NEWS- Extra, extra: Film lures 'background' hopefuls

By 10 o'clock on Saturday morning, a line of people already wrapped around the downtown block. Armed with headshots and wearing expressions of determination, members of this crowd were sticking to the early-bird adage by showing up for the first of four casting calls for Evan Almighty extras, held February 25 in the Carver Recreational Center.

Plans are to shoot segments of the film– the sequel to the 2003 Jim Carrey blockbuster, Bruce Almighty– in Charlottesville, Crozet, and Richmond from mid-March to mid-May. Major roles for the Tom Shadyac-directed flick went to Steve Carrell and Morgan Freeman, but locals still had a chance at background parts.

As they arrived, the embryonic celebs were instructed to wait patiently outside the gymnasium and fill out a form detailing physical description, dates of availability, and past experience as an extra.

One question asked what sort of vehicle the hopefuls drove and what sorts of props– bicycles, pets, cameras– they could bring to be used in the film.

"Sometimes we'll have you just driving your car around the set– that makes it a pretty easy day for you, and then we pay you additional money for the use of your car," extras director Tammy Smith informed the crowd at a briefing session. "Or maybe if you tell us you have a dog, we'll want you to bring it, so you can be walking it around a neighborhood."

Smith said she was on the lookout for people who could play upper-middleclass neighbors, reporters, police officers, congressmen, congressional staffers, and construction workers– all logical requests, given the premise of the film.

Carrell, coming off the success of last year's hit, The 40 Year Old Virgin, plays a newly elected Congressman who moves to a partially developed suburb of Washington, D.C.

Veteran actor Freeman, cast as God, commands him to build an ark in preparation for a flood. Hilarity presumably ensues, but Smith is less concerned with The Talent than she is with her "background artists."

"We can't make a movie without extras," she told the auditioners, "unless we're making that silly Tom Hanks film where he's on a desert island the whole time."

Following the briefing, each person grasped his ID placard like any hardened criminal in a line-up to have his photo taken by one of Smith's crew. Several brought headshots– even resumes– including veteran extra David Foster of Waynesboro.

"I was an extra for The Village, so I've done this before," said Foster. "I'd like to be bumped up to a day-player part, but mostly I just do it because I enjoy it."

The extra cash probably doesn't hurt, either. Non-union extras are paid $65 for a 10-hour workday, with additional compensation for use of a car, pet, or prop. Most film days exceed 10 hours, at which point overtime pay kicks in.

Just ask Donald Camper of Richmond, another Carver dreamer, who by now probably knows everything there is to know about how to be cast.

"I've been involved with 66 different films, often as an extra," Camper told the Hook. "For this film, I'd like to be a day-player as a senator."

For every extra expert who turned up to try out, there seemed to be 10 novices. Michal Emmert-Hart, for instance, showed up hoping to land her first role– as a neighbor or a reporter.

"I have this life philosophy that at one point or another in everyone's life, they should either be a waiter or waitress or work as an extra," Emmert-Hart said. "So here I am."

So what can people expect if they make the cut?

Well, last-minute scheduling, for one thing.

"Sometimes I book people a week in advance, sometimes the night before, sometimes the morning of," said Smith. "That's because it's a creative process. Sometimes a director who wanted a scene shot in a restaurant at closing time suddenly wants it in the same restaurant but at its busiest hour. That's where I come in, and that's where you guys, the extras, come in."

Auditioners were warned that a typical day lasts about 12 hours and that they should be prepared to be there as early as 5 or 6 in the morning.

"We're up with the roosters," said Smith. "If we're just shooting a day scene, we leave when we lose the sun, at 6 or 7. If the director wants to keep everybody there and shoot a night scene afterwards, we might stay 'til midnight. It's not a factory job."

In addition to the harsh hours, extras have to follow the rules. Once they arrive, they're not supposed to leave for any personal reason until dismissal. They're not allowed to wander from their designated area, and cameras and autograph requests are strictly off-limits.

As might be expected, the restrictions deterred none of the hopefuls, especially after Smith assured everyone that the overall experience of being an extra would be worth their time and effort.

"It's going to be fun," she said. "I promise you you're going to have a good, good experience."

Extra auditioner Michal Emmert-Hart hopes to score a role as a reporter or neighbor.