A friend of mine and I were at lunch one day a few years ago catching up. As we were talking about what was going on in our lives he told me that he had recently been an extra in a movie that filmed in the Atlanta area. He was telling me how much fun it was to be a part of filming something, even if just as an extra. He said just being on the set and watching everything that goes into making a movie was a really cool experience. Being a PART of the movie was even better.
It really sounded fun. I said “Hey, we should do one together!”. He agreed and said he would be on the lookout for one that seemed good for us to do. Pretty soon I got an email from him that contained instructions for how to go try to get signed up for a movie being filmed called The Founder staring Michael Keaton. That’s about all we knew.
We both applied and got accepted! I was excited to do something cool like this, and we were both excited to experience this together.
As we discovered, The Founder was the story of how Ray Kroc maneuvered McDonalds out of the hands of the McDonald brothers in the early days when they only had a couple restaurants.
We were given instructions for several things we needed to do before the days of filming. One was to schedule a time to go in for a wardrobe fitting. The movie being set in the 50’s meant we needed to have a wardrobe of several costume changes selected and fitted for us. We showed up, got measured, and were given clothes to try for fit, look, etc. Those clothes were on set the days of filming and we checked them in and out each day.
My new haircut
One of the other things that had to be done was to get a haircut appropriate for the period. One option was to allow the onsite hair stylists to cut and style your hair the first day of filming. Since this was my first time filming, and I wanted to “go all in” I decided to find a barber shop and have it done myself ahead of time. I looked online and found several styles and picked one that I liked. It was bold – and a HUGE change from the hairstyle I had for roughly the previous 16 YEARS. I came home with this new haircut a few days before filming to the shock of my wife haha.
We showed up for the first day of filming and it was like walking into another reality. People were buzzing all around getting things ready. Hair and makeup happening over here, wardrobe happening over there. “Production Assistants” (Live action project managers / people herders) kept everyone moving in the right direction and moving to and from where we needed to be where we needed to be there.
Once we were all dressed, made up, and ready to go, we all lined up and were “inspected”. Anyone with a wardrobe issue or a hair out of place was sent to fix it. They took pictures of us in groups to refer back to each day for continuity purposes.
Continuity is important in movies (things you never knew or thought of, right?). Have you ever seen a movie where a person’s drink went from full to empty to full every time the camera angle changed in a scene? That is a continuity problem. Or when a person has earrings and then they don’t, and then do again.
Scenes are not filmed start to finish. The movie itself is not even filmed in order. It’s all filmed in little pieces and from multiple angles, in many takes. There is some science to it I am sure, but I am not 100% what that science is. Scenes in one “location” or set are certainly done all at once, then they move to another. Costume changes (or “periods of time” in the movie) certainly have to be another factor (to avoid constant wardrobe changes) , and several other factors. Interesting stuff.
A scene would be setup by the Production Assistants (PA’s) moving the extras into place as the assistant director (or director) called out the scene. It was obvious that the PA’s had a familiarity ahead of time with how the scenes would go. They must have had a story board or walked through them in the mornings – who knows, but it was well orchestrated.
Once in place the PA’s, Assistant Director (or occasionally the Director) would quickly tell everyone what he wanted in that scene. For instance, there was a scene where Ray Kroc was getting out of a car and walking to the restaurant for a grand opening. We were all standing around as patrons and were asked to vigorously applaud when he got out of the car. There were cheerleaders that were to start a cheer of “gimme an M, gimme a C, gimme a D”, etc on queue.
Funny story – for a second take the assistant director asked the cheerleaders to “pick it up at the D”. One of them said “Which D?”. He said “The D!”. They said “There are two D’s in McDonalds”. He said “oh .. The second one”. LOL
Making the cut
My buddy Jason and I filmed one day together and ended up in the movie in that shot (very briefly and from a distance). He was carried away to another area and was filmed in another scene that also briefly got screen time as well. I filmed two more days – one at that location, and one at another location. They asked me to film for another week but I just couldn’t do it (I think I was going out of the country if I remember correctly)
The third day I filmed was a solid 8 hours in a “steak house scene”. If you have seen the movie, it is when the McDonald brothers are at dinner with Ray Croc telling him the story of how they got started. It was about an eight and a half minute scene and we filmed it over and over and over and over – about 30 takes I would guess. When I got home that night I could literally recite what was said.
I was in that scene three different ways. For most of it I was eating a steak and “drinking” a martini in a booth in the back of the restaurant. Remember what I said about continuity? I couldn’t eat or drink what was in front of me. I had to fake eat it, fake drink it, fake chew it. All day. I couldn’t look at the cameras or watch the actors, other than a glance here and there obviously. Otherwise it wouldn’t have looked natural.
I also was at the bar with my back to the cameras for several takes (in a different shirt), and the director (John Hancock) literally “directed me” to walk back and forth in front of the camera about every 10 seconds for the whole eight and a half minutes. At first that seemed very odd to me. I thought “this is going to look stupid”. Then I realized that only ONCE will I walk in front of the camera in the movie – he just doesn’t yet know when he wants me to. So, he ended up with dozens of choices. I was directed by John Hancock! Haha.
It took about 6 or 8 months for the preview to be released, and I was clearly in it. Wow! The movie came out 6-8 months after that (after being pushed back several times) and I ended up getting some descent screen time from my first two days of filming, but not very much at all from the day where I filmed the most. It’s odd how the editing process works. I was there, but due to lighting and editing you just literally couldn’t see me. I was barely a blur in the background. But, that’s part of what’s needed to make a movie look authentic.
It was certainly one of the coolest experiences I have ever had and I am thrilled to have done it, and especially to have shared the experience with my buddy!
He went on to do a dozen or so movies and landed on the BIG screen in a big way in a movie called American Made with Tom Cruise. He was front and center in the preview and the movie, and even spoke. Here is a blog he wrote about his experiences. So cool!
If you have any interest at all in trying this out – DO IT. It’s fun, and heck they even pay you $64 a day! 😉