If you work in my industry, these are words with which you are absolutely familiar.
Today, after three EXTREMELY long days of background work, I wanted to share my personal list of:
The 25 people you will meet while doing background work.
Yes, I understand that not all my readers are familiar with how my job works, but hopefully you too can find some humor in this post.
1. The guy who forgot his pen
This first one just baffles me. EVERY set we are required to fill out a talent voucher. Why you don’t have a pen is just BEYOND me. The only time I haven’t had a pen on set is when someone from the last set I was on stole mine, never gave it back, and I forgot to replace it. Now I just throw 20 pens in my set bag so that I’m never in this situation.
I actually had a guy offer to buy my pen off me two days ago because after working outside for 12 hours in the NYC blizzard, he just wanted to go home. The poor guy. I just gave it to him. HOWEVER… GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER AND HAVE A FUCKING PEN IN YOUR BAG. Come ON!
That’s Background 101.
2. The outspoken lady who knows EVERYTHING about the union and makes sure that EVERYONE in the entire holding knows
Oh lord. This one.
Listen, I always appreciate a good know-it-all, for the simple fact that they are a wealth of knowledge about some things that I would actually like to know. And what’s better is that there is never a union question too stupid for them because they just want to talk.
However, lady, you need to SHUT THE FUCK UP FOR LIKE FIVE MINUTES ABOUT THE UNION BECAUSE NO ONE CARES! We also don’t care that you have a personal relationship with every PA and AD on various sets around the city, (because you don’t), or how long you’ve been doing background work, (forever), or that you were featured as a “female detective #14” on Law and Order that ONE TIME.
We will solicit your knowledge as needed. K Thanks.
3. The guy who never actually does any background work and sits in holding all day
Some people are just the master of not working. This person will always sit in the corner of holding, with a hood above their heads, ear buds in. Whenever the background PA asks for volunteers, you will never see this person’s hand go up. He will spend the 8-14 hours on set reading a post-modern novel, or taking a nap.
He will always be first in line for lunch.
4. The angry old man
He looks something like this:
He hates EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. Don’t tell him “Good Morning!” or worse, try to ask him how he’s been, because then you will get a 15-minute rant about why his life is awful and how NOTHING IS EVER GOING TO GET BETTER IN LIFE BECAUSE LIFE SUCKS AND IS AWFUL AND TERRIBLE AND THERE IS NO GOD.
Good to know.
5. The wildly inappropriate middle-aged man
There is one on every set.
That guy who is in his 40s who thinks it’s okay to grab a 20-something’s ass, whom he’s just barely met. I had one of these men tell me (after I commented on my muddy boots) that he would like to “lick them clean.”
I could honestly share story after story about this one. It’s amazing to me that these men are functioning members of society. No, I actually did NOT ask you to casually grab my arm when we are talking because it’s MY FUCKING PERSONAL SPACE.
Now go chase after some other poor girl before I knee you in the penis and balls.
6. The first-time fan girl
A newbie background actor is endearing. A first-time fan girl, not so much.
Seriously girl??? You’re going to ask for a picture with the hunky lead guy? REALLY??? We are around famous people all the time. They are at work and so are we. Pictures are for pedestrians. Let’s all be professional here and get back to work.
You’re making the rest of us look bad.
7. The kid who’s SO above it all/The Diva
Listen… NONE of us want to be background lifers (even though we know plenty of people who are). We all believe that we are good enough to be principle actors, or else we probably wouldn’t subject ourselves to being human props for 14 hours at a time. But there is no reason to act like you’re better than the rest of us… because guess what???
8. The eager one
I actually admire this person, because they genuinely excited to do just about anything from the production team 100% of the time. Not to say that I don’t love what I do, but being over-zealous to jump into a scene where I know I’m just a blurry blurb in the background is just not my style.
One time I was placed in the DEEP background of a pedestrian scene and a woman started taking deep breaths in and out thinking about what her “character” would be. Good for you girl! Get that acting. I’ll just be over here making fart jokes until they yell “rolling” and then I’ll walk normal through the shot 2-5 times and call it a day.
I’ll waste my talent and energy when the situation is appropriate.
9. The lady who thinks everyone loves her, but actually, no one can stand her
She never shuts up. She never stops complaining. She knows everyone. She’s a background lifer. She makes jokes that no one thinks are funny. She bends your ear about things you don’t care about.
Run away from her.
10. The stage parents
It’s funny to me watch these mothers fuss over their children being perfect, when really this is what they’re thinking:
11. The conspiracy theory guy
Yesterday on set I literally had a guy ask to borrow my phone so he could show me a theory about how famous Renaissance artists were actually painting images reflective of a black hole in space.
Or something like that. I don’t know… my eyes glazed over in about five minutes.
Then he started talking about how robots are going to take over the world and start reproducing, and humans are going to become obsolete, unless we create a self-sustaining utopia.
I can’t MAKE this shit up.
12. The guy who ALWAYS has a piece of crafty in his hands
I love this guy! He knows exactly where the crafty table is, what’s worth getting, what you must stay away from, and is ALWAYS willing to share!
