That time I accidentally acted in a foreign film
I’m not an actor. There’s a reason why I stuck with modeling and never ventured over to Hollywood. But that didn’t stop me from signing up with a casting agency that specialized in movie and TV extras. I figure that it doesn’t take a method actor to drink coffee in the back of a shot and, besides, life is too short to never be a blurry figure walking past a movie star.
One night, I got a call from the agency: I was going to be part of a few airport scenes for an upcoming movie and they would need me for two days of shooting.
“That’s great!” I told them over the phone.
“Great,” the casting lady replied. “I need you to be at the airport by 6 am. Oh, and could you get there with your hair and makeup already done?”
I mentally calculated that would mean I had to wake up at 2:30 in order to get ready in time to be out the door by 3:30, so I could drive all the way down and get to the airport by 6.
“Of course I can!” I said with extra gusto.
And that’s exactly what I did: I woke up at 2:30 in the morning to do my hair & makeup and chug enough coffee that would do most people a serious gastric injury. I got out onto the highway, maneuvering my way around nighttime traffic until I was eventually at the airport.
As is customary with extra work, I signed in at a large conference room in the airport hotel. I found a seat by a table, pulled out my book, and got ready for a day of sitting around until we were called up to be on set.
Within minutes, the wardrobe lady came in and asked if any of the ladies in the room was a size 6 and had brought black heels with them. Apparently someone had just called out sick. I’m a size 6. I brought black heels. I raised my hand like a proud first grader.
The lady lead me to a second room, where a stylist redid my hair and makeup, before shuffling me over to the wardrobe lady, who gave me an intricate ensemble, complete with a neck scarf and hat. I slipped on my high heels and–just like that–I was officially upgraded from unnamed extra to flight attendant #3.
All of the extras, including the flight attendants, were brought out to the terminal almost immediately afterwards. Both the producer and director looked vaguely familiar, but I could not put a name to either of them. I looked over and saw two more flight attendants. They looked just like I did, except that their makeup was way more detailed and their hairstyles were considerably more intricate. I stared at them, genuinely wondering to myself why I didn’t see these extras in the conference room.
It took a little while, but after a few minutes observing everything on set – specifically, after listening to the director, the producer, and the two done-up flight attendants talk to each other in German – I realized two things:
1) This movie was very much not going to be in English.
2) The extras I was gawking at were actually the stars of the movie.
Unlike usual movie sets,where an extra’s day is usually spent in the conference room until their group is called up, every extra ended up being used throughout the entire day on this shoot. We spent all morning and all afternoon walking up and down the terminal’s skywalk. One scene involved all of the flight attendants walking down the hallway together, hanging a sharp right and disappearing off screen as the two main characters stop to talk to a third main character. After walking behind the not-actually-extras-but-big-name-actresses-in-Germany for a few hours, we finished the scene and moved to a different part of the terminal.
For the next scene, everyone walked down a new corridor and around a corner as the main characters talked with one another. I watched from the sidelines in awe, amazed at how much timing and organization was involved to make the hallway look like a regular, crowded airport corridor. I was also amazed that I had never before noticed this trick of using the same extras over and over and over again for the same scene.
We were dismissed from set after lunch. I made my way back to the hotel, changed back into my normal clothes, and began the long drive home. As I was traveling, I got a phone call.
“Were you a flight attendant today?”
“Um, yes. Yes I was. I became one at the last minute.”
“Okay, so…can you come in tomorrow after all?”
So I repeated my new morning ritual the following day: I woke up at 2:30, got out the door by 3:30, and made my way back to the airport for day 2 of filming.
Shooting that day was a little different than on Tuesday. While we were all brought down to the film set like before, only a few extras were actually used at any given time. This meant that we had more time to sit around and chat.
My favorite part about modeling has always been getting to meet new people. Being an extra was no different. I might’ve idly chatted with a supposed German celebrity on Tuesday, but my eyes lit up when I talked with one extra whose side job was coaching MMA fighters. I probably had more fun learning about the lives of those around me than I did being in front of the camera.
My first shot that day involved me walking over and over again in a crooked C shape path, strolling into the shot alongside a pilot and strolling back out. We had to pretend like we were knee-deep in co-worker pleasantries, which involved saying the phrase, “Nice day for a flight” to each other over and over and over again. The next shot called for me to walk straight down the hallway next to a fellow flight attendant, also while knee-deep in pleasantries. However, while my pilot co-star stayed in character, my flight attendant friend kept deadpanning jokes. It took every ounce of my being not to burst into laughter on screen.
The shoot wrapped two hours later than the day before. I then promptly went home and took a nap, because waking up at 2:30 two days in a row will throw off your concept of day versus night.
As a non-SAG member, I didn’t get paid very much: broken down by hour, I essentially got paid minimum wage. But no one was there for the big bucks. Everyone was there because something like this is actually a lot of fun to do. It’s a break from whatever routine we usually have going on. It’s a chance to meet new people and try new things and gain a little bit into insight on how this crazy movie-making process works. Maybe you will see yourself in a movie or TV show. Maybe you’ll meet a celebrity. But that’s just icing on the cake.
I’ve been keeping my eye out for this German movie, although I only know the English translation of the title. I might never get the chance to see the movie, but at least I can say I was once an accidental flight attendant in a German film.
[Photo courtesy of author]