In the Background
Since 2014, I've been an extra for movies and TV shows filmed here in Y'allywood. I work background for period scenes, modern-day scenes where I can wear formal or vintage clothing (mine or theirs), and now and then I'm hired as a dancer. Zombies aren't my thing.
#55. "Genius:Aretha" - episode 3
Feb. 4, 2020, was my last time working as an extra before the pandemic shut down all filming. It's long since started back up, but although I miss it, I can't take the time from my new (editing) job for the required safety protocols. Once pre-shoot testing is no longer needed, I hope to return to the occasional well-heeled gig! For this shoot, set in Columbus, Georgia, in 1967, I'm wearing my own dress and shoes from that very year. Hair and makeup by crew. In the scene I'm in (present but not visible, lol), Aretha collapses on stage. In reality, she fell off it, breaking her arm and several ribs.
#54. "Legacies" - season 2, episode 14
The most beautiful set I've had the pleasure to work on. It's a two-level lounge with rich wooden bookcases filled with antique volumes and backlit to highlight objects on the shelves. There are leaded glass windows and a working fireplace. The space had the most comforting amber glow. I'd be a regular, but this bar exists only within the expansive film studio. The exterior is plywood. Sets like this could explain why I can't find someone to work on my house. The talented, reliable craftspeople are busy building sets! All my own hair/makeup/wardrobe (original 1940s dress, gloves+bag set, and shoes; vintage jewelry; and snood I crocheted using a vintage pattern). Shot in black and white, so it didn't matter that nothing I was wearing coordinated, colorwise.
53/52 - IN PRODUCTION
#51. "Doom Patrol," - season 2, episodes 1 and 2
A bait-and-switch! DP, now on HBOMax, was always the most fun set, with mayhem, special effects, and crazy characters, plus true-vintage wardrobe. This time I'd been hired as a 1920s circus audience member, but was reassigned to portray a monster-attack victim. Covered in (extraordinarily difficult to remove) fake blood and fake dirt, I had to lie on the cold, wet ground for what felt like forever. The shoot ran for two very long, uncomfortable, late-November overnights. Watch how well I and my fellow extras can control full-body shivering! On the plus side, I made it into the scene, albeit as a dead body. Everything I'm wearing (even the undergarments) was bought new and intentionally distressed for the scene by wardrobe. I added a snug t-shirt and leg warmers, hidden beneath, on the second night.
#50. "The Underground Railroad" - episode 9
Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins directed his recreation of Colton Whitehead's Pulitzer+ winning novel (I followed my self-imposed "read the book first" rule and recommend it highly). But let me tell you about my wardrobe fitting. As usual, I arrived with my own underthings -- antique drawers and chemise, repro corset and over-petticoat. Once they'd chosen my dress (none of mine matched their color palette), and added an antique lace bertha collar, I was escorted into the hat room. It held two very large tables of antique and vintage hats, stacked about four deep. As usual, I was the only one nearly jumping out of my skin as I was instructed to "Just try everything on and see what looks good." I struggled to contain myself. A milliner working quietly in the corner smiled and nodded as I held up another jaw dropping topper and said, "OMG, this is an original Regency poke bonnet." In the end, nothing worked with my dress. I told the guy in charge I had something at home that might. He was understandably skeptical. But that night, via text, he approved my antique mid-Victorian bonnet and purse, and my vintage brooch and gloves. The 2-day shoot was enjoyable. Whenever there are horses and buggies on set, you know it's going to be a good time.
#49. "MacGyver" - season 4, episode 10
For me, a MacGyver shoot usually means showing up "set ready" in my own upscale or formal attire, hair and makeup done. But for this scene set in the 1920s, I wore an original c. 1919-1922 silk dress, antique shoes, and vintage purse, all provided by wardrobe. The hairdresser snapped photos for her portfolio, but I thought the style looked witchy and had nothing to do with the 20s (then again, in a drug-induced dream, anything goes). I liked what the make-up artist did. It was my first-ever experience of false eyelashes. So dramatic! Also, I got to die and come back to life (many, many times). Good practice, as it turned out (see #51).
