By SOPHIE STONE.

 

Last year I, along with around fifty other students from Albany Senior High School, was offered the chance to be extras for TV2 sci-fi show The Cul De Sac.

The show was being filmed in our school, hence why we were offered the opportunity, and many of us were excited about being part of a show that is now airing on Sundays. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but we understood that it would be an interesting experience, and also that some of us would be chosen to have bigger roles, as featured extras. This in itself was excitement enough as we looked forward to the next six weeks of filming.

On our first day of shooting, we were required to arrive at school for a 6:30 (in the morning!) start. Weary and cold (this was during a chilly Autumn morning) we piled into one of the communities, chatting to each other quietly and commenting on the bizarreness of being at school in the dark.

Around half an hour later, the Director, Stephen, came in to explain to us that we would be shooting outdoors, and that we’d begin shortly after the sun came up. He left and we continued to chatter among ourselves, many of us friends enjoying something of a hangout.

At seven we were selected in groups and directed outside. Saying goodbye to the warm embrace of indoors, we piled outside, shivering and moving to where we were directed to. A hair and makeup woman (sadly I don’t remember her name, our interactions with her were very brief and consisted of getting a once-over, or perhaps having our collars turned the right way out) checked us over, making sure that we weren’t wearing anything with a logo on it (to avoid a potential lawsuit) and were dressed appropriately.

At this point the stars of the show arrived. We received our first look at Greta Gregory, Molly Leishman, Simon Mead, and KJ Apa. At this point in the show we were instructed to stay in our area, having random conversations with each other on film, until we reacted to an imaginary lightning bolt, and ran to the doors, begging to be let in. As the weeks progressed, we would often come back outside again to film a shot which would be put with this scene. At one point we were instructed to run wildly, jumping over benches and pushing past each other in fear to get to the door. I remember people had a lot of fun yelling and shrieking at that part, enjoying the opportunity to let their wild sides out.

On another day, we came outside to find a number of small children standing around. Each of us were assigned a “little brother or sister” for the scene. Myself and my friend Amy had a particularly sassy young girl who enjoyed snapping her fingers. In the scene we were required to usher our little siblings forward protectively, trying to help them reach the school. The little actors were all very cute, and it was fun to act with them.

While we weren’t paid (as opposed to ‘featured extras’, who would have more prominent roles onscreen and potentially a line or two) we were provided with Subway lunches each day we were on screen. Half a sub, a cookie and juice was standard fare, and it was always a fight to get to the chicken sub each day before you acquiesced and took a ham, beef, or veggie one.

The downside to being an extra, other than the early start, was having to stand around for long periods of time, sometimes in cold weather, and the fact that days could last up to ten hours.

On the last day of shooting, when a smaller group of extras and I were taken to Takapuna Fire Station and were dressed in the scruffiest looking clothes you can imagine (think scarecrow) which the show had provided for us, I was required to crouch down during a shot. My knees ached after that, but on the plus side we were provided with Nutella on toast and hot chocolate, a perk of it being the last day of filming.

The other downside was doing the same thing over and over again. One day I was required to walk up a few flights of outdoor stairs with two other girls in the background of a shot. Over and over we walked up and down the stairs, until at last, the shot was over.

That’s not to say it was all bad though. One of my best memories as an extra was a night scene, which took place a while after the apocalypse had begun. We all needed to look dirty, so we were directed to make up ladies, who covered us in fake dirt and grime, smearing it all over our faces, shirts and jeans, and ran grease through our hair. They also instructed all of us to roll around on the floor in order to get as dirty as possible. That was a part everyone enjoyed.

Another upside was when my friend Bree and I were filming an indoor scene, sitting on the floor of the cafeteria, and in between takes got the opportunity to chat with Simon Mead, playing antagonist Doni. It’s often true that the actors who play the meanest characters are, ironically enough, lovely in real life, and he came across as a down-to-earth guy with a lot of talent.

One thing I will say to aspiring extras, however: be very wary of online agency sites which promise you work. My friend appeared on Shortland Street after signing up to one, and so I decided to do the same, thinking it would be a cool opportunity. Luckily, before agreeing to do anything, I checked the payment details online and found that there was an annual fee well over two hundred dollars that people are required to pay if they get any paid work from being an extra on any show (such as Shorty). That being said, if you have the opportunity to be an extra and there isn’t a sneaky catch, it can be a really fun experience.

All in all, I was spending days with my friends, and for me that made the whole thing. But the opportunities I was given during those six weeks were awesome, and I enjoyed the experience.

 

The Cul de Sac airs Sunday nights at 6pm on TV2. It is also available on TVNZ On Demand.

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