What I learned from being an extra in The Children Act

Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci‘s latest movie The Children Act comes out today and you may or may not have heard that I’m in it! It was my first and only (so far) experience of being a movie extra, but I can finally share what it was like.

In the film (you can read my review here), Thompson plays a judge who has to decide whether a hospital should give a teenage boy a life-saving blood transfusion, even though it’s against his beliefs as he’s a Jehovah’s Witness. I appear in the briefest of scenes in which a pastor chats to his congregation about why blood is considered so sacred in that religion. It is very short, mainly for exposition and comes towards the start. Look for me in a khaki dress and black cardigan on the right in one of the back rows (away from the speaker!)

We shot that scene in late 2016 at a church in London. That was actually the easy part of the day – the church was already set up (there was a huge bright light outside to make it seem like morning) and once we got fed dinner – catering was set up nearby in street food-style tents and we would eat in a specially fitted bus – we didn’t have to hang about that much. We were mostly on set taping the scene over and over again from different angles. I was sat directly behind a man with a speaking part so I was hoping a decent shot of me would end up in the scene, but his bit was cut, along with most of what we shot.

The most annoying part was earlier in the day as I had been asked to come to London Metropolitan University early on a Saturday morning to play a student before being the churchgoer. However, they didn’t need me, they had too many student extras, so I sat around that entire time for no reason and came in the morning when I wasn’t needed til mid-afternoon. The only things I got to do were having my hair done (same style, just tidier) and having the outfit I’d brought along approved. I was extra gutted after learning I missed filming a scene with Tucci. You’ll note when you see the film that his teaching scenes add up to about 30 seconds of footage.

The biggest thing I learned about being an extra that day was how much time and money is spent for very little footage. The day I was there has probably equated to less than a minute of time in the finished product which seems so crazy and wasteful to me but I guess they don’t know what they need and don’t until the edit.

I knew there would be a lot of waiting around but I was shocked by the amount of downtime you have in comparison to onscreen time. I should have come better prepared. It sounds so glamorous saying you’ve been part of a movie and on a film set and it was a relief and a surprise to see myself in the final edit – no matter how brief – but it is about 80% sitting around, which is not my vibe.

I haven’t done it since but that’s more to do with fitting it in around my job, but I would be down for doing some more. I would be happy to do odd days here and there but I couldn’t do it for consecutive days on end. I would go stir crazy!

p.s. I have no pictures because you’re contractually not allowed to take any.

The Children Act is in cinemas now 

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