The alarm clock went off at 4:00 AM. I was told to “report to Wardrobe” at 6:00 AM with three outfits. Wardrobe would decide what I would wear. I gulped down an instant coffee… no time for French press this morning.
I decided on which outfit to wear. Yesterday’s message had specified that my “Casino Patron” character was dressed “high-end casual”, whatever that meant. I chose some black dress slacks, a shiny blue shirt, the belt buckle I just bought at the Gathering of Nations, a Pendleton sports jacket I bought from a local consignment shop (I don’t pay full price for anything by Pendleton!), a western hat and my gray suede western boots. They told me to bring three outfits, so I brought two more outfits, including hats and two vests.
Three weeks ago, someone told me that the Longmire series was hiring extras. All you had to do was email your photo to the casting agency. I’d never considered working as an extra, but Longmire was my favorite TV show! I was sure that they would never pick me, but I sent a photo anyway. I didn’t even tell anyone! I got a call, three weeks later, asking me to come to the casino the following morning!
I raced to the Santa Claran Casino in Espanola, NM (about 40 minutes north), followed the signs for parking and headed to the big trailer where I was told to check-in.
I spent the first hour in line to get paperwork, filling out said paperwork, then back in line to hand in paperwork, before being told to head to wardrobe.
The Wardrobe Mistress (she hopes to become a Wardrobe Wife one day) liked what I was wearing. The only changes she asked for was for me to go hatless and to add the Pendleton vest that I had brought. No problem. I brought the ton of extra clothing and hats to my car, donned the vest and I was set to be a Casino Patron on the Longmire TV series.
I was told to grab breakfast from the big breakfast buffet. Before I could pick up a plate, the Assistant Director called for all the casino patrons to follow him.
Once inside the casino, the Assistant Director looked me over and announced that I was going to be the “high roller” at a Blackjack table. They put big stacks of chips in front of me. There was a woman who was an actual casino Blackjack dealer who was teaching our fake Blackjack dealer how to deal. She also taught us players how regular players would signal things like “hold”, “hit me” and “push”. We, too, had to look like we did this all the time… especially the high roller! We were told that this was an important shot. We would be in the background of an important dialog scene.
Every time they shot a scene anywhere in the casino, the Asst Director would yell, “Background!” That meant that we (the extras are considered ‘background’) were to do whatever we were supposed to be doing. At the Blackjack table, that meant playing actual Blackjack… even though we may be far to the back of the camera shot. Two of us players would place bets, the dealer would deal the cards, and we would play Blackjack.
The other player at my table was a bald-headed local with a pitiful pile of chips. We would become friends by the end of the day. The young woman who played the dealer was so nervous having to add the values of the cards and deal like she was a pro. We also became friends.
Between ‘takes’, someone came around with sandwiches. I grabbed one since I hadn’t eaten any breakfast. It was a miserable-tasting, soggy egg salad sandwich. I was stuck at the Blackjack table with no trash container in sight. Next, we were told to hold our sandwiches under the Blackjack table so they wouldn’t appear in any camera shot. I had no choice but to eat that nasty sandwich, bit by bit. It wound up giving me gas throughout the afternoon. Perfect.
For an hour and a half, we played Blackjack. The cameras would film, someone would yell, “Reset!”; everyone would go back to their original position until they yelled “Background!” again. Then they would reshoot or move the camera again. At one point, they brought more extras over and said, “This guy (me) is a high roller! People want to watch him bet. Some are hoping his luck will rub off. They’re going to gather around him.”
One woman promised to bring me luck. She apologized that she wasn’t one of those “Hot, young chicks you’d see in the movies.” I said, “It’s okay. …At my best, I was never a James Bond!”
A half hour later we were told, “The Director changed his mind. The Blackjack table will NOT be in the background for that dialog shot. Everyone follow me…”
Next, I was part of a crowd scene… people just walking through the casino and playing slot machines. A Choctaw Indian from Colorado had been telling me jokes while we were waiting for instructions. We were both told to walk to the stairs and climb them to the bar upstairs.
They yelled, “Background!” and up we went. They yelled, “Reset!” and down we came.
…For at least another hour and a half!
The arthritis in my knees hated that scene! At one point, at reset, I missed the doorway and walked into a glass wall. No major injury but my thumb still hurts.
Throughout the casino scenes, I couldn’t hear any of the actual acting dialog. The actors were always a distance away. A. Martinez and Robert Taylor were both in the casino scene. I would have loved to have shaken their hands and gushed like a typical fan, but just as the Asst. Director was telling us what to do, the main Director (RoboCop actor, Peter Weller) was telling the actual stars what to do and how to do it. The actors were clearly busy, concentrating the whole time. Only a total dweeb would say, “Hi! I love your show!”
Those two scenes were my entire morning… playing Blackjack and climbing stairs.
They fed us well. Chicken and pork loin, rice and pasta, salad and veggies, brownies and cake. After lunch, they brought us into the casino hotel to the 7th-floor ‘holding area’. They were filming a scene at a big tent in the parking lot and only needed a few of us. The rest were to wait.
It was at this point that I realized that my tablet and my Nook eReader or even my cell phone might have been good things to bring along. It was at this point I realized I should have worn my other gray boots… the wider ones… my feet were painfully sore!
