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Lucky Me? Maybe not — a day in the life of a Vegas extra, Part 2

Michael T. Toole

Lucky me? Maybe not -- A day in the life of a Vegas extra, Part 2

Alfred Hitchcock is often quoted that actors should be treated like cattle; over the years that attitude has evolved into the treatment of extras. Although there’s no official glossary to this, there have been some familiar terms I’ve heard over the years that sum it up neatly: “wrangling” refers to gathering any strays that wandered off and keep us herded as a group; “branding” marks us as to what the subdivisions are within the extras (are we patrons, security guards, card players, etc?); “round ’em up” means we’re about to be moved en masse somewhere; and so on -- you get the parallels.

“I’m not expecting the Ritz, but Christ, they can at least turn on the f**king AC!” cried a short, stocky, Italian looking fellow in an Armani suit who was clearly worried about forming nasty sweat puddles on such costly attire. He was referring to the holding area for the extras, which was located on the second floor of Binion’s. And he was right -- there was no cool breeze to offset the heavy perspiration that was accumulating on all of our brows. I was curious to know the temperature in the room was, and obviously, none of us in the holding area had access to a thermostat to find out, because if we had, we would have kicked on the AC. I happened to notice an extra sitting next to me had a watch that looked so futuristic - all silver coloring and ornate textures. I took a chance and asked:

Me: Does your watch have the ability to monitor the temperature in the room?

Extra: I think so.

Me: What’s the reading?

Extra: 84F degrees.

Yep, it’s mighty warm in these parts.

With hundreds of us so tightly packed into a moderately sized room, it was impossible not to notice the discomfort some of the other extras felt while they were wilting in the warmth. I especially felt bad for one lady in her late fifties who still felt that the “panda-eye” make -up style from the late ‘60s (think Dusty Springfield doing a number on “The Ed Sullivan Show”) was still a fashion connection for modern audiences. Sadly, the intense, 80f+ temps in the room caused it to stream in dark, noticeable globs down her cheekbones, like Tammy Faye Bakker in her heyday.

I ask one of the PA’s standing out by the door, an older, bearded man in his late forties, why the AC isn’t on. His reply is swift:

PA: The AC makes too much noise and can be heard on the set.

That could be a valid reason, but the odd thing is, I know they’re currently rolling the cameras because just moments before, I heard someone yell action; and yet I can hear people talking downstairs on their cell phones, and no one is making any comment about the possible distraction of their volume level. If that’s the case, how can the noise from the AC from an upstairs, enclosed room be that possibly loud?

I decide to head toward the gift shop to get some breath mints, but the PA offers me a cautionary warning:

PA: Don’t venture too far, we may need any of you on the set at any minute.

Me: I’ll just be down the hallway at the gift shop; I’ll be back in a minute.

I try to be brief, I grab a packet of Tic Tacs (peppermint, I’m a traditionalist) and have my change ready when I get to the register. The cashier, ever astute, notices that I’m pulling on my shirt collar to get some relief from the heat I was dealing with just moments ago in the holding area:

Cashier: If you want some water, it’s on sale for 99 cents.

Me: I’m okay for now.

Cashier: Must be warm in that room, a lot of you have been comin’ in here for water bottles.

Me: Yeah, they claim the AC makes too much noise when it’s on, that reasoning sounds a little dicey though.

Cashier: You might be right. I heard that since they’re (the production company) renting the casino, they have to cover the utility bills for the days they’re here.

Me: So to save money they cut off the AC?

Cashier: That’d be my guess.

Now this is reasoning that is highly more likely than the “noisy” AC excuse. Whatever saves money is always in line from a movie producer’s standpoint.

I head back to the holding area, and that same PA I spoke to just minutes ago looks pleased to see me.

PA: Glad you’re back!

Me: Like I said, I was only at the gift shop.

PA: I know, but we get a little nervous, because a lot of you have left in the middle of the shoot and don’t come back.

Me: It’s been that bad?

PA: Real bad, some of these extras have never done it before, and I guess they’re not used to waiting around.

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