16 Comments

  1. Avatar awtytravels
    May 17, 2019 @ 5:51 am

    That’s so interesting! Who knew the film industry had so many people. Now I get why, when I lived in Budapest near the Opera, the streets were getting absolutely mobbed with people when a film was being shot. I think BP stood pretty well for most European cities so they turned it into Moscow, Berlin, Prague… a comparsa city?

    Reply

  2. Avatar awtytravels
    May 17, 2019 @ 5:51 am

    That’s so interesting! Who knew the film industry had so many people. Now I get why, when I lived in Budapest near the Opera, the streets were getting absolutely mobbed with people when a film was being shot. I think BP stood pretty well for most European cities so they turned it into Moscow, Berlin, Prague… a comparsa city?

    Reply

  3. Avatar Peter Carollo
    May 17, 2019 @ 11:24 am

    Blood and Treasure: I just read that Antonio Cupo, a well-known Canadian actor from Vancouver, BC, is in this series and then I remembered your write up. I’ll have to watch this to see if I recognize you.

    Reply

    • Avatar Peter Carollo
      May 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

      I watched it on TV and also PVR’d it. I unfortunately didn’t spot you, but I’ll watch it again later to see if I missed you. I’m assuming that you’re somewhere close to Antonio Cupo, as he plays the lead carabinieri. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re in later episodes rather than the first two that aired.

      Reply

    • Avatar John Henderson
      May 23, 2019 @ 6:21 am

      So the first two episodes were in Rome? Any idea how I can watch from Rome after I return June 3.

      Reply

      • Avatar Peter Carollo
        May 23, 2019 @ 3:55 pm

        http://www.flixtor.to is a very good site. I just checked it and the first episode is up already.

        Reply

  4. Avatar Peter Carollo
    May 17, 2019 @ 11:24 am

    Blood and Treasure: I just read that Antonio Cupo, a well-known Canadian actor from Vancouver, BC, is in this series and then I remembered your write up. I’ll have to watch this to see if I recognize you.

    Reply

    • John Henderson John Henderson
      May 17, 2019 @ 8:25 pm

      Let me know if you see me. I’ll be in Tajikistan during the premiere.

      Reply

      • Avatar Peter Carollo
        May 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

        I watched it on TV and also PVR’d it. I unfortunately didn’t spot you, but I’ll watch it again later to see if I missed you. I’m assuming that you’re somewhere close to Antonio Cupo, as he plays the lead carabinieri. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re in later episodes rather than the first two that aired.

        Reply

    • Avatar John Henderson
      May 23, 2019 @ 6:21 am

      So the first two episodes were in Rome? Any idea how I can watch from Rome after I return June 3.

      Reply

      • Avatar Peter Carollo
        May 23, 2019 @ 3:55 pm

        http://www.flixtor.to is a very good site. I just checked it and the first episode is up already.

        Reply

  5. Avatar Donnybee
    May 19, 2019 @ 9:56 am

    Hey John,

    Great story. I’m an L.A. native and work as background there, but here in Italy at the moment, as I come almost every year and once lived here in Bologna many moons ago, and have done bg here in the past, too. It’s not that much different in Hollywood with the struggles, as well as the fun with some great folks. Some principals, big names, in fact, A List actors, have told us that we make the movie, so please, always remember that we bg are not just movable props. They tell us often to remain in character while rolling, and it’s best to do so. Enjoy and continue to break a leg!