For those of you who don’t know the lingo, “crafty” just stands for the craft food service table. Just think the “snack table.”
Crafty guy never has a problem sneaking away even when production is ready to call “rolling,” and will usually return five minutes later with one plate for himself, and a coffee (exactly the way I like it) for me!
Crafty guy, Shan Baby salutes you!
13. The person who never fails to share their personal resume with every person they encounter on set
I don’t care how many times you’ve been on Blue Bloods, or Nurse Jackie, or that you’re core on The Following.
We’ve all pretty much worked the same shows in New York.
You’re not special.
Also… I’m not a casting director, so you are wasting your time bragging to me, because I don’t care.
14. The non-union person who bends your ear about why their career is so much better because they are non-union/The union person who bends your ear about why their career is so much better because they’re union.
Unfortunately these conversations are un-avoidable. There will always be the pro-union people and the anti-union people. We can argue all day long about non-union commercials disappearing when you join SAG, or why it’s worth it to join SAG and work less, for more.
The argument is endless, and no one will ever leave this conversation anything other than angry or confused.
I’m guilty of getting into several of these conversations. Sigh.
Let people decide whether they want to join the union on their own.
I’m tired of talking about acting… let’s go back to fart jokes.
15. The union person who thinks they are an A-list actor because they do union background work
We all hope this will happen:
But until it does… you are nothing but a background actor.
16. The complainer
After I got into wardrobe the other day, I had a woman come up to me and complain about how her week was awful, and how she hated the way her costume fit, and how she was worried about getting sick in the cold, and how there was no more eggs at breakfast, and how her coffee was too hot, and that she had a zit on her face, and that her shoes were too tight, and her daughter was mad at her, and blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH.
When she was finally done, I turned to her and said, “I’m sorry to hear that, but my week was FABULOUS!”
She shut up.
17. The socially awkward one
Doesn’t know how to interact with people, so chooses a profession where he has to be around people all day!
18. The actor/model
I’m jealous that ever time a show is looking for a “model type” that you can apply in addition to all the posts for us “normal” people. Stop being so damn pretty!
While you’re looking all pretty… this is me at the crafty table:
19. The actors/singers/theater people
Oh this is DEFINITELY something I’m guilty of being. After we get to a certain hour, the singing starts happening… complete with theatrics.
My favorite recent relapse of theater behavior was being dressed in 1900s attire skipping around with an umbrella for a prop, singing “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” at the top of my lungs.
Then everyone joins in, but there is that ONE GUY, who is annoyed.
And to him, I say:
20. The young charmer guy
Now I know I might take some flack for this… but this guy is usually from Jersey or Long Island, has a thick accent, probably Italian, buff, good looking, and hits on EVERY WOMAN on set.
And then there is…
21. The pretty/innocent girl who is charmed by the young charmer
22. The career advice guy
Somehow I always end up getting myself into these conversations with people older and “wiser” (note the sarcasm) about how I should “never give up,” and “keep going,” regarding my career.
No matter how many times I tell them that I’m definitely not giving up anytime soon, it’s like they just ignore me and continue to give me positive reinforcement. I have to imagine in their mind they imagined me coming up to them, about to throw in the towel with acting, and begged them to give me their “expertise” advice.
From then on, whenever I see these people, they point and wink at me and say, “Don’t you give up now, Shannon. You’re talented!”
23. The DEMENTORS from Harry Potter who literally SUCK THE SOUL RIGHT OUT OF YOU
The complainer, the grumpy old man, and a few others are close to this, but the Dementor is just on a whole OTHER level.
They will literally suck all the joy out of you until THIS happens:
The Dementors have the ability to ruin days on set.
Damn soul suckers.
24. The person who only knows how to talk about background work and refuses to talk about anything else
I have lots of interests.
I’m sorry you don’t.
I’m going to go talk to someone who does.
25. The normal people
So finally, after all the bullshit, I will find those friends on set that I love and respect.
We giggle and sing and talk about things OTHER than background work. We quote movies and play games in holding. We don’t make stupid stories up about our “character” when we talk through sets. We can fill out a W2 and I9 in our sleep and always bring extra layers/gloves/shoes/socks for whatever inclement weather we are going to face. We commiserate with each other when there are crappy circumstances on set, but never go into bitchy, crazy complain mode. We find silver linings in everything. We sleep on each other’s shoulders in holding. We share tips about the best way to take shits on set. The hair/makeup/wardrobe department LOVE us, as do the PAs and the AD because we are nice and agreeable. We don’t talk to the leads, unless for some reason they want to talk to us (which sometimes happens because we are awesome). We get drinks with each other after long days.
These people make everything worth it.
So there you have it.
I work with crazy people.
Such is the life of a performer.
We’ve all been at least one of these people. Hell… I’m guilty of several of these numbers, some of which I’m less proud of than others.
So cheers to all the struggling actors, performers, theater kids, singers, musicians out there. Paying our dues is part of the process, and I’m happy to say that I get to work on television and movie sets until I “make it big.”
Shan Baby the crazy actress/singer/musician/performer/outrageously theatrical/loud/driven lady