I spent a day trapped in a small room with thirty-nine other twenty-somethings (and one really old lady), scarce food and water and a general tone of disillusionment. I was an unpaid extra for a major motion picture.
Finding out via text on Tuesday evening that I needed to report for duty at 7:00 am the following day gave me no time to prepare either mentally or wardrobe-ally. What could barely be called instructions were simply: “7am call time, GVSU Mackinac Hall, dress 90s.” Luckily I had previously started stalking the production in very nerdy fashion. I had ordered the book on which the movie is based and was pretty well versed in the plot. I frantically googled “1996 street fashion” and basically copied the wardrobe from Empire Records as best I could from my own closet, pulling anything I thought might work for both myself and my sister.
We arrived on set promptly at 7:00 the next morning, called the number we were provided and spoke to a very confused Casting Assistant named Mike (but who would later be re-named “Snuggleupagus” by my sister). He didn’t seem to understand why we were calling him or why we were there at 7:00 rather than 8:00. Hadn’t we gotten the memo that the call time was pushed? We hadn’t. In fact, since we didn’t go through casting and had instead been invited by a very tight-lipped friend of a friend who assisted on the production, we weren’t on any lists that would result in memo-like emails. We were clueless. And not in an appropriately 90s sort of way. The cherubic youngsters whose power lived in the walkie-talkies strapped to their barely post-adolescent hips basically told us to go away for an hour because there was nowhere to “put us” at the moment. So we did. But you better believe I left a trail of snark in my wake.
At just before call time, we made our way back to the sassy, walkie-talkie-toting girl and were told to sign in with Snuggleupagus. We signed our photo-releases, gave him our pertinents, and dodged a bewildered look in response to my age before being told to go wait in the “holding room” which was also labeled, “Craft Services”. There were helpful signs throughout the building, letting us know which way the sets for different scenes were so we knew exactly where we weren’t allowed. In fact, we were really only allowed to exist inside the “holding room”, which was a small classroom that I may have once inhabited to barely pass an Algebra class. Just like the first day of Algebra class, everyone turned to stare at us as we made our way to two of the only open desks, far in the front right corner. Once I hurdled over crossed legs and strewn bags and found my way to my seat, I was able to take inventory. Everyone was younger than me. That was evident but no different from most of my social experiences so I didn’t think much of it. The attempts at “90s fashion” that I could see made me giggle, knowing that most of these people were still pooping themselves in 1996 when the movie is set. They were confusing 80s with 90s in a very big way, and those who weren’t confused about decades all seemed to think that grunge-flannel was the only thing people wore. I was 12 years old in 1996 and I knew differently. I was very smug in my outfit choice, and that of my sister.
The next hour or so felt very much like the first day of class. Nobody talked. Everyone looked terrified and found solace in the blinking screens of their phones. I don’t like awkward silence so to combat the deafening din of nervousness I struck up a conversation with the adorable Jo-Bro candidate behind me. I’m not sure I ever learned his name, though he did tell me quite a few times. But I did find out that he was one of about five paid extras in our midst. He had headshots. It was a big deal. Apart from automatically being in every scene and being paid a whopping $7.40 an hour, there was no difference between Jo-Bro and us. Except that he was taking his day a lot more seriously. After an eternity of sitting around silently sizing up the room, someone finally came in with a bit of direction. We were told that we’d be “released” to wardrobe in groups of five, and to sit tight until we were arbitrarily pointed to at some point in the next millennium.
Walking into wardrobe was the first of many sobering experiences of the day. Set up in yet another classroom, racks of ugly stripes, corduroy and stiff denim gave off a very “Goodwill” odor and really had me hoping my outfit would pass inspection. It didn’t. One of four tiny women scanned me quickly, called me “lady” and said I’d be a member of the faculty. This might not sound so bad. I am 29 years old, after all. But they didn’t know that. They were laughing and assigning archetypal college personalities to the kids who went before and alongside me. There were “druggies”, “cool girls wearing their boyfriends’ leather”, “smart/good girls”…and me, the faculty member. Barely recovered from that blow, I was asked (in a shout from across the room) what size I wore. Oh dear. Without much choice and with only a shred of dignity left anyway, I returned just as loudly, “I’m a 16, but I haven’t eaten yet today so a 14 is also on the table.” I shouldn’t have said that. Should not have offered the option of a 14 because that’s what I got. A size 14 pair of “mom jeans” in the lightest blue denim you’ve ever laid eyes on. The fabric was so stiff and structured that I had to literally jump and tuck myself into them before praying to every iteration of a god and sucking my stomach inside out to zip up. It worked. I was in. Topping it off with some rubber booties and a crushed velvet sweater underneath a giant purple windbreaker and knit cap, I was given the “100%” from wardrobe and ushered into hair and makeup only to be shuffled out again with no additions.