The coffee shop was full of patrons; average East Coaster’s. I was one of thirty filling the tables or standing in line. The cameras focused on the couple in the middle as they chatted and drank lattes. We moved silently behind them ordering empty cups and dried-out muffins in pantomime while having fake conversations with the stranger next to us. I followed the director’s instructions: order coffee and pretend to be impressed over a fake picture of a fake grandchild of a man whose name I don’t remember.
No one notices what’s going on in the background. But there I am, there we are, extra people milling around acting normal to bring context to the characters’ story; not our own.
We are an odd lot: there are the future Production Assistants, Cameramen and Hairdressers networking to get jobs; the wannabe Supporting Actress (“because if I am a Principle Actress the paparazzi will follow me around”); the beautiful Russian girl whose life goal is to grace the covers of Sports Illustrated and Playboy magazines; the ex-Marine/retired Financial Analyst who works as background once per month for something fun to do; the guy who got laid off from his real job and does background to fill in the employment gaps; the guy with the saggy eyes and greasy bob haircut that looks like the villain from “No Country for Old Men;” and me, an avid observer of people who loves to chronicle life as it happens. This is my new adventure.
We are compensated little to wait long hours in a hot holding pen before being called to the freezing set. They shuttle us back and forth like cattle as they need us. We are “eating, talking props” retracing our steps over and over again in between calls from the Director, “Background…action…cut…set to one…rolling.” The cameras catch our movements but we are not in clear view. Sometimes our heads are cut off. Sometimes we are just a great sweater or a pair of jeans walking by. Sometimes we must stand still in front of the camera but behind the principle actors and pantomime “watermelon” to each other for a full two minutes to pretend an in-depth conversation. That was awkward.
Is it worth it? Oh, yes. To experience a sunset inside a soundstage, to dodge flying cameras and microphones, to watch the chaos of the set make beautiful sense on the playback screen…it makes me smile.
For confidentiality reasons, I cannot talk specifics about plotlines or characters until the show has aired; the turnaround time between filming and airing could be a few weeks or a few months. But so far I have had the privilege of being on the set of “The Mindy Project,” “Parenthood,” “Braddock & Jackson,” and “Franklyn & Bash.” I will let you know the week of airing so we can have fun playing “Where’s Waldo,” searching for Tara in the background.
–Tara Schiro is the author of “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live” NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon and Barnes and Noble http://www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com