    Reply

    • Avatar Donnybee
      May 19, 2019 @ 10:58 am

      Hi John,

      In Hollywood, we like to refer to ourselves as “Background Actors” or “Background Performers.” Sometimes we’re called “Background” as well as “Extras.” I’m a firm believer that everybody must grease the wheel and we all have a part to play, as if we’re not there and there should be some movement or shadows, it doesn’t look right, depending on scenes, of course. You can claim on your US tax return, too, “Background Actor” and there are some deductions. Some people don’t consider it acting. It is. It really is, even if we’re just a blur in some scenes. Naturally, memorizing lines and actions takes more talent, but bg acting is acting, IMO. Some agents want their talent to NOT do any bg work and if you talk about it, it’s a no no. They want your auditions to take precedence and I need the work, and only if I’m off or I can make it after set will I try to go to one. Thankfully, many auditions are self-tape offers at times, though. I knew someone who was a steady bg on a show. It’s like you see the same nurses all the time on episodes or ER, or The Rookie with the station detectives bg, that’s a regular gig for a season and soe are pulled to be stand ins later, some will even be given a line with a principal, and when that happens, it’s a union voucher if on show that follows under SAG (most do on regular daytime and night time tv, I believe), it’s like a $1,000 day because you were thrown that line to deliver. It’s rare, but it can happen. Anyway, this guy who I knew, his agent told him to absolutely leave the consistent bg gig, but that
      gig was paying his rent and all, but he did leave it after the season, and now has nothing, back in normal bg again like the rest of us who have to fish for work constantly, and auditioning. When I’ve had featured parts, I’ve in fact defied this rule while on set, and I’ve said verbatim that most of what I’ve done is bg. I don’t care what they think because it’s the truth, and a director told me even better, as you’re fresh and you did well with my guidance, and I was called back, in fact, for another featured gig. Not that I’ve been featured that much, but I’m not going to hide from any of this, as every set we learn on, what first team is, second team, action, bg action, back to your ones. And you generally know when you get to set how the day may be, as if the crew is treating each other well, they’ll likely treat you well. If they’re snappy at each other, they’ll likely pass it on down to you. I know many things aren’t going to be the same in Italy as in L.A., but many concepts will be. Anyway, some don’t consider this to be acting. I for one do and like I said, I’ve been told verbatim that we’re in it together, and last Summer in 108 degrees (like 43 Celcius) in the dry heat a bg actor gave way and moved for the principal actor to join us under a finta/prop umbrella and he pulled him back in and introduced himself, shook hands with a few, and said come right back in, we’re in this together and you guys make the movie. Some are indeed very cool and it’s best to remain professional always, as the etiquette is don’t speak to them unless spoken to first. Of course, we’re there to work with them and not make friends, but if it has to do with a scene and they speak with you, it’s cool to talk about the scene as needed. Some are very well known for not wanting to be looked at while in character, as they want to remain in character and can be distracted. Not always so easy if you’re trying to do a scene, and some don’t wan to be looked at at all. I can’t say who in this particular case, as the movie isn’t out yet, but you would know him if you heard his name. Many stars started out as bg actors with Central Casting, Brad Pitt being one of them. Google Central Casting Los Angeles and there is a lot of history on that page. Have a look if you use facebook and join us at Background Artist if you wish. It’s a good resource specifically for bg actors, made especially for us, and admins are all bg themselves. I posted your blog, this article on my wall and would like to post it there on the BG page if it’s cool with you. It’s very well-written as first hand and would be appreciated.

      You speak about that Ben Hur scene and that guy who ruined it with the watch. It’s surely happened in other films, and period pieces, for instances from the 80s or before, they want no smartphones in pockets, as they didn’t exist, but they can still see the impression of them at times on camera. Some don’t want any of them at all on set for risk of pics, so they have to stay in holding areas. Some don’t want them because in Hollywood, paparazzi are among us and take pics at times, even of scripts to sell to TMZ. A big no no, and even if it’s a big city, many are known and someone knows someone else and they’ll find them. I was allowed to have a flip phone in a shirt pocket, which didn’t take pics and could look like a pack of cigarettes, as I folded it up with a large napkin, so it looked thick. Either way, indeed, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait, but directors, ADs, PAs and the rest will always appreciate if you remain in character while rolling. I’ve broken character before because someone made me laugh or being paired up with friends and all, or “set wives” and have laughed and it didn’t make the final cut, thankfully. It tests our skills for sure.

      As for films, not so many, but more commercials and tv shows over the years. That Denzel Washington movie Roman J. Israel, but the working title was City Attorney or something like that. Birdbox on Netflix recently, with Sandra Bullock, a film about Dick Cheney called Vice, but I didn’t make the final cut. I stopped for many years in 1990 after doing a Home Depot commercial with my Mom and the pilot episode of Beverly Hills 90210, and returned in 2017 because I wanted to this time, as I was kind of thrown into it as a child by my Mom, who worked in makeup and later started acting. It’s been grand most of the time, a lot of learning, I am happy with it most days, and I can come to Italy most every year lately during May and June, as it’s hiatus for many shows, so there is little work. L.A. has a lost a lot of work to other States and Canada, as more tax incentives exist there. Netflix and other streaming channels have helped us a lot with some work, but I’m still waiting to get on Curb Your Enthusiasm, as we all have a dream show that we want to work on. The Walking Dead is filmed in Georgia and Central casts from their office there. So many shows, This Is Us, Criminal Minds, Lethal Weapon, The Ranch, Shooter, Grey’s Anatomy, Seal Team, so many others, some pilots that never go very far to air and be picked up by networks, low budget stuff, Geico, Nike, Kelly Blue Book and other commercials, some you make the final cut, many you don’t. These are all shows that we get cast on filmed in L.A. and many are cast by Central, while others are not. I’m not union, but eligible, but won’t ever join. Some of us have older cars, as for period piece or flashback scenes, and they pay an extra amount for them, some very well, some low, but it gets you the gig. And as you’re in middle age, it’s the same in L.A., as many retirees do this in Hollywood and anybody can do it. Most of it is following directions and some have limited English ability, but they get assistance. The worst one can do is hide in your car or try only to stay in holding and not work. The weather can be difficult, as you can end up as a cowboy on Westworld during Summer in the hot sun and costume, or on the beach at sunrise in shorts in January, or doing Christmas shopping scenes in August with a heavy coat on, as you know, but where else can you get paid to eat and socialize or read all day, even study your own script for another part, as you see some doing? To supplement, some will turn on the Uber app after work and drive on the way home and pay for gas. We have overtime and double time, some other pay bumps at times, but I know that here in Italy it doesn’t exist and there is no minimum wage. Maybe if it’s a SAG production being filmed with crew from the USA, they pay the principals their bumps, but non-union generally doesn’t have this. It’s not an easy gig to make a living on, as more and more are doing it, as you say, all can do it, but the majority of the parts are for the younger folks, and this is why some of us have an extra car to get work, as the car gets us booked. Many roles, from father, to church goer, very rarely a prisoner, as I don’t have that look and I never get cast as Italian or Jewish, as Hollywood often has an idea that is very inaccurate with this when they cast with this lol!

