Tag Archives: Film Extras

Yes. It’s been too long since I last blogged but I have a good excuse. I’ve been in LA for more than a month and writing like a fiend before that. I shall be writing like a fiend again until the end of the year, too. Thank You God.

So... what did I do on my summer vacation. I was in LA.  And what did I see? I did and saw a lot. I learned a lot. I had two spectacular producer meetings that have the potential to change my professional life for the better. Whether they do remains to be seen, but it’s nice to hear from influential people that they are fans of what I do.

But the main part of my trip? Culmination of a dream. I’ve had produced films from scripts I’ve written before. Seven, to be exact. Each one was good, except one, in their own way. All have been successful, even the one I hate, unfortunately. I got a fan Email just yesterday about the one I hate saying they loved it. The fact that the film doesn’t have one single thing I wrote on the screen and that it’s kind of an embarrassment to have my name on it notwithstanding.

Back to Summer Vacation. Our first stop.  A script I did a complete page one rewrite on that was NOT my idea nor my original script, but one that I did LOVE the premise and basic story for and a lot of the people who were involved, went into production. I got to spend a couple of days on the set, including playing a small part in the film they were kind enough to offer. I even got to play guitar on screen, another dream fulfilled. Wait, I got to play guitar while Joey Fatone danced to it. Not bad for an old guy like me. Even if my scenes end up on the cutting room floor it was a wonderful experience, so my profound thanks to all involved. But beyond that I also think this could be a very good and maybe groundbreaking film in a genre that’s not known for its groundbreaking films. I hope so. Thank you, John McGalliard, Stephen Baldwin, Christopher Shawn Shaw, and Thor Ramsey.

The rest of my six weeks of vacation, minus the things I’ve mentioned? Ok... this is where it gets really good.

One of my original spec scripts shot at the same time as the other film. Yes, I had two films in production at the same time, something that probably will never happen again. The fact that I’m still under embargo not to mention the specifics of this second project because it hasn’t been announced yet makes this part of the blog post a little tricky, but I shall try to be as vague as possible while still telling you how incredibly damned wonderful and exciting and spectacular it was.

Let’s start with casting, and holy crap what a CAST. Better than I could have ever imagined down to the smallest character, all of those filled with fabulous very recognizable talented character actors... and the leads, forget about it, just remarkable. Only one sore thumb in the cast. Me. Once again these wonderful people asked me to play a small on camera role, which was mega fun. I never write roles for myself when I write a script because... well, I never write roles for any actor. I write CHARACTERS who fit the story I’m trying to tell and hope actors want to play them. It’s worked out well. They offered me a role that surprised me, though. Which if you think about it, is damn cool. And I’m crazy about the casting agent who did this, too. She was wonderful, sweet, smart, innovative and yes, I will name everyone when the embargo is lifted.

The director. Can I say I love him without it sounding pervy? No? Then I don’t care. And even though he is now my lifelong friend, I’ve never worked with anyone I was so on the same page with. Watching him work to bring my story alive was so amazing that I did cry sitting there on set on a few occasions. Watching characters come alive the way I wrote and pictured them was something I hope every writer gets to experience.

The producers. More love. The one on set everyday worked harder than I’ve ever seen a producer work and got more done than I thought possible.

The crew. The best. THE. BEST. In every department. The best.

And every time I was there and there were a lot of extras (some days a whole lot) I went and sat down with them. That’s where I started in this business. Right there in extra’s holding. Right there with the people who get to eat last. And I talked to them and I told them to never give up on their dreams. That I didn’t and even though it took 18 years of not giving up, my dreams were now seeing the light of day in ways I never could have imagined.

I got to share some of it with my wife and daughters. My wife was with me most of the time, except the days I acted (or attempted to act) and was, as she always is, one of the most popular people on the set. The fact that she baked piles of homemade cookies for everybody helped. Two of the stars came up to her separately after the first batch to ask for more please. Immensely satisfying to her... and me. She’s been at my side for this whole journey and I couldn’t have made it without her. I can never repay her for all she’s done. The greatest wife ever.