#48. "Legacies" - season 2, episode 6
This harvest festival scene for the CW series "Legacies" was enjoyable, with a gorgeous outdoor setting, good weather (rare as hen's teeth), and great faux-18th century clothes. I ended up wearing my own chemise, stays, quilted under-petticoat, top petticoat (skirt), mob cap, and shoes. The wardrobe department provided the bodice, which I loved. It better matched their color scheme than the one I'd brought along. My screen time was negligible. You just never know.
#47. "MacGyver" - season 4, episode 5
To maintain continuity, you're not supposed to change anything about your hair or wardrobe or action from take to take. But when it's sweltering hot, anyone with long hair is likely to pull it up into a ponytail at various points. And that's what I did. In the photo taken during the shoot I'm laughing because my shoe broke partway through the scene. It's been repaired because they are my least-painful (not quite the same as most comfortable) heels with the all-important (see #34 for why) ankle strap.
#46. "Personal Injury Court" - season 1, episodes 2, 84, 90
A "set friend" recommended giving "the courtroom shows" a try. It's nothing I'd ordinarily do (there's no dressing up and I'm not a reality TV fan). It was a very different experience from every other shoot I've done. The cases are real, if reenacted. Without knowing what was coming, our reactions were genuine. There were very few retakes and things moved quickly. We shot three (or was it four?) episodes in one afternoon, which I'm told is fewer than usual. The experience was often entertaining, but also very claustrophobic, as we couldn't leave the courtroom until we wrapped, and we were packed very tightly, with shoulders touching. Fun fact: there's an "applause" light above the judge's head.
#45. "Lovecraft Country" - episode 5
A thunder storm during this shoot wiped out some of the "footage." Of course there's no actual film involved, no "feet" of anything. It's all on digital memory cards. Some of us were called back to reshoot. I wasn't, so until I saw the series myself, I had no idea whether my scene had escaped erasure or been scrapped. As it turns out, it hardly mattered as the extreme shallow focus meant I'm nothing but a fuzzball. Regardless, the shoot was a delight. Atlanta's historic Hurt Building served as Marshall Field, decked out with mid-century vintage goods, plus bouquets of live flowers that made the set wonderfully fragrant. I played a seamstress, measuring a bride for her wedding gown. All hair/makeup/wardrobe by crew. I liked my suit, but the 60s shoes were 10 years off and the bun they gave me looked like a tumor.
#44. "Hillbilly Elegy"
I thought I hadn't made it into the movie, but under microscopic review at 50% speed, with lots of pause/play action, there I am, lol. I had started out standing and walking, but eventually I had to sit. I'd been bitten by a fire ant the night before, my foot and lower leg were terribly swollen, and I felt not so great. But my hair looked pretty fantastic, which (if you've known me a very long time and have an idea of what my hair really looks like) is always noteworthy and remarkable. I think the hair department styled it, but I really can't remember. I was pretty out of it all day. I'm wearing my own vintage clothes and, as usual, I read the book before seeing (or being in) the movie. This one, and the film, directed by Ron Howard, have sparked controversy, but I enjoyed both.
#43. "The Outsider" - season 1, episode 9
A few of my fellow extras taught me to play poker while we sat in a "Lunchbox" waiting to be called to set. We used snacks from "crafty" in place of money. Hair, makeup, wardrobe all by crew (I think that's my pearl bracelet). The only part of me that made it into the scene was the blurry back of my head. Oh, well. Still happy to have been part of a Stephen King/HBO production.
#42. "Insatiable" - season 2, episode 8
For this scene in the irreverent Netflix series, the casting company asked me to enlist members of my Atlanta Time Travelers dress-up group. We and a few others showed up in our mid-Victorian "Southern Belle" ensembles ready for the extra-hot, extra-long, extra-peachy shoot. Good fun.
