SHRILL - A day in the life of an extra by Jamie Cole
While browsing social media last August, I noticed one of my friends had tagged me in a casting call looking for extras in a Fat Babe Pool party scene for a Hulu special series, Shrill, which is based on Lindy West’s memoir from 2016. Shrill focuses on a plus-sized journalist, Annie, played by SNL’s Aidy Bryant, who is trying to navigate life and learn self-love while the world throws every obstacle her way. Although totally out of my comfort zone, I figured it had taken me years to become comfortable in a bathing suit, why not take it up a notch. Prancing around in front of a film crew in a two piece would surely push my boundaries. Plus, what a great way to be a part of the body positive mission. So, I applied and patiently awaited contact from the casting agent.
The day before filming began, the casting agent reached out with the call time and location. I nearly backed out when I learned that the call time was 5:30 am because… mornings. Armed with a full face of make-up, a pillow for my guy, and two over-sized cups of coffee we hit the road. One Hundred and Forty miles and Thirty ‘keep you awake’ songs later, we arrived at The Oregon Golf Club. It was pitch black but security directed us to a lot where we were first informed that we would be accompanied by 80 other extras. Pardon? Eight-Zero?
The sight of the set was surreal all by itself. Trailers galore were parked in a line with names of the VIPs on the doors. Boom lifts and staging trucks were perfectly positioned for easy access by the crew. We were ushered into the golf club’s banquet room which was full of tables, hair/makeup stations, and changing tents. We settled in toward the back of the room and watched as the casting director welcomed the rest of the extras as they filled up the tables.
Breakfast was served while everyone filtered in and met with the casting directors for registration. The food quickly dwindled down to nothing, which was also the case during lunch where the cast and crew were served first, followed by the extras. The catering crew must not have been prepared to feed a slew of women with a healthy appetite.
As the sun began to rise I snuck away to the restrooms while waiting for my turn with wardrobe. It was my first peek at the set. Wow! The Oregon Golf Club’s pool was full of giant inflatable Unicorns, Donuts, and Pizza slices that were gliding across the water each time the breeze picked up. The club’s expansive greens and vibrant gardens were the perfect backdrops for the Fat Babe Pool party. The lawn beyond the pool gates was adorned with giant daybeds and bright umbrellas, just asking to be lounged upon.
Wardrobe made their rounds under the tent sifting through outfit choices for each lady. Some were whisked away to the clothing racks where they were outfitted to set the tone for a magnificent and eclectic pool party. I was fortunate to be identified as their “classic beauty” so I was able to wear my own two-piece bathing suit and some colorful earrings, topped off with giant shades- nothing crazy! Next stop was hair and make-up where a few ladies quickly learned that what the Pros say goes when their attempt to undo the hairstyles chosen for them was frowned upon. Luckily, I sat down for a few curls, a little lipstick, and voila!
It was go-time and everyone made their way to the pool area for the first scene. The on-set director made an introduction, including the meaning behind certain cues and commands. Imagine 80 women, all shapes and sizes, clad in bright swimsuits, floppy hats, and quirky sunglasses perched upon gigantic floaties and sauntering pool-side with cocktails in hand. The set was full of energy as the ladies settled into their roles and got used to interacting with one another, often times silently.
A slight break in the scene and in walks Aidy Bryant with co-star Lolly Adefope. After a brief moment of awe, everyone fell back into place and awaited the next call for action. Aidy was dressed modestly adorning a sweet smile. She appeared quite humble and was respectful to the crew and extras. A few hours into filming, Melanie Field, one of the Heathers, came onto set. She was stunning- gorgeous with an edgy haircut. Her presence did not go unnoticed as she settled into scene with Lolly and Aidy. The cast members were all very pleasant and would interact with the extras in close vicinity from time to time, but none of us will be having a sleepover with Aidy Bryant anytime soon.
Although there were no real blooper moments during the time I was on set, there were outtakes and last minute changes on the fly. I was pleased to see that the cast was able to make suggestions when a scene wasn’t flowing and that the changes were well-received by the directors. It seemed to make the interaction more authentic and relatable.
Often times unmentioned is the supporting staff. The on-set Second Assistant Director, Derek Wilson, was truly remarkable. He was patient, kind, and professional when interacting with the extras, most of whom were rookies. His direction was thorough and he helped us navigate the scenes with little to no mishaps which made the time spent on cue much more enjoyable for everyone.
The first day of filming wrapped as the sun began to set. The 14 hour day resulted in an abundance of free time in between scenes; however, it gave all of us an opportunity to meet and interact with some amazing women. It was interesting observing the interaction between the women both in the holding room and on set. Some of the ladies were front and center, eager to snag a bit of camera time while others were content being in the background. During my downtime, I had a chance to meet a performer who is no stranger to being on camera, a local fashion designer, and a young entrepreneur with her own screen-printing business just to name a few.
Day two’s 7:30 am call time was much more manageable and anticipated to be another 14 hours on set. Sadly, I had to head out early but not before I spent hours in the pool. I had put off taking my turn in the water because the ruffles on my swimsuit would flare out like a life preserver once immersed; however, it was now or never! I chose to forego the use of a floaty and tread water in the deep end during the pool scenes that morning while engaging in fake conversations that were visibly hilarious without saying a word. It’s a lot harder than it looks to pretend to be having a great time when you aren’t allowed to make any noise.
Along with many of you, we are patiently awaiting the March 15th debut of Shrill on Hulu. Although I tried to keep to the sidelines, there’s a chance that you may see my cherry red derriere prancing across the screen in Episode 3 as the Fat Babe Pool Party commences. Kudos to those who supported Ms. West’s message enough to bring this much-needed series to our screens.