Creative Nonfiction

  “Cut” the first Assistant Director called.

   “Break for lunch.” The third Assistant Director announced. “We’re in that warehouse. Doors are way down the west end.”

   We were led by some seventh Assistant Director, Extra’s Wrangler, to the far end of a warehouse where catering had still not unloaded.

   “We’re locked out.” Another extra said yanking on the steel doors.

   “I saw tech guys somewhere at the other end inside, when we came over. We could knock on the windows back there.” I said.

   “You know how far that is? You want to walk that again?”

  “Yeah, sure.” I offered, getting my back up. I stomped away and headed around the other side I came from, so I wouldn’t have to go past the crew still coming up. I got to the windows and knocked on the glass.

   “Go around.” A tech guy waved from inside.

   I knocked again. “We’re locked out.” I called but the glass was too thick.

   “Go around!” He shouted.

   I pounded on the glass. “We’re locked out!!”

   He looked like he was going to get really angry than broke into a smile. He waved for me to calm down. He got the message.

   As I stood in gravel and weeds outside the window an older man in a jeep came by. “What are you doing?”

   “We got locked out.”

   “What’s your name?”

   Whenever I feel someone’s accusing me of something I get very direct. “David B. Fraser”.


   He drove off and I felt like a big oaf for getting upset.

   After lunch about a hundred of us walked across a parking lot on some dock in Hamilton Ontario, Canada, while they filmed us with Denzel Washington as we pretended to be leaving a factory located in Chicago. For this they had insisted we all had to be wearing steel toed boots.

   I was resting my feet the day after when the extras agency called. “David, do you know someone on John Q.”

   “No. No one.”

  “Well, they got another eighteen days for if you can get to Toronto this afternoon for a fitting. You’ll be one of the Chicago cops.”

   “Oh, but I was a factory worker on that film.”

   “No one will notice you, David, your background. Let them worry about that.”

   In Toronto the wardrobe lady said, “You’re not a cop. You’re union. They’re not using union people for cops. You’re a man in the crowd.”

   “My agent said cop.”

  “Well, that’s wrong.”

  “It’s just what I was told.”

   She shook her head patiently, and then went away. When she came back, she was shaking her head again. “Oh, well, they’re saying you are a cop. I’ve outfitted all the cops. I mean, your waist is fine, but I’m not sure I have something tall enough for your height.”

   When I got to extras’ holding there were over three hundred extras waiting and lining up in circus sized tents. Sixty of us were cops. “Not you. You’re union. Dress him as a tourist.”

   I went to set in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. After an hour while the company was still setting up a guy in a headset grabbed me. “Are you David B. Fraser? Come on.” I followed him back to holding and right past the line into wardrobe. “Why isn’t this guy dressed as a cop?”

   “He’s union.”

   “Dress him as a cop and send him back to set.”

   Finally, uniformed, I arrived on set to wait. Most of the work is waiting. Then pretending to be doing something, while being absolutely silent, while someone better paid is actually saying their lines and acting. Another extra asked me, “When you’re not doing this, are you cop?”

   “No, I worked in book stores. I quit my job, and now I need money. I tried to be an actor in my twenties and never made a living at it. I became unionized for film and theatre, and still never made a living at it.”

   The fellow nodded. “I was a millwright.”

   They started handed out guns. “The Glocks are metal, and have no pins in them, the pistols are plastic. If you have a Glock, you wear a shoulder holster, so just the plain clothes. Uniform officers belt holsters. Now, listen, you don’t go anywhere with these. They do not leave set. They get locked up when you break. We have had people steal a fake gun from a set to go rob a store. Anyone fooling with these, anyone pointing these, anyone doing anything we haven’t specifically told you to do and you’re gone.”

   One of the younger extra’s was twirling and quick drawing his plastic gun while the assistant talked.

   “Excuse, can you give me that?”

   The extra handed the gun over to the assistant.

   “You’re done. Go to wardrobe and change. You’re wrapped.”

   “I’m booked for the week.”

   “Not with us. You’re done.”

   The actor, Ray Liotta, came on set and we hung about while they continued to set up. Robert Duvall came on, someone in the crowd of extras yelled, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!!” We all parted away from the guy. The stars ignore the yell. The assistants couldn’t find the guy in the crowd to throw him out.