      If this is something that you enjoy, keep at it. How many out there will ever have the chance to do this? We’re fortunate for sure.

      Reply

  6. Avatar Donnybee
    May 19, 2019 @ 9:56 am

    Hey John,

    Great story. I’m an L.A. native and work as background there, but here in Italy at the moment, as I come almost every year and once lived here in Bologna many moons ago, and have done bg here in the past, too. It’s not that much different in Hollywood with the struggles, as well as the fun with some great folks. Some principals, big names, in fact, A List actors, have told us that we make the movie, so please, always remember that we bg are not just movable props. They tell us often to remain in character while rolling, and it’s best to do so. Enjoy and continue to break a leg!

    Reply

    • John Henderson John Henderson
      May 19, 2019 @ 10:07 am

      I’ve never heard the term “background” or “big” before but I’ll work that into my next blogs. What films have you been in and what have you played?

      Reply

      • Avatar Donnybee
        May 19, 2019 @ 10:58 am

        Hi John,

        In Hollywood, we like to refer to ourselves as “Background Actors” or “Background Performers.” Sometimes we’re called “Background” as well as “Extras.” I’m a firm believer that everybody must grease the wheel and we all have a part to play, as if we’re not there and there should be some movement or shadows, it doesn’t look right, depending on scenes, of course. You can claim on your US tax return, too, “Background Actor” and there are some deductions. Some people don’t consider it acting. It is. It really is, even if we’re just a blur in some scenes. Naturally, memorizing lines and actions takes more talent, but bg acting is acting, IMO. Some agents want their talent to NOT do any bg work and if you talk about it, it’s a no no. They want your auditions to take precedence and I need the work, and only if I’m off or I can make it after set will I try to go to one. Thankfully, many auditions are self-tape offers at times, though. I knew someone who was a steady bg on a show. It’s like you see the same nurses all the time on episodes or ER, or The Rookie with the station detectives bg, that’s a regular gig for a season and soe are pulled to be stand ins later, some will even be given a line with a principal, and when that happens, it’s a union voucher if on show that follows under SAG (most do on regular daytime and night time tv, I believe), it’s like a $1,000 day because you were thrown that line to deliver. It’s rare, but it can happen. Anyway, this guy who I knew, his agent told him to absolutely leave the consistent bg gig, but that
        gig was paying his rent and all, but he did leave it after the season, and now has nothing, back in normal bg again like the rest of us who have to fish for work constantly, and auditioning. When I’ve had featured parts, I’ve in fact defied this rule while on set, and I’ve said verbatim that most of what I’ve done is bg. I don’t care what they think because it’s the truth, and a director told me even better, as you’re fresh and you did well with my guidance, and I was called back, in fact, for another featured gig. Not that I’ve been featured that much, but I’m not going to hide from any of this, as every set we learn on, what first team is, second team, action, bg action, back to your ones. And you generally know when you get to set how the day may be, as if the crew is treating each other well, they’ll likely treat you well. If they’re snappy at each other, they’ll likely pass it on down to you. I know many things aren’t going to be the same in Italy as in L.A., but many concepts will be. Anyway, some don’t consider this to be acting. I for one do and like I said, I’ve been told verbatim that we’re in it together, and last Summer in 108 degrees (like 43 Celcius) in the dry heat a bg actor gave way and moved for the principal actor to join us under a finta/prop umbrella and he pulled him back in and introduced himself, shook hands with a few, and said come right back in, we’re in this together and you guys make the movie. Some are indeed very cool and it’s best to remain professional always, as the etiquette is don’t speak to them unless spoken to first. Of course, we’re there to work with them and not make friends, but if it has to do with a scene and they speak with you, it’s cool to talk about the scene as needed. Some are very well known for not wanting to be looked at while in character, as they want to remain in character and can be distracted. Not always so easy if you’re trying to do a scene, and some don’t wan to be looked at at all. I can’t say who in this particular case, as the movie isn’t out yet, but you would know him if you heard his name. Many stars started out as bg actors with Central Casting, Brad Pitt being one of them. Google Central Casting Los Angeles and there is a lot of history on that page. Have a look if you use facebook and join us at Background Artist if you wish. It’s a good resource specifically for bg actors, made especially for us, and admins are all bg themselves. I posted your blog, this article on my wall and would like to post it there on the BG page if it’s cool with you. It’s very well-written as first hand and would be appreciated.

