I just stumbled across this blog -- and I appreciated your name and shame list! Since you're not posting anymore, I'm assuming that you got a job. Can you update us sad-sack jobseekers? What happened? How did you do it?