A few days after shooting one scene, I showed up for another, only to be sent home as "burned" (too much screen time). The collage below is more proof that spending several hours arm's length from the leads doesn't mean you'll be easy to spot in the final cut. It all depends on the editing. This was a wonderful production to be part of. Steve Carrell was absolutely laser focused and fascinating to watch. Jon Stewart spoke warmly and directly to us (not the norm -- that's usually left to the 1st and 2nd ADs), telling NYC-centric jokes I suspect went over most heads. I'm wearing my own shoes and earrings, but wardrobe felt my outfit (can't remember what I'd worn) did not portray an upscale New Yorker and replaced it with this unflattering dress. Sure, the reason for the change could've been a required color palette or similar (they don't explain and we don't ask), but I doubt it. The ironic twists of background work are endlessly amusing.
#39. "Watchmen" - season 1, episode 6
It's hard to know if you'll show up on screen, but this time, I was sure I wouldn't, as I was sitting in the back of a dark auditorium. This shoot wasn't demanding or uncomfortable or interminable, but there wasn't much going on so it was rather dull. All the cool stuff (special effects) was added in post-production. Everything I'm wearing is from the wardrobe department, including the funny feather-covered purse.
#38. "MacGyver" - season 3, episode 21
Shooting this scene for the NBC reboot of MacGyver (on NBC) was fun and relatively easy. I wore the same dress I'd worn to my 30th high school reunion in 2013. I'd already owned it for years back then, when I wrote a blog post about my frustration at finding a suitable cocktail dress: "Not So Happy Hour."
#37. "Doom Patrol" - season 1, episode 13
Another super-fun shoot was this one for DC Universe's super-hero series "Doom Patrol." I wore my own vintage clothes and accessories (plaid dress, red cardigan, frame purse) and Keds. My assigned companion was easy-going and a charming conversationalist. Makes all the difference when you're stuck together for hours on end. Hair by crew.
36 - IN PRODUCTION
#35. "Doom Patrol" - season 1, episode 6
This was the craziest, silliest, most aerobic shoot ever! We ran screaming like possessed lunatics for several hours (as instructed) on the set of the DC Universe superhero series "Doom Patrol." I'm wearing an original 1950s patio dress set (now sold, but click link to see the listing) with my own vintage hat, purse, and cardigan. I did my own hair and makeup, as well.
#34. "MacGyver" - season 3, episode 12
This shoot would've been great if I'd worn different shoes. The ones I had on wouldn't stay on, making running from the fake bomb a real challenge. I eventually got in a bit of trouble when one shoe fell off mid-scene. I was not "laughing," I was mortified, and I was not "looking at the camera," I was making sure I didn't collide with the person in front of me. Lesson learned: only very secure shoes on set! Modern gown/hair/makeup by me, necklace from the wardrobe department.
#33. "Watchmen" - season 1, episode 2
I'm hardly seen in this episode, but it was an interesting one to shoot, with lots of stunts and the sorts of special effects that use weird, hi-tech gadgets. None of that was for me, of course -- I spent most of the time cowering on the floor (the bad guys were convincing so it was a little bit scary). The friendly stuntwoman told me she'd previously been a competitive gymnast. My vintage hat, shoes, gloves, and bag are my own. I liked the suit (vintage) and scarf, which came from wardrobe.
32. IN PRODUCTION
#31. "Star" - season 3, episode 4
I wear this purple strapless gown often. This time it was for a gun-control fundraiser in Queen Latifah's "Star" series on Fox TV. As you can see, only a sliver of me made it on screen. It happens. Wardrobe/Hair/Makeup all my own.
