EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE'S
SHAMEFUL EXPLOITATION OF EXTRAS
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.
[February 1, 2008]
The film industry often exploits extras. Let me share an example
with you. Let me tell you of my day as an extra on Embrace
of the Vampire.
of the Vampire is a soft-core porn ripoff of Bram
Stoker's Dracula. Both films feature a vampire pursuing the reincarnation
of his centuries-old love. Both films aspire to a sort of "vampire
romance." At the end of Embrace
of the Vampire Martin Kemp's tearful bloodthirsty angst, Alyssa Milano's
tearful rediscovery of her love, the "tragic" star- crossed finale, and
the Christian iconography, all mirror Bram
Stoker's Dracula. One senses that director Goursaud was trying
to rise above her porn material.
of the Vampire is no poor woman's Bram
Stoker's Dracula. Milano is no Winona Ryder and Kemp is no Gary
Oldman. For that matter, none of the other talent on this film compare
to their counterparts. And the budget just wasn't there. The
strength of low-budget horror is a gritty authenticity, which this film
tries to hide rather than utilize.
How low was the budget?
I worked one day as an extra
of the Vampire. It was in 1993 or '94. Don't look for me. I ended up on the cutting room floor, and extras are rarely mentioned in
credits. But let me tell you an "inside story" on the making of this
We were shooting in a nightclub
on the Sunset Strip. The extras were divided into three camps: union,
nonunion, and Modesto extras. Union extras earn the most, especially
once overtime kicks in, so they were wrapped after eight hours. (They were
only hired in the first place to fill a union quota.) This was during
my nonunion days (I'm in SAG now), so I put in a full 14 hours, after which
we were paid in cash and wrapped. The Modesto extras were still working
when we left.
Now what, you may ask, is
a Modesto extra? I also wondered, and so I asked one. I was
told that they were from an acting class in Modesto, California. They had been bussed in to work on the film as part of a "class assignment." In other words, they were paying to come to work.
There's not a whole lot to
learn about being an extra. It's neither glamorous nor difficult. And nonunion extra jobs for twentysomethings are very easy to come
by. The lampposts in Los Angeles are covered with flyers seeking
cattle ... ehr, extras. I did it for the cash, and because if you
do it often enough, you increase your chances of getting into the union. Which I did, after some 13 grueling months.
Never pay for the
"chance" to be an extra, not in Los Angeles. I made the mistake of volunteering (i.e., working for free) to be an extra a few
times when I first started out, but I soon wised up. I certainly
My guess is that the producers
of the Vampire paid the acting teacher to bus down some cattle, paying
far less than even nonunion extras cost. I know this teacher was
getting paid by the students, and that the students were not getting paid
to be on the film. So the teacher was double-dipping, getting paid
by both the film and the students.
The film didn't care; they
were getting cattle at below market rates. And the students didn't
care; they were getting ripped off, but they didn't know it.
When I advised one "Modesto
extra" that he was getting a raw deal, he grew indignant, saying, "Well,
that's easy for you to say, but we don't have the same opportunities to
be an extra in Modesto that you have in Los Angeles."
I suppose I can understand
his feelings. I loved working on Bram
Stoker's Dracula. But there you had Francis Ford Coppola and
Winona Ryder. And I saw Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins. And
we worked on the Universal and Sony studios. And still we
By comparison, Embrace
of the Vampire was a low-budget job, shot in a dingy nightclub. Nothing wrong with that, but you shouldn't do it for free. You certainly
shouldn't pay for the chance to sit in a dingy nightclub with B-list
In Los Angeles, actors sometimes
pay for the chance to appear in plays, in what are called "showcase" productions. While (a scant few) tickets are sold, showcase productions are mostly done
for the benefit of managers, agents, and casting directors, all of whom
receive free invites. Showcase productions are theater's answer to
Okay, I can understand investing
in your own play, along with the other actors, in order to perform a speaking
role before casting people. But paying to be an extra?
Sure, the Modesto extra claimed he was getting an "education." And
the teacher did lecture to the Modesto extras between takes (so he couldn't
be accused of fraud?). But even so, never pay to be an extra.
If paying to be an actor is like paying to be published, then paying to be an extra is like paying to run the copier at a publishing house, so as to
learn about the industry. Copiers are run by minimum wage temps or
by unpaid interns. It takes one poor, dumb bastard to actually pay
for that sort of "learning experience."
Another inside story regarding Embrace
of the Vampire: Someone stole a silver wolf pin belonging to a crew
member. She was near tears because it had sentimental value. Never leave anything of value lying around on a set.
And some trivia: John
Stanley says this film was "originally conceived as The Nosferatu
Diaries," but on the set, we were told the working title was The
Oh yes, about my scene. We were in a smoky room. I was supposed to cross with a woman on
my arm. But in that scene, two people (Milano and Kemp, I suppose),
were making out. I and the lady on my arm were watching. Only
after the scene ended did she and I notice the A.D. frantically signaling
us to cross.
So we'd missed our cues. But it was okay, because many of us had missed our cues. The extras,
the crew, we'd all been gawking at the actors' hot, steamy makeout. Tense laughter followed after the scene ended and we all realized how we'd
all been gawking.
That was the first take. No missed cues after that.
of the Vampire was no Bram
Stoker's Dracula, but I enjoyed it, though I was glad when my 14-hour
day was done. I'd spent much of it on the club's second floor, hanging
out with the other extras, talking Monty Python and stuff. Someone played a piano. We were served a good meal
of Domino's pizza. (One woman complained that Domino's was "anti-choice"
on abortion.) I didn't lose any jewelry. And I was paid in
cash at the end of the day.
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