August 17, 2010
just a thought – extra work
Scott Pilgrim VS. The World opened last Friday to much anticipation and acclaim, at least in Toronto. The movie was filmed here, and set here. I saw it last night, but I’m going to have to see it again, because I missed seeing myself in a scene outside the Opera House.
Being a freelancer isn’t a very steady gig, and until you’ve built up a significant amount of savings, it can be brutal. I’m not going to be one of those bloggers/freelancers who pretends that I’m on top of my game 100% of the time. In April 2009, I wasn’t. I was stone cold flat broke. So I started trolling Craigslist for side gigs, which is how I ended up auditioning to be a non-union extra on Scott Pilgrim VS. The World. I’d never read the books, though of course I was familiar with them. They loved my hair, I got a callback, and my little interlude of Danielle Meder VS. Extra Work began.
Unlike this guy, who spent a single pleasant day goofing off on set, I spent about 12 days, mostly consecutive, and by days, I mean nights. 18 hour long nights. When you arrive, they put you into a place called holding, which resembles a cafeteria. Everyone sits down at tables, and the people at your table become your default group of extra friends. The funny, wonderful thing about being an extra on Scott Pilgrim was that everyone was selected for their appearance of belonging in the Scott Pilgrim universe, so everyone had a lot in common – we were all 20-something, downtown dwelling, creative types without steady jobs. My table had a burlesque dancer, a few recent film school graduates, a sketch comedian, a painter, and me.
Like a lot of shared experiences, the extra friends bonded over the course of the shoot. Our little table forged an alliance (secretly we thought we were the best table) over the course of many empty hours of waiting. Being an extra is a lot like being in high school. You’re slightly sub-human, told where to go and what to do and what to eat, long stretches of time are filled with the most inane waiting games. Add to that a high level of sleep deprivation and the requirement of wearing the same clothing every day, and a total ban on any blogging or facebookery, and you end up with hundreds of punchy young things living in a disconnected Groundhog Day style time loop. The effects are both monotonous and hilarious, creating a culture of in-jokes and intimacy with strangers.
It was my first ever real experience on a film set, and it was a revelation to see how it all went down – what all the ADs and DPs and everyone really does, the joking around and the stress to focus and get it all done, the physical effects team doing their thing, the actors, the stunt team, it really was a privilege to watch it all. We all tried to imagine what the finished scene would look like.
It wasn’t like I imagined it at all – and I’m pleased to say, it was better, unlike any movie I have ever seen. Scott Pilgrim VS. The World is a mash note to Toronto, music, dating and breaking up. Even though it exists on an imaginary, video-game world, it somehow also captures the poignancy of being young and creative in this city. For a variety of reasons, it was incredibly striking and bittersweet to me on a personal level, and though I would never want to do extra work again (unless I absolutely had to) I’m so grateful that of all the movies I could have stood around in for two weeks, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World was the one.