My daughters came for one night of filming each and that was also wonderful. Not only so they could share it with me, but to see the scope of the production, which in both cases surprised them. Hey, I’m Dad. They’ve lived with this dream and all the failure and hard work and rejection and been uber-supportive. I wanted them to see that it all paid off in a big way.

Now I’m off to write the first of three paid jobs I need to get done. Two movies and a second episode of my series I hope to tell you about soon. Everything moves so slow in Hollywood and everything can blow up and disappear at any time too. So that’s why I am careful about specifics until a project is really real.

Or announced. Damn it.

Follow me on Twitter @BobSnz

This question was posed on Twitter last week: Do you think you are a better writer because you started out as an actor?

Hmmm. Well, I have spent many more years as an actor (or trying to be an actor) than I ever have writing. In fact, I’m headed out next week to be an actor again after my first audition for a film in over two years actually netted me the part and caused me clear the cobwebs and dust off my SAG card.

It’s not a big part by anyone’s definition, but a funny little part in what I think could be a very funny film. I made the camera operator laugh in the audition and I believe that helped because his laugh had to be heard in the background. Couldn’t have hurt.

And it’s a nice situation for me. No other responsibilities except learn my lines, hit my marks, and make it real. I know my limitations and this part doesn’t get near them, so I’m just gonna have some fun.

But switching back to actor mode, and believe me it is a switch, got me thinking about the question. How much has my acting experience helped me as a writer?

I'll tell you. A whole lot. Maybe more than a whole lot.

Has it helped me write better dialogue? You bet. You still have to maintain the character you’re trying to write, it just makes it easier putting the right words together in the right order if you look at it from an actor’s (who is still playing your character) standpoint.

No actor wants wooden dialogue. No actor wants dialogue that no human would say. Yet I see it all the time in spec scripts. Dialogue so unreal it’s like space aliens wrote it. I’ve auditioned in the past for independent films or TV where I got the sides, (actor’s audition lines in script form as scenes or parts of scenes), and I've cringed at having to say what was on the page. Sometimes you just can’t. There’s no way to make it come out right because of the way it’s written. How then, you ask, did such bad dialogue get as far as an audition? Beats the hell out of me. Tell me you haven’t seen films or TV with dialogue like this. You just don’t want to be the one who writes it.

Actors LOVE great words. It makes them happy. When I was on the set of the film Jeff Willis and I wrote, “The Right Girl”, it made my year when all three leads told me, unprompted, that they loved the dialogue in completely separate conversations. They didn’t have to do that. They could have just ignored me, but they didn’t. The female lead hugged me out of the blue when we met and thanked me for such a great script. (See what you missed Jeff?) And one of the male leads remembered when we worked together as actors on a TV series episode. That was cool, considering I had a flea sized part compared to his. But it was an acting, then a writing connection. We talked about my transition to writer and he had a lot of questions because he's trying to do it too.

Acting experience has also helped me with constructing character in my scripts. Knowing how to define my characters better on the page. Giving characters more of what I think a good actor might look for in the writing to help them understand who they are. I don’t change story for what an actor might like, I just think it helps me build more life into my characters an actor can relate to.

I’ve always thought that writers should take acting and improv classes anyway. I’ve encouraged my writing friends to do it on more than one occasion. There are community classes everywhere. In LA you can’t walk (sorry, it’s LA, I mean drive) by a strip mall without seeing someplace that has acting classes.

I’ve also encouraged writers to get their butts on a film set as an extra sometime. Extras are the lowest of the low on the film production food chain. The guy that waters the plants on the set is higher. You should do it anyway. You’re on a set. You’re watching how films get made. You watch the people in the director’s chairs looking at the monitors and you can see yourself there someday. I did that. I started as an extra on films and worked my ass off to network, to get an agent, to get auditions, to improve my craft as an actor, basically the same route I eventually took as a writer. But I learned what making a film really entailed. I learned what goes on. How sets work. How films get shot. How BIG ASS 100 million dollar films get shot.

