movies

'My first gig was on a Brad Pitt film.' The reality of being in a Hollywood blockbuster.

A raucous roar of laughter came from the makeshift garden as set runners realised Brad Pitt was just playing a prank.

The actor was dressed like he’d stepped out of the 1930s and was holding up a piece of plastic dog poo he’d borrowed from his son.

We were on the set of Allied, the 2016 thriller in which Brad plays Max Vatan, a World War II operative.

Here’s the trailer for Allied if you missed it or need a refresher. Post continues after video.

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When I moved to London with no job and no contacts, I somehow found myself picking up work as an extra. My first gig was on a Brad Pitt film.

What the actual heck.

Looking back, I don’t think I realised how insane that sounds, but the reality of working on a huge Hollywood blockbuster was actually quite monotonous and dare I say it… boring (hence the dog poo prank).

Every morning for a month I would get to the studios at 6am. They were on the outskirts of town in an industrial estate and the security to get signed in involved several ID checks.

Once in, I would have my hair and makeup done for about an hour and then the costume department would check me over meticulously to make sure everything was perfect. Keep in mind I was an extra, my name on the call-sheet was literally “Yorkshire Girl 1” so I was of as little importance as humanly possible in the cast.

But the level of detail and precision given to every one of the dozens of extras’ looks was impressive. The line on the back of my stockings had to be perfectly in line with the middle of my leg. My hair had to be exactly the same as the day before.

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Every day hair and makeup was about an hour, and then we'd be in costume for half an hour.
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For those four weeks, we filmed the big crescendo moment that comes near the end of the film. It's set in a house, which they'd created from scratch inside a huge empty warehouse.

The scenes we filmed were mere minutes in the actual movie, but we did 15, 20, 30 takes for every tiny moment. Brad Pitt walking down the stairs and delivering one line took 17 goes. In that particular scene I'd been directed to sit on one of the stairs and be "fake drunk" with a fellow extra.

It was like Groundhog Day, and the only part of me that actually made that shot was a glimpse of my dress - and yet we had to do every take in full-blown character.

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My skirt made this shot... I remember being particularly perplexed by how long we spent getting this. It was a three-second shot. Image: Allied.

The big stars like Brad and his leading lady co-star Marion Cotillard were given more breaks than us.

They had tents on the set which they'd totter off to in between scene changes (the rumour was that Brad had a huge bowl of grapes in his. It was... a weird rumour. We had a lot of time to ponder these things).

Meanwhile, we all stood around with our legs aching and our tummies rumbling because it would take too long to let us all file on and off set like the Brads and Marions of the production.

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Just Brad Pitt and I hanging out on set. (WTF) Image: Allied.
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There were doubles with similar measurements for the lead actors who would stand in so the crew could get the exact lighting and camera angle - then Brad would just replace them when they were ready to properly roll. But even so, he still had to shoot 17 times.... it was still tedious and bloody boring.

As an extra, you become super close with your fellow extras very quickly. We were like family. We spent close to 12 hours a day for four weeks together and most of the time we were just waiting around. I met the most bizarre and amazing characters; a lot of actors in training who would either try and upstage the actual actors, or hide their face from the camera because they were embarrassed to take an "inferior" role.

There were carpenters, students and teachers in school breaks looking for extra dough, and then there were the career extras (my personal favourite) who would just jump from production to production.

"Are you moving on to Star Wars after this?" I was asked in the lunch-line by an older man in his costume béret and suspenders who proceeded to tell me he'd worked as an extra for three decades.

The money is good for how little you do, but the work is unpredictable and transient - you can be dropped from a few days of booked work or called up to be extended at a moment's notice. That's why when you're on set, you try and get more money to make the most of it.

If you have an interaction with a main character - it's more money. If you're asked to show your boobs - it's a s**t-load more money. I soon realised why when the director offered 'extras' everyone's hands would spring into the air on set.

I thought they wanted fame, turns out, they just wanted more money.

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Dancing (horrifically) about 30cm from Brad, HOW WAS THIS A MOMENT IN MY LIFE. Image: Allied.
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On set it was one runner's job to water the footpath between takes so that it looked 'dewy'. Another runner's job was re-lighting everyone's (menthol) cigarettes. There were people for... everything. I honestly didn't realise how many people it took to make a movie.

The sheer number of crew, actors, support staff and designers became apparent when we'd all line up single file for meals (looking ridiculous in 1930s dressups and huge bibs so we didn't stain our outfits). I still dream about those meals to be honest - we're talking super fancy buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Brushing shoulders with famous actors is very surreal. I'd watched Brad Pitt for decades, and suddenly he was in front of me asking if my accent was Australian. In one scene I had to run out of a doorway with Marion Cotillard and she kept fondling my ears (I had to wear huge earrings and she was trying to decide whether to pierce hers). Let me repeat that, Marion Cotillard fondled my ears. 

It sounds so strange in hindsight, but in the moment they were just normal people doing the same 25 takes in a row as we were. They laughed with us, talked about their lives with us, and were pretty damn... normal. Shock horror.

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We spent hours on this set, and hours in this backyard dancing while Marion and Brad had a serious talking scene. Image: Allied.

Being plonked on the set of a Hollywood movie for a month is probably one of the weirdest things I have done. But now, my favourite thing to do when I watch a movie is to watch the extras.

They're the delirious ones in the background acting out inside jokes they've been concocting over the course of 12 hour days and 478 takes.

Feature Image: Supplied and Paramount Pictures.

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