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Film, TV productions bring local actors extra income

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If you look closely, you’ll see them on the edge of the action, actors doing their best to blend into the scene and give it a sense of realism.

They’re the unnamed customers trapped in a bank robbery. The faceless fans at a football game. The cops at a crime scene. The world is their oyster but they’re not the pearl. They’re the stuff that makes the pearl shine.

No one gets rich as a background extra, but it’s fun and, right now, with Hawaii hosting two TV series — "Hawaii Five-0" and "Off the Map" — and a major movie — "Battleship" — there’s plenty of work to go around. ("Battleship" alone advertised for more than 3,000 extras and in its first three episodes, "Five-O" has already used hundreds.) Depending on the union, a background extra can earn $139 or $144 a day. Nonunion extras can earn less than half that.

"We provide the body language in the background," said Mike Johnson, a self-employed photographer who got his acting start in 1978 on the set of the original "Hawaii Five-0." He was in five episodes and followed that with more than 40 nameless appearances in "Magnum, P.I."

And close watchers of "Lost" — are there any other kind? — will recognize him as an 11-episode member of the Dharma Initiative.

"It’s something I enjoy doing," he said. "You are working with another actor and lip-syncing in silence. You learn how to act and how to perform and get emotion with your eyes and your expressions."

Johnson got work on the new "Five-0," appearing as a detective investigating the aftermath of a shooting filmed at ‘Iolani School’s football stadium. There’s an art to getting in front of the cameras at the right time, and he’s logged a lot of face time, he said.

"I know the ropes," he said. "I know how to get on camera when they do these walking scenes."

Johnson hopes to get more time as a detective, but he might have to do some juggling: He’s already booked for four days as a sailor on the Universal Pictures production "Battleship," which starts filming Aug. 30.

Given that it’s a police drama, anyone cast as a background cop in "Five-0" can be optimistic about returning to the set — at least, that’s the way Michael "Snoopy" Wells views it after spending a day as a beat officer. Wells was one of nine officers in a scene behind the Ilikai that was so realistic, people walking past him had no idea they were watching a TV show.

"It was funny," said Wells, who is also a photographer. "They had the yellow tape out. There was a car turned over on the beach, and we were all standing around. Bystanders came by and asked what happened."

Seven of the uniformed extras were real Honolulu police officers working on their day off. They ribbed Wells, pointing out that cops wore body armor and not white T-shirts under their working blues.

They’re hoping "Five-0" will do right by their profession when it comes to realism, Wells said. In fact, the cops are betting on it.

"They were saying they’re going to sit around and try to see who can pick out the real cops on the show," Wells said.

There’s so much work that Louis Maytorena, an unemployed graphic artist working as security guard, wondered whether he could do it all.

When he auditioned for "Off the Map," his hair was long. But the first call he received was from "Five-0," to play a cop, which meant he had to cut his hair.

Then when the uniform proved too snug, he played a bank customer instead.

"But you know what?" he said. "For a long time we had nothing. It was the doldrums. This is great."

"LOST" MAY BE over but it’s not gone. On Tuesday, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will release, on Blu-ray and DVD, two new collections for die-hard fans: "Lost: The Complete Sixth and Final Season" and "Lost: The Complete Collection." Both will contain a 12-minute epilogue — leaked earlier this month — that looks at the island under Hurley’s watch.

The sixth-season collection includes deleted scenes, bloopers and emotional interviews with the cast and the show’s creators. The complete collection contains more than 30 hours of bonus material, from behind-the-scenes featurettes to documentaries.

And that’s a wrap. …

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser’s film and television writer. His "Outtakes" column appears Sundays. E-mail him at

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