Wardrobe day and bad directions – the life of a movie extras

When I was in high school reviewing new releases for the “Asbury Park Press,” I remember seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” and thinking to myself how uplifting it was that someone so young by the Hollywood standard could go out and make his own films. Shyamalan was one of the directors I’ve placed on a pedestal with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and Sam Raimi – people who didn’t necessarily follow the Los Angeles trend. He was someone I read and wrote about, never thinking that I’d one day work for him.

Until I got a call three weeks ago asking if I would be available to do just that. Backstory? While interning at the New Jersey Film Commission, I heard that Shyamalan was going to hold an open casting call for extras in Philadelphia. So in mid-July, I hopped in my car, took off from work, grabbed my girlfriend Jaime and off we went. Three hours and 95 degrees later, we had essentially melted on the hot pavement in an endless line of hopefuls. Some were seasoned veterans of the acting craft, others were greenhorns such as myself. Once inside, we received only a five-minute briefing, filled out a r?sum? card and had a headshot taken.

After almost three months, I had assumed that was the end of my story. That was when Rebellion casting called looking for me. Thus began the whirlwind adventure that is my experience on the set of “Lady in the Water.”

After agreeing to work on the picture (talk about a no-brainer), I was assigned a date to come in for a costume analysis and was asked to bring three changes of clothes for potential wardrobe. I left campus early, budgeting enough time to account for the apparent 25-minute drive. Of course, randmcnally.com helped about as much as mapquest.com usually does. By 4:45 p.m., while stuck in downtown Trenton traffic, I had serious doubts that I would make it to my 5 p.m. appointment in Levittown, Penn.

After making two wrong turns (which apparently did, in fact, make a right), I miraculously found myself on the road to the set. Once again, despite all of my preparations, I was only kept for perhaps 10 minutes. I pulled up to the set (which I believe was actually made from part of an old industrial park) and asked the security guard where I needed to go. She checked the list for my name (that’s right – I was finally on the list) and pointed me in the right direction.

The wardrobe department was the first thing that threw me for a loop. As a film major and general movie geek, I’m used to seeing extensive wardrobes. Except, usually it’s on a special feature for a movie, not right in front of my face. I revealed my three sets of clothing, only to have the woman in charge tell me that she loved my shirt (which I didn’t even think about as I wore it only to change into and out of) and the brown khaki shorts I had on. Apparently she liked the “shading” of them, the worn quality. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that their quality was due to them having been worn all summer while I ran sweating around a baseball stadium lugging a camera. Didn’t fit the glamorous mold of the movie world.

After having my pay voucher signed (yes, I was in fact paid $16 for 10 minutes of showing off my Target-purchased apparel), I slowly made my way out of the set. I still did not know anything about the movie. Shyamalan is known for his secretive nature. There was no sign of the cast or crew, although I saw a massive five to six level structure off in the distance, behind the rows and rows of trailers and tents. Was this where I was going to work? It looked like someone played tinkertoys with a bunch of modular homes.

Curious and excited, I returned to campus, after getting lost again. I didn’t care. I reflected upon my good fortune. I was about to make my professional film debut (not as a crew member) on an M. Night Shyamalan movie. One starring Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of director legend Ron Howard. One starring Academy Award nominee and champion of “The Everyman,” Paul Giamatti. Would I meet any of these people? Time would tell.

And sure enough, Wardrobe Day was only the tip of the iceberg. I’ll have more on my adventures on the set of “Lady in the Water” next week.