I’ve been waiting for today since last October. That’s when I wrapped up my work as a background actor on Marvel’s Ant-Man. Because I signed a non-disclosure agreement, I can’t tell you anything about the plot (but, honestly, I don’t know anything anyway). But I can share with you a couple of things I learned while filming.
Fulfilling a childhood dream is awesome. Not that specifically being in Ant-Man was my childhood dream, mind you, but to stand as an adult on the set of a big-budget superhero movie was a “pinch-me” moment for my childhood self. As someone who always wished he could climb inside of his favorite comics, to be able to do so in a fashion was amazing.
Background acting is actual work. I won’t glamorize it, mainly because it’s long hours at low pay and not as sexy as some would think. It royally beats digging ditches (which I’ve done) or working other manual labor (which I’ve also done), but it ain’t sitting around doing nothing. Well, it is in some ways, but it’s still tiring. I will be forever grateful to Lori, Jon, Callie, Myava, James, Dave, and the other wonderful people I met during filming for making the long hours a blessing instead of a curse.
I learned more about acting than I ever learned during my time in the theater. This was a crash course in subtlety. Theater acting is an art, so please don’t misconstrue my point. But film acting requires a level of control I never understood. Expressiveness through the eyes, the slightest flicker of a finger, a weary but knowing smile – these are difficult things for a human being to do on command. Most of us do them without thinking.
Being yourself is a big plus. Sounds counter-intuitive in a field where you’re pretending to be someone else, but trust me on this.If you’re interested in being an actor or background actor in Georgia’s burgeoning film industry, don’t miss this: having fun and acting natural was 90% of the reason I got on camera. Not being a professional actor, I tried to take the approach that I was getting to live a dream for a couple of weeks so I might as well have fun. My motivation was always the same: how would I react if this fake situation happened in real life? And you know what? That attitude, combined with always being ready when the AD came through the door, resulted in my being in front of the cameras. A lot.
Being respectful helps a lot too. My initial run on Ant-Man was one week of overnights. I showed up each evening on time, having followed the casting director’s email to the letter. I said yes sir and no ma’am, thank you and please, and it made for a very pleasant and enjoyable week. It also earned me a call to come work a week later when a bunch of other background actors bailed at the last minute. That’s right–I was called to come back and work because I was polite and respectful. It matters, folks.
Casting agencies have to deal with a lot of crap. I LOVED the casting agency who worked on Ant-Man, New Life Casting. They are phenomenal; they like their talent, they communicate well, and they work hard to help their talent achieve success. For all the different productions I worked on (October of last year was a busy acting month for me), New Life was my favorite agency with which to work. But I noticed, on every production, that casting agencies face some challenges. They usually have to deal with a few people who cancel at the last minute, don’t show up prepared, gripe about the stupidest things, and in general seem to resent working on a film or television set. Making dreams come true ain’t easy, y’all–the least you can do is be nice to the people who want to help you.
Georgia is in position to have an amazing film industry. I was able to work both on location and on a studio set, and I have to tell you that our state is legit when it comes to making movie magic. I was a little scared that the crews would be fleshed out by some of our less-than-glorious Southern counterparts, but we have a collection of technical and creative talents in this state who are brilliant. It was a privilege to work with them, even if I didn’t always like how they did my hair.
Finally, if I were a high-school or college student looking for summer work, this is what I’d pick. Seriously. It will require you to get your crap together on a daily basis (you have to submit constantly), which is good for you. It also requires you to learn punctuality and respect for others (or else you won’t get called back). But more than anything, you can launch into your adulthood having spent time on a movie set, being a part of something visionary, learning about crucial truths like teamwork, unity, brotherhood and service.
Plus, you can go back to school in the fall and tell people how much better your summer job was than theirs. And you’ll be 100% right.