Extra work pays off: Working as an extra on 'Chicago Fire'

By Patricia Urbonas Clark

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[February 13, 2013]  CHICAGO -- When you work on the set of a $5 million-per-episode network drama, you expect the best. NBCs "Chicago Fire" does not disappoint. With five-star food, state-of-the-art equipment, television icons walking freely among you, a new extra can quickly become star-struck.  

As a central Illinois grandmother turned film and television actress, I was no less like a kid on her first trip to Walt Disney World -- I stood with my mouth gaping at the wonder of it all. But then, the professional inside of me showed up, put on her big-girl panties, and prepared for a full day of work ahead.

When you are "chosen" to work as an extra on the set of "Chicago Fire," or any other film set, there are certain expectations. Understatement: requirements.

No pictures. It doesn't matter if every passer-by on the neighboring streets of the North Side has their smartphone plastering Jesse Spencer's sweet mug all over Facebook; you will never work this show again if you take pictures. Got it. Sigh.

No approaching the talent. That means Severide is off-limits, ladies. You can watch him from a reasonable distance on set, but do not initiate contact. Trust me, swarms of security will show you the nearest exit to Neverworkinthistownagainville.

When given direction, take it. No clever ad-libs to show off your incredible acting skills that clearly put you in the running for a steamy scene with Dawson, boys. You can fake a heart attack on set, but neither Monica Raymond nor Laura Sherman will be delivering CPR. The most you will get is your lifeless body being hauled off set by the guy who moves the craft cart. Grab a handful of macadamias for me while you are there.

Prepare to wait. You will do a lot of standing around on-set while other portions of the scene are being shot. You have one specific job: Stand here. Move there. Look worried. Look relieved. Point and nonverbally refer to the crisis that is being filmed. Interact in character with the other minions who are making $75 per day alongside you. You are a star.

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Don't ham for the cam. You are not a star. You are a set piece. Like that tree, that truck parked on the street, that fire hydrant -- all important, but otherwise should remain unnoticed. Your job is to blend and set the stage, not call to Chief Boden, "I got this, Wally!" and be a one-man rescue machine. This is not call of duty. You are not a hero, unless Michael Brandt says you are. You will get no extra lives at the end of this game.

That being said, enjoy yourself. Behave, but take in the moment, albeit a 10-hour, repetitive one. This is cool. You are among some television greats -- cast, production and crew. And if you learn how to network, you just might get to work alongside them. Wait -- you are working alongside them, even in a minor role. This is cool.

Be in awe. You will learn the inside scoop on where the crew gets all this equipment, makes a neighborhood brownstone look ablaze, creates smoke that won't blacken your lungs, turns a 200-man set into an authentic crisis that you once, as a viewer, believed to be real.

Feast. When set breaks, you eat. In a common place. Where everyone sits together and enjoys five-star food. Where a birthday cake surprises Charlie Barnett. Where everyone sings and raises their glasses. And everyone is welcome to a piece.


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IMDb page with acting reel:


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