30 - IN PRODUCTION
#29. "Watchmen" - season 1, episode 1 (pilot)
The photo at left in the collage below was taken before we began shooting this difficult scene depicting the all-too-real 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre (not a riot, a massacre). The atmosphere was so fraught, a pastor led the entire cast and crew in prayer beforehand. I can't find me in the scene, but I was there. In the second photo I'm resting between takes. During shooting I was busy looting a dress shop, avoiding gunfire, and stepping over bodies. It was a physically and emotionally draining scene but I'm glad to have been part of it. As shameful as the event was, it's even worse that so few of us knew about it before this shoot. I'm glad this sad but important history is being told. Very vintage dress and hat from wardrobe, moderately vintage shoes are mine.
#28. "Being Mary Jane" - season 5, episode 1 (series finale)
The beloved BET series ended with an emotional 2-hour movie. I got to be a guest at Mary Jane's wedding to Justin. It was such a beautiful scene, in a particularly beautiful space, with a party afterward. Wardrobe my own, hair and makeup by me.
#27. "First Man"
It's unlikely I'll ever get screenshots of my two scenes in the movie "First Man," starring Ryan Gosling. I'll add them if I manage, but for now I'll just show you the clothes (vintage) and styling, all by crew. I wore the same thing when I portrayed a secretary (seen only through a window) and again when I was a reporter (in an auditorium full of them at the pre-flight press conference). I much prefer the second hairdo, shown at center. The first was off-kilter and unflattering. I liked the dress and the shoes.
#26. "Behind the Movement"
This retelling of the Rosa Parks story, which aired on TV One, focused on all that came before her refusal to give up her seat on the bus. I felt lucky to be cast in that pivotal scene, as well as a few others. It was a fun and meaningful shoot. All wardrobe (vintage suit, hat, shoes, purse, and coat)/hair/makeup my own.
#25. "The Lover in the Attic"
I did two scenes for this Lifetime movie set in the late 1920s and early 30s. It's the real-life story of tabloid headliners Dolly Oesterreich and her boy-toy Otto Sanhuber. In one scene, several friends and I portrayed courtroom witnesses. In another I was hired as a dancer at a party. All wardrobe/hair/makeup my own. Courtroom: polka dot dress sewn by me using original 1930s pattern, vintage accessories. Party: pink dress "cobbled" from an 80s top (click to read about it).
#24. "I, Tonya"
I'd been hired to play a judge at a skating competition, but once on set, I was stripped of my fake credentials (literally) and sent up, up, up into the bleachers to be a lonely, rather isolated spectator. The odds of getting a screenshot where you can see me are very low, indeed. All wardrobe, hair, makeup by me. That's my beloved early 80s wool fedora, still going strong, plus the modern pantsuit I wear when I need to look more confident than I am.
#23. "The Vampire Diaries" - season 8, episode 9
This was one of my favorite shoots. I was hired as a dancer, which required an audition and rehearsals. I played one of the previous Miss Mystic Falls contestants (from years back). All wardrobe/hair(a favorite creation)/makeup by crew.
#22. "Being Mary Jane" - season 4, episode 2
Wearing my trusty, go-to, modern purple gown, this time with a vintage stole and purse (also my own). The hair department redid my usual non-style into what I call "the padded toilet seat updo." Not my favorite, at all, but the stylist thoroughly enjoyed herself, saying she liked "working with so much hair." There's no support stuff in there, just lots of my own hair.
#21. "Sleepy Hollow" - season 4, episode 1
I'm a stage actress in the play "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater on the night President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated -- not by John Wilkes Booth, but by a (genuinely scary) demon named Alex. Probably the most "featured" I ever have been or will be as an extra, but I'm just in it for the clothes. All wardrobe (but the hoop beneath, which is mine) by crew. Can't remember who did the hair and makeup. Probably me. I really miss this Fox TV series. It had so many opportunities to wear historic costumes.
#20. "The Leisure Seeker"
I'm taking tickets at fake Colonial Williamsburg in the film version of Michael Zadoorian's book "The Leisure Seeker," starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. My faux-18th century dress was so exceptionally tight, I split the right bodice seam when I sneezed and had to spend the remainder of the very long day with my right arm glued to my side. The hat drilled a deep hole in my forehead that lasted several days. The gloves were gigantic and awkward for handling the tickets. All this was quite funny. All wardrobe/hair/makeup by crew.
