It’s 8pm on a hot Thursday evening and I’m sitting in a cluttered room inside a deserted office somewhere near St Paul’s. There’s an effervescent 21 year-old Essex girl applying make-up to my face and the table in front of me is scattered with a wide range of cheap snacks and expensive slap. My make-up artist has been calling everyone ‘babe’ since I arrived, which hasn’t helped me learn anyone’s name, including hers. With eyes closed, as she paints away my lines and powders my Scottish skin, I introduce myself as Robert. After a short pause for comic timing I add “but you can call me babe”. She nearly laughed.
So began my first ever experience of working as a film extra. The job had come up in an email just two days earlier; I applied that day and was hired the next. I imagined extra work to only involve ‘being’ without any element of ‘doing’ and, in particular, nothing involving acting. I was a bit perturbed then to find that I was expected to ‘crack up laughing’ on cue. I had also envisioned that playing an extra would be a group activity but there were only two of us in addition to the lone actress. We nearly weren’t any at all, as Security did everything in their power not to let us in the building, despite our Irish host Breff’s best efforts. I bet that never happens to De Niro. But, after much ado about nothing, we were swept inside – the ‘talent’ had arrived.
As we chat and change and receive our brief briefing from Breff (actually it was Viggo but I couldn’t resist the alliteration), we can hear repeated, hollow echoes of ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ coming from the cludgy next door. This is, apparently, where they’re shooting the ‘toilet’ scene ahead of setting up our office scene, having already shot the lift scene. Better for the scene not to be heard I reckon. Let me share the plot with you. BT Vision Karaoke is a television channel that allows Brits who haven’t got talent to sing over the backing tracks played on screen. The scenes for this promo are designed to send the message that you don’t have to annoy people by singing in public (lift, loo, office) when you can sing at home instead. This message is reinforced by the reactions of those subjected to the unwelcome, if dulcet, tones of our chanteurs.
My nerves have gone by now and ‘babe’ has finished her work so I’m feeling made up and made-up. I walk over to the ‘set’ and take my place next to Georgina, my fellow extra. We’re strategically placed behind the lead (only) actress, Julia, and wondering if we’ll be lucky enough to be the subjects of a focus pull. The cameraman claps (forgotten his clapperboard I guess), the Director says “action” and we’re off. My directions have changed from ‘crack up laughing’ to ‘look pissed off, walk over and hit her on the head with a notebook’. I don’t feel at all comfortable about this, it’s not funny (least for Julia) and apparently I’m taking too long to do it. This idea is soon ditched and by some process of celluloid osmosis we hit upon the idea of throwing scrunched up paper balls at our karaoke colleague instead.
This is funny. Unfortunately it’s too funny for me and Georgina and we are gently chastised for sniggering and not appearing pissed off enough. Several takes later we have controlled our mirth while the camera’s rolling but the inter-take process of having to collect the paper balls and recycle them into the next shot sets us off again. Then our professionalism kicks in and we are rewarded with the heavenly sound of Viggo saying, “that’s a wrap”. We’re both relieved and delighted as we couldn’t have listened many more times to Wet Wet Wet’s version of Love is All Around and were starting to throw the paper balls with greater venom and accuracy. Method acting. We clamber back into our civvies, say awkward goodbyes (one mwah or two?) and I make my way home with a light smile on my shiny, powdery face. You can sing along here.
In other news, I’m delighted to announce that it’s also ‘a wrap’ for the paperback version of my book, The Tea Leaf Paradox. At £7.99 I’m not sure it’s great value compared to other books you can purchase on Amazon for the same price, but maybe people will be fooled into thinking it must be pretty good because it’s expensive. If I were in their shoes I’d opt for the £1.96 Kindle version instead though. I’ve ordered 49 copies of my own book for marketing purposes, so there’ll be some work to be done when these arrive next week. I know 49 seems like an odd number (and it is) but being seven squared I figured it was a beautiful number and might bring me luck. Really, these things matter! For those of you who prefer ‘round’ numbers, you can content yourselves with the knowledge that the proof copy I had previously ordered does make the total up to 50. The proof copy arrived about a week after I pressed the ‘publish’ button, which may appear illogical (and it is) but delivery choices were ‘slow’ or ‘expensive’; I chose ‘slow’ but then couldn’t resist publishing before it arrived. At least I can present mum and dad with the proof copy as a memento when I see them tomorrow for their 60th wedding anniversary celebration.
When people ask me what I do these days, I say, “I’m between a book and a brewery”. This usually ends the conversation for all but the most determinedly curious. Progress from book to brewery continues at a slow pace, but after a couple of polite reminders I am now officially included on the circulation list of the London Brewers’ Alliance. Regular meetings start next month but my first experience would be at a ‘social’ event at the Fuller’s bar. It took me a while to twig exactly which Fuller’s bar they meant but then I realised it was actually in the Kensington Olympia, where the annual Great British Beer Festival was being held. Meeting people I’d never met before, in a crowded bar in an exhibition hall full of beer aficionados, seemed like a challenge but at least I could experience the fest and neck a couple of beers in my £3 commemorative glass.
Waiting in the queue to enter, we had to endure half-drunk ‘trade’ delegates, exiting from their afternoon of ‘networking’, taunting us with calls of “there’s no beer left, we’ve drunk it all”. Each specimen uttering these words basked in their perceived originality and humour, unaware of their unwelcome repetition. Soon we were allowed to flood in to the cavernous space and I explored my new environment. If you wanted beer, food and bar games you had definitely come to the right place. I noticed the occasional pile of sawdust masking an earlier beer spill and wondered why they didn’t just mop it up? I hope it was an undigested beer spill. The punters, while a mixed group, were predominantly male, middle-aged, hairy and overweight with a subset sporting features that would not exclude them from being an extra in a medieval crowd scene.
Remembering I was here to ‘work’ I got a beer, found the bar and looked across the sea of faces hoping for some tinkle of recognition. I knew no one and no one knew me so I just dived in and chewed the fat with anyone wearing clothes branded with a London brewery name, working my way up to meet Steve (Secretary of the LBA), who had made the kind invitation for me to attend. There was little more to achieve here so I took a final walk around, spotting the glitterati of the beer world, especially Beer Beauty who is Birmingham’s only beer sommelier as well as being a writer and presenter. She was effortlessly entertaining her admiring companions, so I loitered strategically before pouncing on my prey. I am an avid follower on Twitter and bravely/lamely introduced myself as such to spark our conversation. She was lovely and by the end of our chat I had a promise to check out my book, the possibility of an invite to the Beer Writers’ Awards dinner in December and a new follower on Twitter!
Awesome; I was well made up!
- First Timer at the Great British Beer Festival 2013 in London (notjustvegetarian.com)