In this article, Stephen Singh – Author, Supporting Artist and FAA Committee Member – gives us an exclusive introduction to his latest book, See You On Set: The Film & Television Industry Through the Eyes of a Jobbing Extra. Listen to Steve as he talks about his background in the Industry, explains how the book came about and decripts the inner workings of our particular, sometimes peculiar, profession.
A Little Background
When I joined the industry there were no mobile phones, no pagers, no internet, the National Lottery was celebrating its first year, petrol was .51 pence per litre and the trains had no heating and never ran on time (so, no change there, then). The background industry had been moved from its ‘closed shop’ position ten years previously, but was still notoriously difficult to get into or to find much information about – from ‘closed shop’ to word of mouth reticence. A totally different world, far removed from the industry that we have today. But who knows about it, and its actual history? And what is the history of the agents/agencies? Or the unions? And what other ways can you earn an income, whilst doing supporting artist/extra work? What other agencies are there? Besides an A4 piece of paper given to you by the agents, what are the protocols for being or becoming a supporting artist? Is it something that you can learn and improve upon? Does being a ‘regular’ on a show, mean that you earn more money? What’s a honeywagon? What’s that red light for, and why is that bell ringing?
Basically, from day one, there are a multitude of questions – so, why not create a handbook/guide that answers these questions, and is also a fun read as well – something that caters for those coming into the industry, and, laugh out loud funny, for those already working in it; plus, the added advantage of perhaps ‘spotting’ one or two familiar characters, in all their nameless, shameless glory.
But, how do you produce a book that appeals to the jaded, old pro (who think they know it all), and the excited, young newbie (who think they know it all)? The simple answer to that is: You don’t. What you do is write a book for yourself – the book that I would love to have been handed by my first agent, rather than a double-sided page of do’s and dont’s; and the rejoinder; “make sure that your hands and nails are clean and manicured ……and your toenails.”!
The book then, is part history, part stories from the Green Room, part tutorial, part info pack, part life on set, part fact, part fabrication; in truth the book has almost as many parts as ‘extras’ have alternative names. We are the crowd, we are the moving scenery, the walking (silently talking) props, that add a little colour and life, into what might otherwise look like a very dull screen moment.
In an industry that was built on favours for friends, nepotism, greed and power; something which still remains rife, in one form or another, within the confines of the film & TV world; it now seems like a good time to shine a spotlight onto, what has been for me, a fun, but incredibly precarious profession.
“SeeYouOnSet!” – is a unique look behind the scenes, at the real requirements needed to be seen as a professional supporting artist/extra. (Of which, the three key elements are patience, adaptability and, most importantly, a sense of humour.) It encompasses historical information regarding agencies, virtues and vices, and the two unions; and the relative experiences, the gripes and the groans of many supporting artists in their twilight world, tight-rope walk existence. It also includes links and information to many agents and agencies, up and down the UK, in a variety of different fields, that go hand in hand with earning a living as an extra.
A Little Foreground.
In order to achieve all of the above, the starting point for SeeYouOnSet! had to begin with one simple, unquestionable given………….Honesty.
(A rash and dangerous move, perhaps, as I still wanted to work within the industry as a supporting artist – although I needn’t have unduly worried, because I have had some very generous and positive feedback from both agents and bookers, since publication).
And Everything In Between.
The major part of the book covers all the favourite supporting artist topics; anecdote, hearsay, guesswork, gossip, rumour, tittle-tattle, assumption, conjecture, bitterness, happiness, laughter, tears and more. But it also delves deep into the Myths and Legends of Extras, in the form of a Q & A session; discovers exactly what we do on set (and the inherent dangers of the snaking cable and wearing nylon wigs near lights), plus it puts across the point that our relationship with agents and bookers, are not as meaningful or favourable, as perhaps they once were. The Green Room is revealed (as simply a holding area), and the divisions between supporting artists/extras is debated, in a multitude of ways. The book then goes on to reveal agencies and other income sources; a boon to anyone, inside or outside of the industry.
It’s said that writing is a cathartic experience; though generally one for purging the bowels? So, what I’ve discovered about myself, after almost twenty years in the business, is this:
– An ability to write something more than simply signing a chit.
– I’m not good at promotion or publicity.
– I’ve produced something of value, that is honest, interesting and entertaining.
– That I like to come up with phrases describing the precarious existence of supporting artists – the latest being: “Walking along the blade of a knife, wearing pyjamas, with your tackle on display.”
– And that, even after twenty years, I still have a sense of humour.
To get a real feel for the book and its contents, why not try the ‘look inside’ pages on Amazon, or on the Obsessive Indulgence website.
Stephen K Singh
Having worked in and around the photographic, film and television industry, much of it as a Model and Supporting Artist (Extra), for almost twenty years; I have experienced pretty much all of the ups and downs inherent in this side of the entertainment industry. Fortunately, during the downs, I’ve had the opportunity to complete this first book and discover an ability for website design; which has now become my second love. “SeeYouOnSet!” – is a unique look behind the scenes, at the real requirements needed to be seen as a professional supporting artist/extra.