   The movie seemed to be about Denzel Washington’s character’s holding a hospital hostage so his son can get a heart operation.

   Long days went by, with lots of overtime, and hanging out with my new onset friend and fellow extra, Earl Williams. Earl was fifty-six and looked a bit like the uniform cop John McCain befriends in Die Hard. “I do extra work for a living. Background Specialist. I had two months on Pushing Tin. You know why we’re cops? They didn’t want the cops to be union because they knew they’d run into a lot of overtime. But they made you a cop, because you helped them keep things moving. You from Hamilton? My son plays for the Hamilton Ticats Football team.”

   On the third week came the big Saturday.

   “The were asking for three thousand extras today.” Earl explained. “They think they’ll get twenty-seven hundred. They got thirteen cameras. There’s four on the roofs. They got four helicopters. One’s a fake Chicago police helicopter and the others have cameras. Look, see the barriers in the park over there? They got to have an emergency landing spot for each helicopter in case.”

   It would still be hours before everyone was set to film. They handed out our fake guns. We took up positions around cars that were dummied up to look like Chicago police cars. Denzel was already walking around the set, in front of a mock Chicago Memorial Hospital façade. He was waving a gun and repeating his lines. Rehearsing in the middle of everyone else trying to get things together.

   “Alright.” An assistant had a bullhorn for the first time. “Everyone, this is the scene. We only have the day. We have to get this. All you cops are to point your guns at Denzel. If I see one cop who is not pointing his gun at Denzel you will be gone. Stand by.”

   Things went quiet.

   “Okay, first positions.”

   I held my gun in both hands and pointed at Denzel. It was very sunny. There was a huge crowd all around me. I thought they were serious about us being serious so I found myself really clenching my plastic gun and looking very serious. I felt a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. Denzel started to shout his lines. A man with a chest mounted gyroscope camera began to circle Denzel as he spoke, getting closeups of him from the front and the back as he moved.

   Then I heard the helicopters. Four helicopters beating their blades.

   I was sure I was going to pass out. Then that would be it for me, and I would be a wrap. Out of two thousand, and seven hundred extras, I would be the middle-aged guy who would collapse and ruin the shot and cost them a gazillion dollars.

   “Ease up, big guy.” I told myself. “Nobody’s getting a close up of you. You’re one of the sixty background cops in the picture. You’re a blur. All you have to do is point your gun. Nobody’s asking you to act. In fact, it’s better if you don’t.” My neck and arms loosened.

   Denzel was saying something about his son. Helping his son. For his son. Something. The helicopters were so loud.        

   They did many takes of Denzel’s speech. Towards the end Denzel started saying, “I don’t want to do this! I don’t want to do this anymore! I want to give up this acting shit. I want to go home!”

   We all cracked up. It was a good day.

   It was a great time. Problem was, I wasn’t seeing my kids during those three weeks and I had a young family. I jumped at the chance to go back to work in the book business not long after I was wrapped.

   A year later when the movie came out, I watched it. I enjoyed it. I was a blur. 

July 15, 2023 20:36

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Calvin Kirby
23:12 Sep 01, 2023

David, it's me again. I loved your story, as I said earlier. I belong to a senior literary shorts group where I live in Maryland. I would like to use your story as my entry to the group on October 2nd. You will be given credit, of course. I am sending my email (Ckirby59@comcast.net). If you wouldn't mind providing me with a short bio of yourself and some information about how long you have worked as an actor, etc.. that would be great. I will give you more information when I receive your ok and other information. Thanks, Cal


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Calvin Kirby
15:14 Jul 22, 2023

David, I really enjoyed your story. Having done extra work for over 30 years myself, I could relate to what you were going through. You captured how things really work at location settings. If you get a chance, read my entry "Best Friends - O Yeah!" and give me some feed back! Cal Kirby


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Mustang Patty
12:32 Jul 22, 2023

Thank you for sharing this. I always thought it would be fun to be an 'extra.' Now, I'm more informed and don't want to do it so badly anymore. (Scratch one thing from the Bucket List.) Great job, ~MP~


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Mary Bendickson
23:32 Jul 15, 2023

Hi, movie star. Great job of being a blur!


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