        You speak about that Ben Hur scene and that guy who ruined it with the watch. It’s surely happened in other films, and period pieces, for instances from the 80s or before, they want no smartphones in pockets, as they didn’t exist, but they can still see the impression of them at times on camera. Some don’t want any of them at all on set for risk of pics, so they have to stay in holding areas. Some don’t want them because in Hollywood, paparazzi are among us and take pics at times, even of scripts to sell to TMZ. A big no no, and even if it’s a big city, many are known and someone knows someone else and they’ll find them. I was allowed to have a flip phone in a shirt pocket, which didn’t take pics and could look like a pack of cigarettes, as I folded it up with a large napkin, so it looked thick. Either way, indeed, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait, but directors, ADs, PAs and the rest will always appreciate if you remain in character while rolling. I’ve broken character before because someone made me laugh or being paired up with friends and all, or “set wives” and have laughed and it didn’t make the final cut, thankfully. It tests our skills for sure.

        As for films, not so many, but more commercials and tv shows over the years. That Denzel Washington movie Roman J. Israel, but the working title was City Attorney or something like that. Birdbox on Netflix recently, with Sandra Bullock, a film about Dick Cheney called Vice, but I didn’t make the final cut. I stopped for many years in 1990 after doing a Home Depot commercial with my Mom and the pilot episode of Beverly Hills 90210, and returned in 2017 because I wanted to this time, as I was kind of thrown into it as a child by my Mom, who worked in makeup and later started acting. It’s been grand most of the time, a lot of learning, I am happy with it most days, and I can come to Italy most every year lately during May and June, as it’s hiatus for many shows, so there is little work. L.A. has a lost a lot of work to other States and Canada, as more tax incentives exist there. Netflix and other streaming channels have helped us a lot with some work, but I’m still waiting to get on Curb Your Enthusiasm, as we all have a dream show that we want to work on. The Walking Dead is filmed in Georgia and Central casts from their office there. So many shows, This Is Us, Criminal Minds, Lethal Weapon, The Ranch, Shooter, Grey’s Anatomy, Seal Team, so many others, some pilots that never go very far to air and be picked up by networks, low budget stuff, Geico, Nike, Kelly Blue Book and other commercials, some you make the final cut, many you don’t. These are all shows that we get cast on filmed in L.A. and many are cast by Central, while others are not. I’m not union, but eligible, but won’t ever join. Some of us have older cars, as for period piece or flashback scenes, and they pay an extra amount for them, some very well, some low, but it gets you the gig. And as you’re in middle age, it’s the same in L.A., as many retirees do this in Hollywood and anybody can do it. Most of it is following directions and some have limited English ability, but they get assistance. The worst one can do is hide in your car or try only to stay in holding and not work. The weather can be difficult, as you can end up as a cowboy on Westworld during Summer in the hot sun and costume, or on the beach at sunrise in shorts in January, or doing Christmas shopping scenes in August with a heavy coat on, as you know, but where else can you get paid to eat and socialize or read all day, even study your own script for another part, as you see some doing? To supplement, some will turn on the Uber app after work and drive on the way home and pay for gas. We have overtime and double time, some other pay bumps at times, but I know that here in Italy it doesn’t exist and there is no minimum wage. Maybe if it’s a SAG production being filmed with crew from the USA, they pay the principals their bumps, but non-union generally doesn’t have this. It’s not an easy gig to make a living on, as more and more are doing it, as you say, all can do it, but the majority of the parts are for the younger folks, and this is why some of us have an extra car to get work, as the car gets us booked. Many roles, from father, to church goer, very rarely a prisoner, as I don’t have that look and I never get cast as Italian or Jewish, as Hollywood often has an idea that is very inaccurate with this when they cast with this lol!

        If this is something that you enjoy, keep at it. How many out there will ever have the chance to do this? We’re fortunate for sure.

        Reply

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