And when as a writer I’ve gotten to sit in director’s chairs at the monitors for films I’ve written, it’s a feeling you cannot describe. It’s a place I dreamed about... It’s... Stop it Bob... get back on track.

I’ve worked with actors who devoted their craft to learning everything they could about their characters to get them right. To do them justice. Watched and learned from them as they searched out even the littlest thing in the script to help them with backstory to bring a little more reality to their character. I've put those things into action myself as an actor. You don’t think this helped me writing scripts? Think again.

Every writer is always looking for an edge. That one thing more that can take them to another level. I think going to some acting classes and taking them seriously is one of those things. And you may well stink. Lots of people do. Acting, or acting well, is a very hard thing to do. Acting in front of a camera with all those people standing around waiting for lunch is even harder. But I don’t know a writer who wouldn’t grow from the experience. Gain insight. It’s all part of investing in your career.

And who knows, maybe someday you’ll beat me out for a part or we’ll be acting on the same project. Stay away from the breakfast burritos at craft service though... not a good idea.


Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

Let’s start this rant with a truth. There are no shortcuts to screenwriting success. There are no shortcuts to getting a film you wrote or a movie idea you have sold and made. There’s an old saying that any film that actually gets made is a miracle. Well, that’s true, too. In fact, it’s a damn miracle.

I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “I have these movie ideas that are better than anything out there. How do I get them to a studio so I can collect my millions?”

Movie ideas. When I was working on the set of Nash Bridges for those six seasons, everybody had an idea or script. The guy who watered the plants, the dolly grip, the extras (especially the extras), the boom operator, the set decorator (I read his script, it wasn’t bad)... you name it, they had a script or worse, an idea to sell.

Now, to be truthful again, I also had ideas and scripts then, too. And I was also trying to get them to anyone who would pay attention, like everyone else. So, I’m not denigrating the people who want to see their films made, ok? That I understand.

What I don’t understand is the non-willingness to work for it. I was just exposed to a person who had “the best ideas for films Hollywood’s ever seen, but I just want to sell the ideas, because writing a script would be too much work.”

I was happy to tell this person how they could do that. “First”, I told him, “you have to go to Fantasyland.”

What he was looking for was a shortcut to success. He’d think of an idea, one or two sentences of a story idea, then the studios, who have bags of money just lying around, would dip into those bags and give him untold millions and send him on his way while they hired a writer to write his fabulous idea and a director to direct it. And then he’d come back and have approval over all of it, to make sure they did “his” story justice. See what I mean about Fantasyland?

Everybody everywhere has a movie idea. I run into people with movie ideas all the time when they find out what I do for a living. I tell them what I will tell you: NOBODY BUYS IDEAS. NOBODY. They buy the execution of those ideas. They buy YOUR hard work turning that idea into a wham bang script.

Yes, writers sell pitches. (This is always the first thing I hear after I say NOBODY BUYS IDEAS.) But the people who buy those pitches are buying the writer who pitched it as much as the idea. They KNOW this writer can take that idea and make it something special because he/she has a track record of doing just that. Hell, I’ve sold a pitch. But I sold it to a Production Company I had already sold a script to and had done multiple writing assignments for. They knew what I could do with the idea. I earned that right with years and years of hard work.

If you want to sell an idea, write the script. Do the work. Do the research. Do the outlining, if that’s the way you do it. Write it. Then rewrite it. Then rewrite it again. And when you’ve done the work to get it ready to read, do the work it takes to get it out there. Get it vetted. Have people you trust to be honest with you read it. Listen to their notes. Then rewrite it again. Then query/network it. And if you get reads... know that patience is what you’ll need. Lots of patience.

