On Set: First Time on Set. First Time an Extra.

Photo by Eli Cooper on Unsplash

Which moviemaking enthusiast hasn’t dreamed of one day being on a film set, and partaking in the moviemaking process? This dream of mine came true for the first time this spring.

It all started with me seeing an ad in an independent filmmaking Facebook group in my area. Someone was looking for extras for a student short film. No pay, but experience and fun! I was eager to help them out, for all I wanted was to be on a film set and have an insider’s look behind the scenes, so that I can get a clearer picture of what it would be like if I were to be a director or otherwise involved in the moviemaking process.

I private messaged the guy who had posted the ad in the group – he was the production assistant. He sent me a short pdf file that explained the movie’s general plot and introduced the directors – but nothing more. At first I thought I might not get the job, but just a few days before the shooting date, he told me they’d be glad to see me join, someone just recently left the show. Great for me!

A day before the shooting date, I shortly discussed with him logistics and how I should arrive on set – what I should do with my hair and makeup. He said, just don’t do anything crazy! So I figured, I’ll just go with braided hair and some natural looking makeup. Initially I had been concerned about the fact that half of my hair was blonde (recent dye job… not the best one :P), but he said that was no problem. So that was all I did for my preparation as an extra who is supposed to be part of a birthday party in a semi-formal restaurant.

As you may know, moviemaking starts early in the day. For me as an extra, my “casting call” was around 9:15 am or so. It’s best if you arrive earlier – gives off a good impression. So I was there at exactly 9 am. If I lived closer to the set/restaurant, I likely would have been there half an hour sooner at least.

I introduced myself with a smile and handshake to the people that sat at a table right in front of the restaurant. Later I’d recognize them as the director, directing assistant, producer, and makeup artist. They were all quite friendly and happy to see me.

To cut a long story short, I have not felt as inspired in a long time. Even though the shooting took several hours, there were some lulls during breaks (which could be overcome by engaging with the rest of the cast and crew), and I did not get paid a penny, I loved being on set. I could have stayed on it forever. Despite being an introvert, I did not feel drained at all.

The only thing I might have changed was my part in the film. While I was trying to act, I paid close attention to how the director was dealing with the cast and crew. This was a way to get a close glimpse on the filming process behind the scenes. There is no other short cut to seeing how a director operates on set – and that had been my main objective in joining this for free all along. I was curious about everyone’s part in the process. I talked with the makeup artists, the other actors, the cinematography assistants, and the director herself. It was a good way to make connections with other people who love film. 

A few weeks later I joined another film set for the same objectives as above, but this time as a makeup assistant. I could do my job fine, but it stressed me out much more. I still loved the process of shooting and being on set, but the part of the makeup artist is really not my thing. I can do it, but not without extra stress and exertion, which got exacerbated by one of the actor’s constant negative preoccupation with her looks. Thankfully I was only the assistant.

All in all, I would recommend joining a film set for free to anyone who is a newbie to the business and would like to gain more special experience, know-how, and connections with other film people. Additionally, it leaves a good impression on your resumé. It helped me with landing a cool video-making internship. 🙂

What have been your first experiences on set?