I can’t believe how I managed to successfully forget this moment in my life, up until now. I honestly, truly did – I have no clue whether I ever mentioned being a background player (movie extra) before on Geek with Style, but yeah, that was a thing I did back in the day; when “plus size fashion” was a bit of an oxymoron. I woke up this morning to a few comments on my latest blog post (yep, I checked my phone before I even stretched to get out of bed this morning,) and I’m not even sure why, but one of the comments brought me instantly back to my college days, like I was being violently thrown right back 10+ years.
Actually sorry, no, come to thinking on it, I do know why it brought back such a powerful memory… I was thinking up my response to the comment on clothing options, and it reminded me of why exactly I talk about fashion on this site.
Living in Toronto, it was really simple to get gigs as an extra. It was so simple that my boyfriend at the time (aka TheHubs) and I managed to get a lot of gigs together, and it was such a great way for a student to earn extra cash for books and blank rewritable CDs and whatever else we needed to survive. Not having to worry about an ever changing weekly work schedule was a dream; essentially we worked whenever we wanted to.
For the most part, it was awesome. We had some hilarious moments that I just can’t share with you all, but I’m smiling about them even now. TheHubs and I met a lot of colourful people of all ages while we sat around, not doing much else, for days at a time. That was the trick really, be prepared to work anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, but sit in this room with all the other extras here for the rest of the time ’cause you’re on call.
You could easily get through an entire murder mystery novel in one day sometimes.
Sure, some aspiring actors and actresses start off as background players, in hopes of being noticed and I have seen it happen, but its a rare thing and that wasn’t why I was there. I loved seeing glimpses of closed movie sets though (the high-school stage design geek/AV Club nerd in me was in heaven at some points,) and yeah, seeing some famous actors was cool too…
But, being a plus-sized, young adult extra 10+ years ago was, on occasion, emotionally draining and it all had to do with my fashion choices. Or lack thereof.
Whenever my agent called, he had two pieces of info for me to see if I could work on the next gig: location, and clothing options. As long as the location was easy to get to, I think I always said yes to the work – which, honestly, that means the “emotionally draining” bit was all on me, I guess.
I kept fooling myself that it didn’t matter really – if I didn’t have the type of clothes required for a gig, I could go out the next day and find the right pieces to wear. I would generally be excited, thinking “Yay, work!” but then I would spend the next day freaking out over what I was going to wear, while desperately trying to find the right items in any given store.
Next time you watch a movie, if there is a scene where a ton of plain/street clothed background persons are involved, check out the colour schemes. Usually, extras are asked to bring two or three outfits from a specific set of colours, or muted colours (for the casting assistants to choose from for you to wear that day.)
TPTB have a specific colour palette to work with, and essentially, your clothes can’t stand out or clash in any way with the stars of that scene. So next time you’re watching, if you look at the star, and they’re wearing bright fuchsia for some ironic reason, you’ll notice that the extras aren’t. There was no way you were going to outshine a star with your fashion choices, but more importantly, choosing the right colour palette mattered to keep the audience focused in the right spot for each scene (instead of having the viewers completely lost in the chaos.)
Repress, Repress, Redress
I have this one very memorable, preferably repressed moment, that happened a few days after my agent called to see if I could be downtown and wear a fancy blue/purple dress. I agreed, optimistically thinking “how hard could it be to find a blue dress?” I couldn’t even tell you which movie this was for (I’ve been repressing that hard,) but I do remember that I wound up sitting in one of the theatres at Ryerson University.
When I had said, “Yes!” I was imaging I’d look like the fashionable, 20-something girl I was (at least on the inside;) roughly along the lines of these fab gals…
And I’m not even exaggerating that, after scouring two entire malls, and three stand-alone stores, looking for the perfect blue/purple dress, this is pretty much how I looked that day…
Okay, imagine the dress and cardigan above as blue, and that is how I looked that day.
The director at one point called me a “lady” (much in the context of “When I say ‘action,’ we’re going to start with that, uh… lady, over there,” when giving us our orders of where to stand/sit/walk, etc. At 21-ish years old, I was not a lady, but I couldn’t make my case when I wasn’t sure that if even my grandmother would be caught in public in the two-piece, frumpy dress I was wearing.
It was awful, and at times, excruciatingly embarrassing.
I tried, ’cause I loved working as a background player (and this was well before the days of personal handheld devices; I can only imagine extras keeping themselves busy with Facebook all day long these days,) but I had to quit after just one summer of fun, because I was simultaneously becoming depressed over not finding anything to wear that didn’t make me look at least 10 years older.
You would think finding clothes to wear would be such a simple thing. I know that I actually lost a couple reoccurring gigs, because the decision makers weren’t happy with the fashion options I brought with me. Heck, in those cases, I wasn’t happy either, so I could understand. In an industry that is all based on image, some of those background casting calls were tough.
I still occasionally wonder if I could go back. The agency I had signed with is probably still around today, but the mere thought of not finding the right clothes to wear again is so horrifying a thought for me, that I think my answer will always be “No way, nuh uh,” even while I celebrate the fact that plus size women do have better choices for fashion now.
Fashion for full figured women continues to be a series of up hill battles, and will be for some time, but its comforting to know that we’ve been winning more and more each year.