#19. "MacGyver" - season 1, episode 1 (pilot)
This was the first gig for my trusty purple gown, and its train was trampled so many times, I had it shortened. A long and eventful overnight shoot with several different parts and lots of action and stunts. It was one of the rare times that we could actually drink the "champagne" (ginger-ale). That's unusual enough to be memorable. All wardrobe/hair/makeup my own.
#18. "Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love"
Who doesn't love Dolly Parton? I didn't get to meet her, but really enjoyed being in one of her films. As is typical of movie making, this "winter" scene was shot in 100-degree heat. Even so, it was a delight. Although extras are typically required to be silent -- pantomiming rather than speaking aloud -- this time we actually got to sing! In this scene, the voices you hear singing "Joy to the World" are ours. All wardrobe/hair/makeup by me (all 1950s vintage).
#17. "Halt and Catch Fire" - season 3, episode 6
All wardrobe/hair/makeup by crew. Red suit by Dior, and I've been searching for one ever since. Despite the early 2000s shoes and hair, this AMC series takes place in the 1980s. I arrived on set with my hair done exactly as I'd done it in the 80s, using the same hot rollers, the same big gold bow barrette. The very young stylist informed me it was "all wrong for the 80s," undid it and did what you see here. I said nothing, because you can't. But I really wanted to smack him upside the head.
#16 was supposed to be the Oscar-winning film "Hidden Figures." I'd had a wardrobe fitting and passed the security check for filming at a military base. I was very excited to be part of this project, but I, and several others, never received call time info or directions and could not participate. I stayed up all night trying to contact casting, to no avail. It was disappointing.
#15. "Powers" - season 2, episode 7
This was a flashback scene for a Playstation super-hero series. All wardrobe (early 50s suit and hat, 40s bag and gloves, vintage shoes)/hair/makeup by me. Favorite fuzzy photo by my set buddy, Melissa.
#14. "Sleepy Hollow" - season 3, episode 9
I worked on two different scenes for this episode of the Fox TV series "Sleepy Hollow." The first was a Colonial-era market place and the second was the reimagined hanging of Nathan Hale. An interesting way to spend my birthday in 2015. My feet are still defrosting.
13 - INDEPENDENT FILM (volunteer gig), IN PRODUCTION
#12. "Sleepy Hollow" - season 3, episode 2
A memorable favorite, this 18th century scene for the Fox TV series "Sleepy Hollow," was a dream to be part of. I was hired to perform authentic baroque dances. All wardrobe/hair/makeup by crew, including hairstyling magician Monty. I had a bird on my head (and a song in my heart)!
#11. "Satisfaction" - season 2, episode 6
This scene for the USA network series "Satisfaction" was interesting, to say the least. Some kinky stuff was going on at the Mad Men-themed office party. I was not involved in any of that. I was there for the clothes! I wore my own 1950s Gigi Young silk dress and vintage accessories. Hair/makeup by crew (who unfortunately hairsprayed my hat, causing the veil to crumble to pieces).
#10. "The Founder"
Two scenes and three outfits, all my own, for the Michael Keaton film "The Founder" about McDonald's pioneer Ray Kroc. Hair and makeup by crew and by me. Steakhouse scene: 50s/60s black cocktail dress (since sold on BDV) with mink stole and vintage accessories. Country club scene: 50s blue floral silk Gigi Young dress with 50s headpiece and gloves, and modern (Payless) shoes.
#9. "Devious Maids" - season 3, episode 7
Wearing my own 1950s raspberry pink cocktail dress for this (relatively) quick and easy shoot.
