Recently I was cast. That is a poor choice of words. I was picked to be an extra in a commercial for a major Atlanta airline. You can decide what company I’m talking about.
I knew there was no glamour in the job, it was just something to do and you got paid. This one was above average because it was paying union scale. A far cry from when Cecil B. DeMille paid five or six thousand people five dollars and a box lunch to sit in the coliseum all day and watch a chariot race.
It’s just the term, “extra” that gives you the overall feeling of unimportance. There was a time when “extra” meant something. Like here’s a gift for “somebody extra special.” Or a breaking major story required an “Extra” edition. Now it’s, “Oh! We have one too many, this is extra.” Really, when you think about it, are you really needed? You are an “extra.”
Now if this isn’t enough to bring your ego down a few notches, one of the important people with some authority will. That’s a person who walks around with a clipboard and wears headsets calls out, “If you are a Skycap or something else interesting, go to wardrobe.” This could have deterred me. It would have been easy to just slip away and go home and avoid this humiliation but, I’m a professional. I could never be responsible for leaving them short an extra.
It was then I thought of the film, “The Poseidon Adventure.” Remember the scene where the ship is upside down (sorry, that was most of the time)? The stars of the film climb on the ballroom Christmas tree to safety. They call down to the crowd of people on the ceiling, that used to be the floor, “Come up here, we can get out this way.” The crowd stayed put. What they should have said was, “We can’t come, we’re the extras, it’s not in the budget to save us.”
I have to be honest here. This whole thing was making me laugh. Here I was getting paid to drag my suitcase back and forth, which required no effort. By the way, since I brought my own suitcase, it was getting paid. I thought to myself, “Well, you don’t travel much anymore so now you can spend the day pretending you are going somewhere.” There was even lunch and it wasn’t in a box, we were doing better than those people in the coliseum. If you were really hungry, you could get “extra.” It was around this time one of the other extras said, “We may be going into overtime, that’s time and a half.” This guy was a real professional extra. I commented, “Oh we’ll be getting extra…” That got a laugh.
My day started in the parking lot and then into the terminal. We also got to take our empty suitcases through security. Back and forth over and over again. There were some who would try to get a little camera time. You know where maybe the director would spot them, pull them out of the crowd and make them a star. Maybe even a Skycap!
It was a long day. Twelve hours of back and forth. When I got home I fell asleep in front of the TV, an old black and white movie was on. I heard voice calling, “Extra, Extra.” It woke up, it was some kid in the movie selling papers, for a brief moment, I thought maybe it was another job.