Searching Serenity: 8 Hours of Work, 5 Seconds on Film

One of the very first jobs I got last fall (right after I signed with my agent Linda McAlister) was a short film called Searching Serenity, directed by Rustin Rogers. It was just my second time on a “real” film set, and I learned a lot.

For instance, I signed on as an extra, and that means no lines. You just show up, and do what you’re told. Usually, extras bring their own wardrobe, too. You bring five or six choices to show the assistant director, and depending on what other people are wearing, the director picks what you are going to wear. So in this little clip, I’m wearing my absolute least favorite blue plaid shirt.

But once you get on set, the director can ask you to do something that includes lines. So I wound up with a line in the film. The director, Rustin Rogers, was very nice, and everyone we worked with on the set was very cool. Alex Alford had the lead role in the movie, and he’s awesome.

Another thing I learned on this film is that extras have to work whatever hours it takes, for a low, flat fee that covers all rights to what you film. Kids are usually limited to no more than 5 hours a day on set —  and you get paid by the hour for print ads or collateral. Also, the contract my grandparents sign for me when I film a commercial says what rights they’re buying, and you get paid for each “right” you sell (TV, movie, Internet, etc.), plus the rights are usually sold for a certain amount of time or part of the world (“two years local TV”, “three year’s national”).  The contacts may also say that you can’t work on competing projects — like if you’re in a JC Penny print ad, you might not be able to do a Target commercial.

But extras aren’t covered by the law about how many hours a kid can work. So it isn’t a five hour day. It’s however many hours it takes. If the lead actors are kids, though, they are limited to how many hours they can work. So extras can wind up working while the leads take a break.

For this film, the call time was 8:30 a.m., and we didn’t leave until after 4:30 p.m. That’s 9 hours.  They brought in food at lunch time, and there was a lot of sitting around while they moved cameras and did special effects make-up on the lead actor, but it was still a long day.

The movie had its official premiere at a film festival a few weeks ago, but I can’t really tell you much about it because the director is entering it in contests and showing it at film festivals. You can see a little bit about it in the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

I can say that the very next scene after the one of me is really, really scary and cool. Alex Alford, the kid who plays the lead in the film (Andrew, a kid with paranoid schizophrenia) is a very good actor. I went to an audition a few weeks ago and Alex was auditioning for the same part. I wasn’t surprised at all that he got it. Maybe I will next time! I liked Alex, and I would like to work with him again. Seriously talented, smart, and nice, too. I expect to see him in a big Hollywood movie pretty soon — seriously.

So, here’s me: all five seconds of me in the film. I say three words (“Woops, sorry man”), and you can see my face for just about half a second if you look really hard. Not a very impressive movie debut is it? But it’s a start — and I’ve filmed much bigger parts since.

In fact, this is the only job I’ve ever had as an “extra” — which isn’t to say I wouldn’t be thrilled to be an extra again one of these days. So if the casting director for the new Transformers movie just happens to read this, I’d love to be one of your extras this summer!

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