Close your eyes for a minute and envision the opening shots of one of your favorite “Hawaii Five-0” episodes. Got it? Okay, for the purpose of this exercise, let’s use the Spectacucon episode “Na Me‘e Lāua Na Paio” as an example. See in your mind’s eye beach shots of sun, surf, fancy hotels, and then a familiar close up of a hotel pool where a little boy and his mommy are playing “look Ma, no hands,” which unfortunately ends in deathly disaster. Remember the scene? Good. Did you notice anything else? Yes, there’s no McG and his gorgeous aneurism face to distract us, nor is Kono hanging out in a bikini, but think about what is in the background.
Yes, people. Other people in the scene walking past Mommy reading her celebrity gossip rag, girls laying out on beach chairs, other kids in the pool, a beach ball being bounced around, a lifeguard in red shorts.
Bet you didn’t remember all those folks in the scene did you? But they are important, as important as little Dylan and his Mommy, as important as the tights-wearing Captain Fallout who fell onto Mommy’s cozy gossip-loving cabana. They’re called Extras—or Background—in the television and movie industry, and while they seem insignificant to the movement of the plot or the development of the major characters, they are as important as Kamehameha’s statue and Diamond Head is to establishing the setting of “Hawaii Five-0.”
I mean, can you imagine a beach with no bikini clad women or hot-dogging surfers? Or a hotel pool sans people holding umbrella drinks? Not very realistic. Extras help to create a look, and while you may not remember them specifically—unless you know a few who have been lucky enough to be in certain scenes—you don’t pay any attention to them when they fuzzily wander through on our television sets.
If you don’t notice the people in the scenes, then they are doing exactly what the director needs them to do. Be nondescript, be innocuous, BE the Background.
I worked with Extras in the mid-90’s on the pilot for the series “Amazing Grace,” with Patty Duke, Dan Lauria and Joe Spano, and on major motion pictures, like Disclosure and Georgia, that were being filmed in the Pacific Northwest. Don’t even bother to look in IMDB, I was never mentioned because they normally don’t list “Peon to the Peon” in the credits. When I worked with Extras Casting, I did everything from working a “Cattle Call” to casting extras, to working on set as a PA (production assistant) getting Extras vouchered, costumed, fed, and on set when called for by the First AD (assistant director). Believe me, there are many Assistant Directors in television. There’s a Second AD, and sometimes there’s a Second Second AD. I’m not kidding, when I tell you half the battle of being on a movie set is learning the jargon.
I will tell you that it was a great time in my life and I learned a lot about working with people. Yes, I know that sounded like a complete cliché, but when you have to cold call people to convince them that yes, working a 12-hour day for minimum wage and then only getting to see the top of their own head in the shot when it finally airs, is a really fun time, and then sitting with them for all those hours while they wait to get on set for 10 minutes, you really DO learn how to work with people. And you learn quickly.
So in the next few Five-0 Redux blogs I’ll be talking to a few Extras who have experienced the “Hawaii Five-0” set and who have been featured in specific shots because of their own special talents. I’ll fill you in on all the fun and not-so much fun aspects of being on a real television set. Sometimes it’s more about waiting than working, and a lot of hurry-up! Now—WAIT. And wait some more.
Okay, I don’t want to scare you into not signing up to be an Extra, because it is a fun time. You do get to see the stars and they are really nice to everyone. Well, they were in my experience, and I haven’t heard different about the Five-0 crew. And watching a set come to life with all the cameras and lights and scenes being shot with military precision is something not many of us get to experience. So hang on for more insider info from a few Season One extras who have experienced being on the Five-0 team—at least for a day or two. Not many of us have been invited into the inner fold, and we’ll get to experience “Hawaii Five-0” at least vicariously through a few lucky locals.
Wendie Burbridge is a published writer, playwright and a teacher of literature and fiction writing at Kamehameha Schools-Kapālama. Reach her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Five0Redux and Twitter @WendieJoy.