May 28 2008, 7:23pm
During the Barliman's Chat that occured concurrently with the PJ and GDT live chat last weekend, a lot of people were talking about how they wanted to be involved in the films. Many people sounded quite serious and determined to do whatever it takes but simply had no real knowledge of NZ or how to get invovled in the films. Fortunately I have worked in front of the camera in New Zealand before (TV commercials, shows, and films) and even had the option back in 2000 to be an extra in FOTR. I passed it up in favor of staying located up in Auckland and working on Xena: Warrior Princess, which was in its final season at the time. One of the many reasons I passed up FOTR was that the conditions, the hours, and the irregular schedule might have meant I failed to pull in a full work week pay check, since I would not be needed every day. Also location filming can be merciless when up against the elements. Some days can drag to 14+ hours. In fact, that is pretty much a usual work day.
How to be an extra / speaking role / or crew member in The Hobbit film
Anyway, in retrospect, I should have gone for it and moved to Wellington. Now that I'm married to an American and living in the USA, I'm not sure I will ever have such a chance again, and I may have moved on from the bit of messing about I did as an extra for other career paths. But for those that want to know how to get into the film here is my guide...
1.) If you want to be an extra, speaking role you will need to find a way of locating yourself in New Zealand by late 2009 early 2010 when filming is scheduled to occur. You will HAVE to be available for many months in New Zealand with permission to work. There is practically no way you will be able to be an extra or featured extra if you aren't local and that basically means being near Wellington (New Zealand's capital). You can either try immigrating to NZ, doing a working visa, or studying abroad in NZ. For some of you who are already at university, I recommend looking into Massey University which has several campuses throughout NZ, with the most logical choice being their Palmerston North campus due to its relative closeness to Wellington. This solution may work particularly well for those that said they are pursuing film studies of some kind, as you can continue your education in NZ and also seek either an extra role or a crew role in the film while there. For more information just respond to this thread, but for now here is a link to Massey.
2.) What is it like living in New Zealand? Well since I have spent the last 4-5 years living in America, I can probably draw a decent picture of what it is like to live in NZ, since I have been able to look back from the outside in. New Zealand is a wonderful country that is only recently really catching up with some of the more "happening" places in the world, in terms of more things to do and keep yourself amused with. Better clubs, more hobby stores, better entertainment all around. Growing up in Auckland (the largest city by far) I was a little spoiled compared to many more rural areas of the country in that the larger pop meant more availabilty of hobby stores and snazzier cinemas, and restaurants blah blah. But Wellington seems to really be taking off too, and this is where you will most likely HAVE to be if you want a reasonable chance of being in the films.
The cost of living in NZ is insanely reasonable compared to the USA and UK. Food is cheap. Hardware is not so cheap. So a computer will cost you more than in USA largely because most of this stuff has to be completely imported from overseas as there is not enough industry to produce many parts locally. However housing is far far cheaper whether you are buying or renting. Unfortunately Wellington is practically tied for the most expensive place to live in NZ, not far behind Queenstown (which is in the South Island where they filmed much of the trilogy's location work). However, you have to balance the lower cost of food and housing, with lower pay checks. As an extra you shouldn't expect regular work either, or for too long since the films will probably be shot in under 6 months (per film most likely). You will not likely be working every day unless you are film crew. All in all, you should be able to get by on a student loan if you are studying along with filming work. It may be tough paying for the roof over your head just with the pay check an extra brings in though... so possible house pool. Ie several likeminded film crew / extras sleep under the same roof and share the costs. If you are a big enough fan and being involved in the Hobbit means that much to you then I think its a good idea.
3.) Contact a talent agency. There are several major talent agencies and the ones I used in Auckland (I ended up joining two concurrently in the end) also provided casting for LOTR based in Wellington, as a lot of extras were required. It would be best to get with a Wellington talent agency if possible, otherwise try an Auckland based one as most TV and entertainment stuff is happening in Auckland, including the Narnia films (their studio is down the street from my mother's house). Anyway, I would list names of agencies, but they may have died or changed since I was in this industry. Basically you just call them, they will then want to meet with you face to face at their office. Then they will most likely try to get you to undertake a "course" which will be spread over a couple of weeks and give you some pretty useless information but help them to get money from you. Unfortunately this is pretty much how the business works. You'll have to put out before you can get in. You will also have to go get professional photos taken for your "contact sheet" which is basically a 8.5" by 11" (or so) card with a big headshot of you on one side, and three various poses of you in different outfits on the othersie along with your statistics. They send contact sheets to the casting directors, but often with big movies your Talent Agency will sometimes just pre-approve you themself and send you to an audtion. You will not need to audition if you are going to be an extra, but speaking roles will have to say a few lines in front of the casting director and a camera. I will talk about how you get paid by your talent agency later.