The average time it takes from finishing a script to having that script made (again, a miracle) is eight (8) years. Eight years. Average time. Jeff Willis and I wrote (finished) The Right Girl in 2007. It got produced this year. Only seven years. Not bad. Better than average. Not much better, but better. The script I sold from the pitch that I’m rewriting now gets made middle of next year. I looked it up. I pitched it in 2012 and wrote the first draft last year. So, that’s three years. Again, not bad.

My big theatrical that gets made middle of next year? I looked it up and got a little sick. Wrote it in 1999. Sixteen years from when I wrote it originally to production. Sixteen years. Oh My God... sixteen years?

Ok... I’m fine now. Martini helped.

Ok, so it’s taken sixteen years. In between time, I did nothing but work my ass off, writing, writing, and marketing myself and my work. And learning hard truths.


There is no coming up with ideas and waiting for the cash to flow in. Doesn't happen. You want success? Do the hard work, execute those ideas brilliantly, and make miracles happen.

And above all, be patient.

(follow me on Twitter @bobsnz)

When I was young, all I could think about was being involved in making movies. All I ever wanted. As a kid I would add a child’s part to every movie I saw in my head, so I could daydream about being in it. Didn’t matter what kind of film. To that end, I started acting as soon as I could. From Elementary to High School, I did every stage show I could from the time I was about 10, moving to professional theater at about 16 until I was 22. Mostly musicals and comedies.

I was in the middle of a long run as El Gallo in the Fantastiks, when I met my wife. You know, in movies, where the guy meets a woman and cartoon hearts float in the air and his eyes roll back in his head because he’s smitten? It really happens. And like that… I was done with the theater (where poverty is the norm) and acting. I was now thinking about marriage, picket fences, and supporting a family.

She’s an amazingly beautiful woman, too. You should all be jealous. Way too sweet and way way too good looking to be with me. (People still see us together, look bewildered, take me aside, and ask, “How?”) Smart, empathetic, very funny, very sexy, a great mom to our kids, and unbelievably supportive. I was a solid businessman making a better than good living in sales and marketing until one day when I went to her and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to try acting again and maybe screen or play writing for a living.” Once I picked her up off the floor, she said, “Ok, you got two years.” That was twenty years ago. Told you she was amazing.

And that’s how I got to go to “The Don Johnson Film School”.

I did have to take a circuitous route to get there.

I got my SAG card right off the bat on the Disney Film, “Angels in the Outfield”, a miraculous occurrence that is a whole blog by itself. I then entered into the wonderful world of film extra work. By the way, while I’m on that topic… EVERY SCREENWRITER NEEDS TO DO THIS A COUPLE OF TIMES just to see what it’s like to be the lowest person on the filmmaking totem pole. You think writers have it bad? Try being a film extra. I once heard a producer refer to extras as “Props that eat.”

Right after Angels, I got a 23 day gig as a “featured extra” (where they cut my moustache off and shaved my head, making me look like a Moon Pie) on the film, “Murder in the First” playing an Alcatraz prison guard. Negligible film time, a ton of fun, I got to hang with Gary Oldman every day, and it made me a zero in the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. And, I found out, if you spend 23 days on a big film set and pay attention you can learn a whole lot about how movies are made. It was nothing like I imagined.

Wasn’t kidding about Gary Oldman. On one of our first bumpy ferry boat trips out to Alcatraz, he was looking a little green around the gills and I gave him a Rolaids. From that day on he’d find me, get his Rolaid, and we’d sit and talk and laugh all the way over and back every day. And on the set. One of my prize treasures is the picture he insisted his assistant take of the two of us on set, even though I was still in Moon Pie mode.

The experience with Gary Oldman also played into my getting accepted into the Don Johnson Film School. As an “extra”, you are told… Don’t talk to the stars, don’t make eye contact, don’t don’t don’t. After my Oldman experience, I, like an idiot, thought that those rules didn’t pertain to me.

