Working as an extra on the set of a Tyler Perry film has become the latest way to supplement one’s income for thousands of people across the region, especially for senior citizens who are benefiting from such light work in a struggling economy.
Marty Wabich, 69, has been working as an extra in the Atlanta area for three years now.
“I’d recommend this for anyone — young or old,” he said. “With the economy the way it is right now, a lot of us are doing it just to have money or to make rent or get groceries. I’ve run into a lot of people who are out of work and retired, becoming extras. But I do it for the fun of it and to meet people. I’m retired. The money’s good but I don’t do it for that.”
According to Wabich, who was an extra in Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes To Jail” and played a doctor in the background of “Meet the Browns,” seniors who want to be an extra in films can be thrifty and still dress nicely.
“I bought this jacket from a Goodwill store — it was $6.50,” he said. “My shoes were $3.50. You can get a shirt there for about $3. Some of the movies require a certain look and you want to blend in. Good hygiene is also important. It can be a long day.”
Wabich, who was an extra in the 2011 body-swap comedy “The Change-Up,” starring Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, advised, “Don’t talk to the actors unless they talk to you. Just sit around and enjoy the experience. You can do enough to get two bags of groceries and a little gas money. I just enjoy getting out of the house and meeting people.”
Some extras bring board games, cards, puzzles, go online, watch production crews work, socialize, talk softly on the phone and engage in other activities while remaining quiet when the cameras are rolling, which is only part of the time.
Other extras, like Teresa Molinari, are asked to be stand-ins for the stars when they slightly resemble the actors. While camera crews are testing the lights and sound system, a stand-in will literally stand in the exact spot where the actor was performing. When the actors are on break, a stand-in may also stand in their exact spot until the actor returns.
Molinari, 74, was used as a stand-in during Tyler Perry’s filming of “The Marriage Counselor” which wrapped filming on Nov. 19.
The veteran background performer and her 68-year-old husband, Jay Hare, has worked as extras in enough films and TV shows to receive the vouchers needed to earn their Screen Actors Guild (SAG) union cards.
“My husband was recently featured on ‘Braxton Family Values,’” she said. “He was Evelyn’s blind date in episode 8. I just came back to this. I was on the road with the Center for Disease Control, working through Westat, for five years. I was involved in the National Health and Nutrition Examination study. We traveled all over the United States talking to people about health and their health habits.”
Molinari retired from Westat, an employee-owned research corporation, in 2005, after 12 years as a social research interviewer. The couple then moved to Atlanta after living 40 years in California and resumed their interest in working as extras.
Molinari, who was a background performer in Hollywood on such TV shows as “Star Trek,” “Caroline in the City” and 15 weeks on the series “Wings,” said her first experience as an extra was in the 1996, Robert De Niro film, “The Fan.” After that she admits to being “bitten” by the acting bug.
“I did so many films in California. They referred to it as a ‘cattle call,’ meaning they’d call anyone who wanted to be in the movies. You’re either paid or non-paid extras. From there they’d glean the people who looked really good and put them up front.
“I played a hysterical woman in the (1997) movie, ‘Volcano,’”Molinari said. “I was so hysterical they came and sent the paramedics after me! They asked me if I was OK? Well, they wanted a hysterical woman, so I gave them one!”
When asked what she gets out of being an extra in films, she admits, “It’s just so much fun. It’s the camaraderie of meeting people.”
While some extras are never seen on the silver screen, others are chosen regularly to perform in the background. This is not merely by chance. According to Molinari, an extra can play a role in their own success on the set by following a few simple tips.
“The best way to be chosen is to be close to the assistant director,” she said. “He gets together the groups that he feel is more responsive. If you observe what is going on around the set you’ll notice this.
“A lot of times extras will say, ‘Oh, well, we’re just going to sit around and talk, eat, read and sleep.’ That’s not the way to get ahead. The best thing to do is sit and watch — because everything has eyes. There are eyes on you everywhere. Every movement, every noise you make is being recorded either on the microphone, on film or in the producer or assistant producer’s mind.
“Be helpful and courteous. Stay out of people’s way. There’s a lot of equipment being moved around. So start observing and get to know who’s who.”
Frances Wellington, who worked on several faith-based stage plays in Atlanta, was impressed with her recent experience as an extra in a major motion picture production.
“This is my first time being on a Tyler Perry set and it’s going very well,” she said. “I’m a person that is very organized. If something is not organized, I really don’t want any part of it. But this is very organized. Everyone is working together.
“The reason I was interested in becoming an extra was to get the feel of what they really do and to network with people. I think this is wonderful! The staff is pleasant. I’m meeting lots of new people. That’s my thing. I love people from all walks of life.”
Many seniors working as extras on Tyler Perry’s set, in fact, shared similar sentiments about the joy of meeting others, sharing meals together, seeing stars up close, being in a movie and getting paid for practically nothing.
“It don’t take a great deal of intelligence to do this,” Wabich said. “Just be quiet and do what they tell you.”
Still, the seasoned background performer admits, “being an extra is not for everyone, because it’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait.’ My wife of 46 years did it once and said ‘Never again.’ She has a bad back.”
For seniors who are interested in getting paid as an extra in a motion picture, Molinari advised, “Go on the Internet and find a production company such as here in Atlanta with Tyler Perry Studios.
“I understand he is giving a tremendous opportunity for everyone to work. Atlanta is a right-to-work state, whether you are union or non-union. Get into it by networking. Talk to others who do it. It’s fun!”
Wabich laughed as he leaned in closely.
“I’ll tell you what I really want to see,” he said. “Madea dates a white man! Now that would be a funny movie! Can you imagine it? Of course, I would love to play the white man.”
Several seniors on the set of “The Marriage Counselor” praised Perry for the opportunity of supplementing their income, while offering them easy work, free meals, a good time and the chance to be seen in a major motion picture.
“From what I’ve seen today I would definitely recommend this to others,” Wellington added. “This has been a good experience. Plus you never know who you might meet. You may become famous after this. You never know.”
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