Monday, June 20, 2011

How to Get Cast in a Mystic Film

Didn't get a part as an extra in the movie, Mystic Pizza, staring Julia Roberts? Weren’t asked to be a zombie in the recent movie filmed at the Ramada Hotel--despite strolling back and forth in front of the hotel hoping the director would say, “Now there goes a real zombie?”

Don't despair, there are ways of getting into the upcoming movies rumored to be shot here next--or at least to be considered for a part as an extra in a commercial.

Just as I was pondering how I, a plump 50-year-old freelance writer, could get a small role in a film, I received an e-mail from my new friend Kristin of Mystv Studios, the local production company that makes commercials and the travel show, "Mystic Coast Connection," which plays continuously in 4,000 area hotels (their website states: "Get in Bed with Your Customers”).

Anyway, Kristin’s e-mail that may have launched me from obscurity, said, "I was wondering if you'd be interested in helping out on a commercial shoot on June 14 at the Newport Grand Casino. You and I would be PAs, so we’ll be fetching and holding light screens, checking off the shot list, and various other unglamorous things. It might be fun and I know it would be more fun for me if you were there!”


I had no idea what a PA was, and was only being asked because I might be “fun,” but I certainly wasn’t going to reject this chance to squeeze my image somewhere into this film!

Scheming how I could go from PA to film star (or at least film “extra”), I watched taped reruns of “I Love Lucy” to study Lucy's sneaky antics that landed her small roles in Ricky’s shows. Having a terrible sense of style, I wondered what I should wear to catch the director’s eye (my husband, Jim, usually arranges my outfit when I need to look decent). Just as I was e-mailing Jim to remind him to lay out something appropriate, I received another e-mail from Kristin: "You might be asked to be 'peanuts,' meaning filler for the commercial, so make sure your husband dresses you." There was hope I’d get in this commercial—and without any devious plotting!

On Tuesday morning, the day of the shoot, I began learning a whole new industry (such as P.A. means Production Assistant) —and that almost anyone can get into a film as an extra (or a “peanut”)—even me! And if a person has some talent, they can get paying roles as a “principal” or a “secondary” in practical films such as training videos (one actress at the shoot was using her down time to practice a five-page monologue for her upcoming role as an organ transplant recipient in an educational film).

I was told just before the shoot that a “grip” had been hired, so I wouldn’t be needed to hold and carry film equipment. Still wanting to look important, I brought my own clipboard—and it worked! Looking like a person in authority, the actors came to me with important questions that ranged from “Where is the bathroom?” to “Do you think my scene will be shot soon?” One woman, an extra, wanted to leave for a while so she could hang out in the smoking area. I reminded her that the slot machine scene, which required extras, was scheduled soon, but she replied, “Someone else told me it wouldn’t be for an hour or so.” Sure enough, right after she left, I got word it was time for the extras to leave for their scene. I offered to fill her spot (it’s a dog eat dog world out there), but was told I was needed where I was.

How was I was ever going to get my chance to play an extra? I told the cameraman and the directors more than once that I was willing to fill out a scene. No response. Kristin told me not to despair—they might still need me to heap food on my plate in the buffet scene or to dance in the nightclub scene. Since I didn’t want to admit I was a terrible, uncoordinated dancer just in case that was my only shot, I stressed that I was very good at eating—that I would be just perfect for the buffet scene. Not to brag, but I did win first place in a New Jersey pie eating contest—twice!

I was not requested for the buffet scene, but was asked to laugh in the comedy club scene (the camera man neglected to film us when the director elicited genuine laughter with a joke--so we had to laugh afterwards on the count of three). Despite my reservations, I was also needed on the dance floor of the nightclub scene. But I'm not sure you’ll see much of me in this commercial, which is due to be aired during the T.V. show, Wheel of Fortune, and several other places, because I was told by the director, “Now you dance in the back—look as though you are still trying to ‘find your way.’”

I guess that’s true—I am still trying to find “my way” to get into “the act,” but I did learn some valuable tips from the other actors, whose backgrounds included full-time acting professionals, a tradesman trying to earn a little extra money, casino goers who received an e-mail about the upcoming commercial, and retired individuals who read the audition notice in their local paper.

To learn about upcoming auditions in the Mystic area, read local online and print newspapers and sign up to receive audition notices by clicking the "Like" button on the Mystv Studios’ Facebook page and by registering with talent agencies, such as New England Actors.

If you audition for a part, bring a headshot and a resume.

What to wear if you just show up at a shoot: If you haven’t been told what to wear, a costume designer out of New York, Terry Thiry, suggests that women wear “a plain, neutral dress and bring accessories—a couple pairs of shoes, scarf, jewelry, jacket, and sunglasses. For a man, a pair of pants, button down shirt, dressier casual shirt (like a polo shirt), jacket, tie, and sunglasses.”

Good luck!

Lisa Saunders

P.S. The casino commercial is out! If you watch it several times, you might see me dancing in the background wearing a print skirt and a solid shirt. Will I be plucked from obscurity? If you like a challenge, see if you can find me at:

P.S.S. If you would like to see my other "How To" advice, which ranges from "How To Get a Job" to "How to Promote Your Business," visit my "How To" Workshops blog at:

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