#8. "Finding Carter," season 2, episode 3
You can't tell from these screenshots, but I was hired as a dancer for this episode of the MTV series (I bet the kids who watched this show didn't realize that the M in MTV used to mean "music"). It was a fun (and freezing cold!) shoot. I reconnected with a friend I hadn't seen in years. We'd been in a local dance company together in the '90s. Wearing my 1950s blue silk dress (again).
#7. "To Hell and Back"
This modern retelling of the biblical Job story aired on TV One. I'm wearing a 1950s blue silk dress from my collection.
#6. "The Confetti" (ONGOING)
In 2014 I volunteered as a dancer in a 1920s speakeasy scene. The local independent filmmaker was working on a proposed TV series pilot spanning decades and covering bootlegging, suffrage, race relations, and more. Five years in, I'm a named character with lines (how funny is that?), and have done at least 14 separate shoots. I consider the entire endeavor #6. I can post these photos because nothing important is revealed and the wardrobe is entirely my own. It's all been an excuse to buy antique clothing and "cobble" all sorts of fun costumes. Top row: all antique (c. 1916 dress at center available here) - Middle row: antique / repro / custom repro corset over antique chemise - Bottom row: antique / "cobbled" from modern / antique.
#5. "Hearts of Dust"
I volunteered on this independent short film by Mickey Banyas, whom I'd met on the set of "Bolden!" (see #2, below). I gave away my one line to an actual aspiring actress, but still (to my amusement) wound up in IMDb. I declined credit as "Costume Designer," although I'd love to be one, as I wasn't consulted before filming was underway and I would've done things differently. The film won at least one award at a regional competition. I'm wearing a repro dress, antique underthings, custom corset, and antique parasol -- all my own.
#4. "Complications" - season 1, episode 7 - I've edited this entry, because not only did I have the episode number wrong (not 6 but 7), I'd thought I hadn't made it into the scene at all, but there I am ... just barely. I'm dressed for a gala in my own modern black gown, vintage mink stole and kidskin opera gloves, and lots of sparkling vintage rhinestone jewelry. Not sure why I've got no shoot photos to show you the full ensemble.
#3. "The Red Road" - season 2, episode 4
Despite having a prime spot next to the principal actors and in direct line of the camera, only the back of my head (my hair was below my waist at the time) made it into this scene of The Red Road on The Sundance Channel. Someone walked between the camera and me in the shot they used. That's how it goes sometimes. I'm wearing my own peacock blue silk vintage cocktail dress.
Still my all-time favorite shoot (yet). Dancing the Waltz and the One Step to a live ragtime band, while wearing an antique Edwardian dress and hat (with my own corset and antique underthings beneath). This feature film is a reimagined telling of little-known jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden's life story. I still have the earrings, which I forgot to remove when returning my costume to wardrobe on the fourth and final day of filming. They were 99 cents, so I'm not wracked with guilt. I worked my tail off on that wonderful set.
This HBO biopic starring Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith was my first-ever background job (3 very long days). I had two different outfits: 1. My own 1930s floral satin gown and vintage accessories (hair/makeup by crew). 2. A 1930s gown and vintage fox stole from wardrobe (outstanding hair/makeup by crew). In "holding" (where they corral us between takes) I'm crocheting to pass the time. "Tiling" (a post-production trick to fill up large spaces with a limited number of people) means there are lots of me in the audience at the same time! Six years in, I can now look at this crowd and recognize several friends.
🎬 🍿 📽 🎞
p.s. When I still lived in New York, I was in an MTV "Basement Tapes" video. I had to give up my summer waitressing job to go to the callbacks (Monsieur Bruno: "Eef you go to zee pahrtee, cherie, do not come back"), but with only 2 weeks left before fall semester began, it was worth the risk. I was concerned about my lost job, and was very nervous, but... I got a part!
Here I am, in 1985, dancing in "Jeannie, Boppin' Jeannie," by Frank Haskell. My pink circle skirt, which I recently sold, was originally a vintage dress of superb quality. Although it still fit, albeit tightly, it was no longer flattering or appropriate.