Everybody knows or has heard that being an extra for a movie or TV show is hardly glamorous. The days are long, the pay is low and extras are treated like cattle -- herded here and there, penned up, periodically fed and expected to stand placidly in all kinds of conditions. At least until instructed to cheer, run, chant, mill or become enraged on cue.
For more on "Kill Point," check out Rob Owen's "Tuned In Journal"
And when I say the days are long, I mean beginning well before dawn and/or ending after midnight. When they aren't positioned, posed and shot, what do extras do all day?
I signed up to be an extra on the set of "The Kill Point" last Monday, playing a print journalist. I've been impersonating a print journalist for 15 years; I have my own wardrobe and notebook. At 4:45 a.m. I joined the busloads of extras, some of whom had been reporting to the set for weeks already, heading to Market Square to make this series for Spike TV. And wait. And gossip. To stay in character, I took notes.
The show, set to air starting July 22, is about a bank robbery by Iraq war veterans that turns into a siege. John Leguizamo plays the leader of the robbers, and Donnie Wahlberg plays the police negotiator.
A handful of us extras are playing journalists. Several are college-age girls wearing high heels I know they are going to regret.
Down in the square, they group three of us around a large man in a trenchcoat and boxy wraparound sunglasses who is playing a chief of detectives. We are told to interview him while important action is being shot so far away that we cannot even see it.
Mr. Chief gestures toward the action and says some meaningless things, which helps me feel like a real reporter.
"How many hostages are still in the bank?" I ask. "The hostage who was shot -- which hospital was he taken to?"
Mr. Chief is taken aback by real questions. He hesitates.
He nods and says that sounds good.
"Do you know what his condition is?" Nope. This is fun.
After three or four takes, I run out of real questions and start asking about rumors I heard earlier from my fellow extras.
"I understand Mr. Wahlberg has shown a penchant for blondes. Can you confirm that?"
"Is it true that Mr. Leguizamo stripped down to his underwear during a previous day's shooting of this scene?" (Yes.)
"Do you have any information on the boxers vs. briefs situation?" (Boxers.)
God, I love my job.
And I'm lucky to be a reporter, because the detectives, most of whom are actually wearing trenchcoats, were informed after breakfast that they might not be needed on the set until it gets dark -- again. Bet they're glad they got up at 3 a.m. Why couldn't they have been shot when it was dark the first time?
So several of the detectives are upstairs in the holding room in PPG Place, playing a noisy card game, while nearby the SWAT team is making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They're very dramatic in their black outfits and helmets, and they're surrounded by dozens more extras dressed as cops and paramedics and firefighters, sitting on folding chairs, reading magazines and snacking. It looks like intermission at a disaster.
When my scene is finished, I get myself some peanut butter and go back down into the square.
Out in the street is a vehicle that is reportedly going to be blown up at some point. Everyone is very excited about this. Also parked around the square are police cars; some extras dressed as cops are assigned to sit in them. Often these cop extras are asleep. But not always.
Extra John says an on-set romance was consummated in a police car during a night shoot. A guy sitting with him can't quite believe it.
"Friday night I sat in that car for an hour and a half and nothing happened to me." He sounds insulted.
It all depends who's sitting with you, I suppose.
The cops and SWAT guys look pretty realistic, with their plastic guns. Rumor has it that a couple of SWAT guys wandered off the set and fooled with their faux guns -- and found themselves looking down the barrels of real guns drawn by real cops. And a woman dressed as a cop tried to get her son out of jail and ended up arrested.
This is the scuttlebutt. We're all very impressed, because we're not even supposed to bug the actors for autographs or pictures. People have been thrown off the set.
Finally, about 8 p.m., we're done. I've heard many colorful tales. I've heard about a nude beach in Oakmont, a 72-year-old man who pole-dances, and how down-to-earth Donnie Wahlberg is. I have seen John Leguizamo shirtless. Several times.
And that's what extras do all day.
Samantha Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3572. For a picture from Monday's "Kill Point" shooting, see the TV page, C-6, and check out the "Kill Point" photo gallery in TV editor Rob Owen's "Tuned In Journal" at www.post-gazette.com/tv .