The guy from the casting agency asked me if I’d be available for the rest of the week. I may or may not be called each day but was I available? I said, “Sure.” I had met some really nice people and, tired as I was, doing this on only 4 hours sleep, it was pretty cool to be a part of all of this… to see my favorite TV show being filmed from the inside.
He also said he wanted me to be in his “database”. They also do the casting for “Manhattan”, “The Messengers”, the upcoming sequel to the movie, “Independence Day” and most New Mexico TV and movie productions. He told me to email him my pictures again, name, address, phone number, height, weight, range…”
“Range??” I asked. “What’s my range?” I had no idea what ‘range’ was supposed to mean.
He looked me over. “62 to 70.”
“Hey!” I fake protested. “I’m only 61!”
I thought this was pretty funny. When I sat back down, I told the story to the guy sitting next to me. He missed the humor entirely. He responded, “That’s GREAT! He gave you a big range! It means you’ll get called back more!”
One thing I figured out is that there seemed to be three distinct types of extras. I’ll call the first type, “Wanna Be Actors”. They take acting classes and work as extras hoping to be ‘discovered’. Nice people, but the least friendly or outgoing. They’re trying to get all the ‘face time’, ‘on camera time’ that they can get. For them, this is competitive. They’re the ones who will tell you how you can spend days working on a show just to wind up on the cutting room floor. They’re the ones who wince when a nobody like me is told, “You’re gonna be the high-roller at the blackjack table.”
I’ll call the second type, “Struggling People.” They may have been between jobs… trying to make ends meet. Some are on disability or welfare. Working as an extra is just an honest way of earning income. I found these to be the friendliest, most down-to-earth people. They’ll tell you how this show pays more than another show. How Santa Fe pays more than Albuquerque. How you get an extra $25. if they use your car in a scene… even if it’s just parked on the street. They love to share their ‘tricks’ on how to get called back more often. They love the fact that they get to meet people and talk with people while getting paid. Many of them don’t even watch the shows they’re on. It’s just a job.
The third type are simply, “Retirees”. Playing an extra is something fun and interesting to do and they give you money for it. I met a bunch of people who play extras because it’s something neat to do with their time. A less-outgoing, but nice group of people. Friendly enough, if you initiate the conversation. They are neither competitive nor concerned about how often they get called.
Another thing I learned from all three groups was that I was very lucky to have been hired the first time I applied. 95% of the extras had done this many times before. Apparently, some had applied for a year or two before they were hired the first time! They couldn’t believe I applied only once and got ‘the call’.
After waiting several hours in the 7th-floor holding room, we were told to come outside for our next scene. In the storyline, this is the grand opening of an Indian casino. (For fellow Longmire fans, this was Season 4, Episode 4). They had four (real) Indian drummers playing a huge gathering drum while (real) Indian dancers danced on an outdoor stage. A bunch of us were placed as casino patrons stopping to watch the show before we entered the casino.
Only then did it occur to me that I was wearing a 100% wool jacket over a 100% wool vest in 70+ degree weather… in the sun.
“Background!”. “Reset”, “Background!”, “Reset”, “Background!”, “Reset”…
This was where I got to see Lou Diamond Phillips for the first time. He was in a scene with Robert Taylor.
After hours of this, they filmed another outdoor scene I wasn’t part of. The Asst. Director told me I had “figured predominantly enough” in the casino scenes …I wondered when, since my big ‘high roller’ scene didn’t happen.
I guess I’ll have to watch the show…
…It’ll be like a TV version of “Where’s Waldo?”
A slightly rumpled casino patron finally home 14 hours after he left.
August 2015 update:
This was the 2nd year in a row that we spotted Robert Taylor and Adam Bartley at the Santa Fe Rodeo. This time Zahn McClarnon (Officer Methias) was seated right behind us. I got to speak with him. Awesome guy!
Robert Taylor ar the Santa Fe Rodeo
I visited nearby Madrid, NM recently and bought a beautiful original stampede string (the strings that hold your western hat on when it’s windy) from the craftsman who designed and made it. The stampede string was adorned with bullet shell casings. The craftsman’s wife told me that a week or so ago, a handful of stars from the Longmire show rode into town on horses and Robert Taylor bought the same stampede string that I just bought!
I recently passed up another chance to be an extra on Longmire again in order to help a classroom of developmentally challenged young adults show off the drumming skills I taught them last year. Santa Fe’s Superintendent of Schools was visiting their classroom and they wanted to drum for him.
It was worth it. When I was in the hospital last month, that class made a get well card for me. Their teacher delivered it. The students wrote some really touching sentiments in it. My favorite was, “Get better so we can feel your drumming again.” When I showed up on Thursday, one big giant of a guy kept patting my back and repeating, “I missed you! I missed you!”
The Longmire show may pay better, but I doubt that the cast or crew missed me like that class would have.
For Robert Taylor fans: Robert Taylor and I did cross paths in the parking lot, at one point. He was obviously in a hurry but smiled and quietly said hi to a mere extra (me) anyway. I heard him talking on his cell phone at one point. His Australian accent is unmistakable. He is quite an actor to drop that accent and pull off playing Longmire as well as he does!