I realized that the entertainment industry and the military shared many similarities, when I spent several weeks participating in the production of a Hollywood blockbuster. I even saw myself on screen in the movie (disclosed below) when it was released. Here is my story:
My show time as an extra in the Hollywood production was 7:30 a.m., so I arrive 15 minutes early. I’m not the only one, as a large group of other Air Force members and even some Soldiers are milling around. It’s everyone’s first day and we’re all eager and excited, not quite knowing what to expect.
We sign in and get some breakfast. Shortly after, we are told to go get our gear and head out to the armory to pick up our weapons. Once we’re all decked out in our gear with weapons in tow, we’re told to sit tight.
“Get ready. We’re going to board the buses in 15 minutes!” shouts a voice. Thirty minutes later we’re still sitting there. Finally we’re told we are boarding the buses, for real this time. We awkwardly gather our gear and try not to run into the guy or gal in front of us when suddenly, “No wait! Sorry, only Army personnel may board the buses.” The majority of us, who are Air Force, stop, look at each other, smirk and head back to our seats.
Five minutes later another voice tells us we’re boarding the buses, so we all get up, but wait, this time it’s only those designated Air Force security who can board. Again, the majority of Air Force personnel smile, shake our heads and return to our seats. Another 10 or 15 minutes go by before the other Air Force members can finally board the buses.
We are dropped off at base camp, where we…yes that’s right…we wait. And if you can believe it, we wait even longer than the first time! After lunch and several false incidents of, “We’re boarding the buses now,” we finally do. By this time there is a system in place, Army first, Air Force security second and all other Air Force last.
We’re driven out to the location where we are going to be working only to…can you guess? That’s right, we wait on the bus until they were ready for us. But by that time it’s raining so we continue to wait.
I’m not sure how long this went on because I fell asleep, and the next thing I know we are back at base camp because it seems we cannot work in the rain. That was the moment when I realized that although we were in uniform, we weren’t in the military anymore. As a service member the idea of not working because of the rain is unheard of! This was definitely a movie set.
I was truly struck by how similar the entertainment industry is to the military. Throughout my six-day experience as an extra, and later as a stand-in during a Warner Bros. movie shoot at Edwards Air Force Base and on location in northern California, I kept comparing and contrasting the similarities.
The hurry-up-and-wait was the most obvious similarity. Except for the first day, we had to arrive super early and usually didn’t leave for the actual set until an hour or more later. During rehearsals we waited, during takes and in-between takes, we waited. We’d be told to get ready to leave in 15 minutes which turned into 45 minutes, just like many instances in the military. We were herded like cattle and told exactly what to do, just like Basic Military Training.
One day during lunch a group service members sat at the front tables and we’re promptly shooed away, because those tables were for the “important people”. We all know about the “important people” in the military. But on a movie set everyone is dressed alike so you can’t really tell who the important people are, which isn’t as bad as you’d think. If you are nice and respectful to everyone, it helps.
We were all pretty blown away by a person paid to hold umbrellas for the actors, one in particular. That reminded me of the time as an young Airman where my job was to hold the door for a high ranking individual, because high ranking people shouldn’t open their own doors and apparently famous actors shouldn’t hold their own umbrellas.
We were also amazed by the delicious, catered lunches! Though there were a couple of days where I did feel like I was deployed eating Unitized Group Rations, a horribly-tasting military meal. We couldn’t leave the set on several occasions so the production assistants packed and brought lunches out to us. We’d eat on the set like we would in the field. But for the most part the food was really good.
Another comparable aspect was the pay. As I wait for my last five paychecks to arrive (it seems as if they issue a pay check for each day worked), it’s easy to compare this to the days when I waited and waited for my orders and travel pay to go through. In addition, most of us received overtime pay, something that is foreign in the U.S. military.
Noticeable was the production crew who displayed teamwork and utter dedication. I was impressed with their ability to work together and work so fast! It was just like us when we’re training and have to build tents and get our work centers set up. We all help each other.
They also network and keep in touch with folks they’ve worked with on different movies the same way we do with people we’ve deployed with or gone TDY with. The camaraderie within both industries is remarkable.
Teamwork, expertise, hurry-up-and-wait, be ready to wait some more, show up way earlier than necessary, watch-out for the important people and you will get paid-eventually are all components engrained in both the military and entertainment industry. Needless to say, it was actually a pretty smooth transition for me.
Finally returning to my work at March, I was hit with a perfect example of the military and movie industry intermingling. My editor wanted a commentary on my experience as an extra, yet Warner Bros. had me sign a non-disclosure agreement. How many times have military people been on missions they can’t talk about? Well this was a first for me. I wondered how in the blazes I was supposed to write a commentary if I couldn’t discuss what I had done.
I still haven’t gotten a clear answer on that, but it is definitely a very military request, (thanks Linda) and it must be an entertainment industry thing too because they’re on board with it, as long as they get to clear it with the production company first.
There you have it, a commentary on my experience as a film extra and stand-in without disclosing any specific details. By the way, the movie was Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill as Superman.