Lights, camera...wait! Being a movie extra can earn you (a little) extra cash

If you're broke and need some extra cash, as The New York Times pointed out last weekend, becoming a movie or TV extra is one way to go.

I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Back in the summer or perhaps fall of 1990 when Little Man Tate (released in 1991) was filming, I took a job as an extra. My memory surrounding the details -- who did I contact to get on the movie, what was the pay and so on -- is kind of shot now. Part of me wants to say I was there for two or three days, but considering how much film time I ultimately nabbed, I honestly don't see how I could have been there for more than a day. In any case, for a college kid, it was a nice gig.

I think I made $100 (The New York Times suggests the going rate now might average $8 an hour). Whatever the money was, the long-spent cash hopefully served me well -- but the memory of getting to be a movie extra, I'll have for a lifetime. And I would think that would be a selling point for anyone needing to make a little extra money during this shaky economy. Times are tough and maybe the day-to-day drudgery of unemployment isn't something you'll want to capture in a scrapbook or blog, so why not do something that not only makes you some money but will be worth remembering?

Because there's no denying it. There is something pretty surreal and glamorous about being on a movie set, especially if there's some star power in the film. In my case, our director and one of the stars was Jodie Foster as well as some other well-known names like the musician-actor Harry Connick, Jr. and acclaimed actress Diane Wiest.

I was there as a college student on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. There's a scene where Fred Tate, Jodie Foster's child, is wandering through the university, and he passes some fraternity students. I'm one of those, and I can be seen for -- well, to say I can be seen for even a second of screen time is generous. My wife and I once watched the movie on Lifetime, and my "scene" went by, and I never even was able to point myself out to her. Although I had seen my little scene in the movies, I was convinced my scene had been cut for a commercial.

There may never have been a quicker 15 minutes of fame in the history of showbiz (mine was literally less than 15 seconds!) Earlier this year, after signing up for Netflix, I showed my daughters my "big" moment in Hollywood, and once again, I missed it. I had to rewind -- if I can use that word for a movie watched online, on my computer -- and then click the pause button until, yes, there I was, in the forefront of the screen, as the camera focuses on the actor Adam Hann-Byrd, who played Fred Tate, a child prodigy going to college.

(For any Little Man Tate enthusiasts, I'm in a group of college kids that Fred passes just after walking under an archway and before meeting Connick's character.)

My daughters laughed, noted my wildly curly hair and then I clicked "play" and another half-second later, I was gone.

So for me, it was far more glamorous being on the set -- being among a group of college kids that Jodie Foster explained the scene to, and watching it all unfold -- than actually seeing myself on screen. But there's no denying that not only did I get paid for my time, I got something in return that I'll always have: memories and a self-deprecating, cheesy anecdote that I can share with my kids and someday, my grandchildren, which is the sort of happy ending Hollywood thrives on.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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