4.) Be prepared for the following...
Extremely early morning call times. I would get call times like 4 AM to meet at a parking lot / car park where people would leave their cars and await a studio bus that would come and pick up cast and crew. Some studios and locations might allow parking at their site, but many will insist you park at a neutral location to not overburden studio parking and also for security. So I would wake up 3 AM, get to the pick up site by 4 AM, get to the studio location by 4:30 - 5 AM and sit around for a while as the breakfast catering is set up. I think breakfast was usually getting served about 5:30 or 6 AM (its been a few years) and as people finished their meals they would get pulled into costuming and dressed by the costume department ladies (usually ladies), and then sent through to make up (if necessary). They would add a little more tan to my face and shadow under my cheek bones to make me look a little tougher.. even giving muscle definition on my adequate biceps (which I sadly no longer have) to make me look a little more pumped. Make sure you get your food when you have the chance, and maybe even stash a bread bun in your costume somewhere if you can, since you will have trouble accessing your backpack or whatever your brought your personal stuff in. Turn off your cell phone and expect to have to leave it somewhere safe.
Be extremely conscientious of the film crew and the assistant directors and even the costume department. They all work even longer hours than extras do in setting stuff up and packing it away later. Don't mess with your costume. Don't laugh loud or chatter close to film crew, and NEVER talk during filming. Also, avoid silly things like what I did during a scene where myself (a Roman soldier) and others were tying Renee (Gabrielle from Xena) to a wooden cross. I was kneeling in the sand inside a castle courtyard and as I stood up I instinctively brushed the sand of my right knee, flicking it into Renee's (the co-star) eyes! I slinked away into the background even more so than usual after that.
Being an extra or featured speaking extra is not glamorous at all. You will find yourself sitting around bored stiff for long hours. One day in particular, myself and a group of Roman soldier extras sat near catering ALL day long because of a combination of tehcnical hitches and use of stunt men. So there will be times you do nothing all day but sit in a bizarre period costume talking to strangers. I even wound up in a brief relationship with one girl, and we kissed on set, before we finally saw each other at the end of the day without make up and in our regular jeans and t-shirts. She was still cute, but it is weird meeting people for the first time in fantasy costumes.
Don't be a smart asp and try to brown nose the stars. If they want to talk to you they will. Ted Raimi and Lucy Lawless both ended up speaking to me, albeit briefly... and usually during scenes where myself and a couple others were about to lead them onto the set as prisoner and escort.
5.) Getting paid. Getting paid for film might be different than commercials and TV, but I'm betting it is the same. Basically, you will not get paid until the film project you were involved in enters post-production. So the talent agency will give you a story along the lines of "we are waiting payment which will not come until shooting wraps". This isn't necessarily a lie, but your Agency will end up "failing" to tell you when shooting has wrapped. This is because the longer the lump sum from the studio sits in the Talent Agency's account, the more money they can make off it before having to pay it out. They strung everyone I worked with along like this consistently. Even extras from other agency's complained of the same thing. This is apparently the same in the USA and elsewhere. You have to hound your agency for the money you earned. I did not like doing this, and I did not get frequent enough work to warrant continuing as an extra. So I ultimately went back to an office job.
Last note... I had a fantastic time as an extra/actor and have many wonderful memories and anecdotes that will stay with me forever. I would love to re-experience it all, but I may have to do so through other fans who are more able to get to NZ in time. Fortunately you guys have nearly a year and a half to organize yourselves and get over there. I'm happy to answer questions as best I can.
Good luck becoming a Hobbit, or Elf, or Lake Towner, or Goblin!
(This post was edited by merklynn on May 28 2008, 7:28pm)