(Note: Between Murder in the First and Nash Bridges I did a three week stint on the Michael Bay film, The Rock, but that deserves a whole blog someday by itself, too.)

Right after Murder in the First I got booked as an extra on the very first day of shooting on the TV series Nash Bridges, as an SF cop. Only one of two extras that night. So, like an idiot, I sidled up to where Don Johnson was and engaged him in conversation, made him laugh a couple of times, and was never used as an extra that night. Later on the set an AD came up to me and said he saw me with Don. He read me the riot act for talking to him, saying I’d never work on the show again. I felt terrible.

Next thing I know, I get a call from Extras Casting saying that the Nash people asked for me specifically and wanted me back to be in the Nash Bridges police station as a cop extra. I won’t bore you with the details of everything, but I ended up doing 122 episodes of the show as that same character. Even got a name (Carl Hoskins) and a promotion (to Sergeant), in season 1 episode 8. Did a few episodes over those years in that character as a principal, but was mostly a “featured extra”. Meaning, I was just an extra.

Those 6 seasons gave me an opportunity I could never have gotten in any regular film school. About halfway through the first season I went to Don and asked him if, when I was there working, I could have free run of the set to learn about every department, exactly what everyone on the crew did and how and why they did it. I got a big smile and pat on the shoulder and he said, “How do think I learned? You have my blessing.” I did it every season for 6 seasons. Not only has it helped me immensely as a writer and fledgling director, but it led to some meaningful lifelong friendships.

I learned about electric, lighting, the camera department, (even got to put on the steady-cam), props, set dressing, effects, sound (thank you Aggie), stunts, unit production, you name it, I asked them about it and sucked up untold amounts of priceless knowledge. I watched the directors. I saw who was good, who was bad, and learned from it all. I found out where to put cameras, where not to put cameras, what lens to use where and why, about coverage, rules of thirds, lines of sight, you name it… I learned it. And everyone was GREAT about it, too.

And my understanding of what it takes to make a film and what things cost has helped me beyond words, again, as a writer. I can speak with knowledge in production meetings and not illicit rolled eyes. Truthfully, it has been a Godsend in working with directors and producers because I understand what it takes physically to make a film.

Now… a word about the man himself. A lot of things have been written and said about Don Johnson over the years, a lot of it not so complimentary. But to me he was nothing but gracious, kind, and the one of the smartest guys I have ever seen on a set. That man knows. He doesn’t miss a thing. And I owe him a debt. He paid me to go to film school while I was writing my first scripts. I was able to network with the people on that set which led to my first options and boatloads of great contacts I still use today. I wouldn’t have the writing career I do without Don Johnson. THANK YOU, Don.

A couple of months ago, I got to put a lot of what I learned on the Nash set to uber practical use. I directed my first short film, “Ice Block Love”. It’s being edited now and I’m very happy so far. Not your typical short either. In the four day shoot (on a Red Scarlet with Zeiss Primes and a fabulous crew of 18 people), we closed streets in Berkeley and Oakland (had permits), had about 30 extras (who were treated GREAT) on one day and about 25 child extras on another day. We staged car stunts, a runaway shopping cart stunt, a sno-cone truck stunt (with live sno-cones), weaved our star through people like dog poles, invaded a very posh restaurant instigating a cloth napkin fight, there was gratuitous cross dressing on public streets, and we had multiple people riding and crashing large ice blocks down a very steep hill.

I used everything I learned on the Nash set. Everything. Including that you hire good people and let them do their jobs without micro-managing. The crew was beyond great. The actors, wonderful. I think I got wonderful performances out of them. The DP did ask, “You want me to put the camera where?” a couple of times, but saw the method to my madness afterward.

My point? If you ever have the chance, go to film sets. Stay there. Watch everything. Ask questions. Be an extra if you have to. Watch more and learn. It will open your eyes and make you a better film writer.