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I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Rhubarb. And custard.

Ever wonder about all the faces in the crowd you see on the TV or in movies? Who are they? How do they get there? How much do they get paid--and do they ever get to rub shoulders with the stars? After leaving my radio producer`s job with the BBC, I signed up with three agencies for fun, really, and seem to pop up quite regularly now in anything from prime time soaps to feature films. Want the inside story on the stars? Buy one of those weekly mags. Extras are sworn to secrecy. So...this is the latest instalment on the `ordinary` people ....whose names you never get to know.....

Miming looks so easy, doesn`t it?

You just speak--without the sound.

That`s what I thought before I started working as a film and TV extra. Then you hear the words: `.....aaaaaaaaaand.....ACTION...`  and you realise you probably should have sorted out your game plan first.

You`re not important,but you might be `in shot` you have to say something. Anything, really, but remember people can lip-read, so nothing saucy. And it`s no good `talking` at the same time as the person you`ve been paired up with. That would look daft.

In my eight months as a TV and film extra, I`ve just been whispering stuff very quietly, and nodding and smiling a bit. It`s gone down OK. I`ve tried the technique in Corrie, Emmerdale, a couple of feature films, a Japanese soft drinks advert, an ITV drama series, a kids` show and a comedy or two. And I haven`t been chucked out yet.

But the other day, I met and married Graham. Sort of. It was a two day `marriage of convenience` for the purposes of a prime time soap. And I realised he was a bit of an expert in the art of talking --no, miming--complete and utter rhubarb.

The stars were filming a few metres away. This was a real `longshot`. Nevertheless, `my husband and I` got placed on a sumptuous sofa in the garden room of the location--an exquisite country house hotel. Before us, on a low table, two porcelain cups and saucers, and a solid silver coffee pot,along with sugar bowl, tongs and spoons. Graham was given his `prop`--a mere newspaper. That left me with the challenge of pouring, stirring, and handing over his cup....silently.


I needn`t have worried. One command and Graham was off. As I gestured towards the coffee pot, with a carefully raised eyebrow (order my Oscar now...) he smiled, nodded, and then got into his stride.. jabbing at an article in the paper, shaking his head and tutting as quietly as anyone could....and then....mouthing complete and utter twaddle. Bits of words. Snatches of sentences. I realised I was frowning to work out what the devil he was saying. Until ....`CUT! `restored his power of intelligible speech. Actually, it was quite masterful and I`ll try his technique next time.

Graham was just one of a lovely bunch on set that day. His background was, ironically, in the world of real soap--the froth n` bubble variety. He`d been an executive for a major company based in Africa. Between shoots, I heard all kinds of tales, about luxury living, raising a family thousands of miles from home, and resettling back in Blighty.

He swapped hair-raising stories with Peter, who knew Nigeria well. Jason was there too--a mature drama school student who`d reassessed his life after nearly losing it in a holiday balcony fall. There was Johnny, an ex forces pilot, and lovely Michael from the Wirral, one of dozens of retired police officers who seem to find their way into extras work. Over two days we acted (a bit), chatted (a lot), watched a lively soap storyline being filmed in a gorgeous setting, got paid...and got incredibly well fed.

 In fact--they feed you so well, sometimes, that it can be a struggle to manage your tray, loaded with plates, dishes and cutlery, and your bag, and heels, often, down the steps from the catering truck and then up into the extras` double decker diner.... which is where the custard came in....or out, really, dribbling dangerously over the edge of Liverpudlian Pauline`s dish, curling over the edge of her slightly sloping tray and funnelling neatly into a tiny gap in her handbag, before reaching into its murky depths and spreading itself over the contents.

Messy for Pauline, but she laughed; we all did--then tidied ourselves up and got back on set: a bus load of shadows behind the stars...clocking up another (sometimes sticky ) day in the life of an extra.

+ Fancy being an extra too? Want to hear about the `extra` I met on Coronation Street, who works in between lifesaving dialysis treatments? Click on `Life as an extra` under Topics (up there on the right)...and see some hints and tips on getting started. Make sure you come and say hello if you see me on set !  :)

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