3 Lessons from a Film Extra

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It’s not every day God decides to teach you on a film set. One spontaneous, summer day, I discovered that a particular, British organization was hiring background actors that fit my description for a TV show. My friend and I applied, got accepted, and packed our bags. After driving an embarrassing distance, I arrived to be an extra. What a whirlwind! Wandering wide-eyed through a maze of white trailers, flapping tents, humming generators, colorful costumes, and calling crew members I eventually found check-in and got my paperwork in order. I was then shooed away to costuming and hair and makeup. Sitting before lightbulb-bordered mirrors surrounded by bottles of creams, lipsticks, and sprays, the stylist brushed me with powder.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Here are three lessons from my time as a film extra:

1. Show Biz is Slow Biz

Once styling was through with me, I sat in the holding area with nothing to do. Nothing. Lunch came and went. Once I finally made it onto an actual set, a crew member spotted me from the back of the sea of extras; remembering my name, he picked me out and escorted me to the center of the set, next to the seats for the lead actors! As someone who spent 15 plus hours a week in theater and dance, I was no stranger to rehearsals. I settled in, and we ran through the scene.

After rehearsing the scene repeatedly with doubles, a reverent hush rushed over the set; the leads swaggered into place. Then we repeated the scene a dozen more times with the actors. Action! We ran the scene repeatedly with cameras running. It was an exhausting, drawn-out afternoon. In the end, the majority of filming was mind-blowingly, painstakingly dull. Perhaps TV wasn’t all it was made out to be? Were we spending our time well? I’d have to wait and see.

2. Filming is Fake

Going back to when I first got up from my session with the professional stylist, I asked why she hadn’t arranged my hair. “I think it’s fine,” She encouraged me. (Talk about a confidence booster.) However, once the cameras started rolling, my “I think it’s fine” hair rebelled, falling out of place, limping across my face. After each “Cut!” a stylist would sigh impatiently, pushing my hair back into place.

Meanwhile, the lead actress was being preened like a perfect parrot in a lab. A glamorous hair and makeup artist flitted forward, lifting a strand of red hair from the lead’s forehead or brushing a bit of powder on her brow before scurrying back off screen to lurk behind the camera. The highest maintenance might be needed at any moment, so the artist stood on-call, holding her brushes and her post through the beauty-vigil.

Ladies this is important: my hair was still beautiful, the lead was beautiful, the whole set was beautiful. None of it was flawless. I’m glad I saw with my own eyes that the perfection I see on TV is fake. Filming is a magician's business, full of tricks, staging, and editing. It’s a meticulous masterpiece. It takes every hair on your head into account. The set was artistic. Not realistic.

3. Submitting on Set

As an extra, I was at the bottom of the food chain. The surf in the kingdom. An untouchable. Separate food, separate water, and separate seating reminded each of us in case we forgot. We sweated in the sun, our eyes following the lead actress strolling under the black umbrella that constantly bobbed behind her. We had the right to obey and be silent.

While on set, I found myself being incredibly respectful, submissive, and obedient to people I didn’t know existed two days before. After all, If I went against an order, I could be yelled at, kicked out, or sued. Not exactly a red carpet experience, right?

I counted myself privileged to have the chance to obey so fully on that TV set. How much easier was it for me to obey man, whose names I might ignore rolling through credits, than Jesus, who went about washing feet? It got me wondering: There I was humbly nodding my head, taking orders without resisting, and looking starry-eyed at strangers. Isn’t that how I should be acting to the One who deserves it?

Read Romans 6:18. It puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I don’t want to act humbly, not before others or a camera. I want to live humbly, by the Holy Spirit. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time,” (see 1 Peter 5:6). Real life is lovely! It’s unrehearsed! I’m satisfied to be living my imperfect, genuine life (and trying not to waste a second of it) than practicing ten-second segments of a scripted one.

Secondly, while I’m admiring television, flipping magazines, and liking photos I’m observing content that has been poured over, edited, and refined for hours. The stunning results are frilly masterpieces, but not candid representations of a life well-lived. Finally, I should submit to God like an extra on a film-set; quickly, completely, and whole-heartedly. Let Jesus direct your life.

Ireland Kost // @little.island


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A junior at Columbia International University, Ireland E. Kost is double majoring in Teacher Education and Bible with a minor in Music. When she isn't studying, you might catch her dancing, drawing, sipping chai tea, or writing short stories (past midnight) for everyone. Professionally, Ireland works in the admissions office at CIU, promoting her school, planning events, and recruiting students. She is thrilled to be writing as a Delight blog contributor this season while developing as an author. Additionally, Ireland choregraphs and teachers ballet for children. She's a native of sunny Columbia, South Carolina.