I have been self employed for close to 10 years now, but there have been occasions that I have taken up the odd day job. There was that time in Mumbai where I was a Bollywood voice over extra. Recently in Melbourne I got back on the factory floor for a day to help pack boxes for a friends business, and in December 2010 I was an extra for a big budget disaster film in Thailand.
I was in Bangkok when got an email about a film that was needing western extras. The film, The Impossible, is about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. The scene they needed extras for was being filmed in Surat Thani, in southern Thailand. The days pay would barely cover my flight but I wasn’t doing it for the money, I just wanted to experience a day on the set of a big budget film. So I got a flight Surat Thani and arrived at the hotel where the rest of the extras were being put up for the night.
The work day began with us being picked up at 4.30am to be taken to Surat Thani airport, which is where the filming would be for the day. Once we were at the airport we began what most extras do on set. Wait.
[Early morning start on set for The Impossible in Surat Thani.]
By mid morning the production team had worked out what each group of extras were doing. I was then sent outside to begin a new round of waiting in the hot morning sun. I didn’t know many details about the film other than it was starring Obi-Wan Kenobi. Once we were outside we got to see the film set for the first time, and the reality of what the film was about kicked in. This is going to be a heavy film.
[Dummy bloated corpses on the set of The Impossible]
The set had taken over the whole airport, which was closed to flights for the day. The airport was transformed into a post-tsunami command centre with dummy bodies, makeshift morgues, missing persons noticeboards, and a temporary office.
I ended up in two scenes. One at a desk in front of a computer (not much acting required there) doing an admin job. A change of costume later and I was now in a scene coming off a bus from a recently landed flight from Europe, looking for a loved one.
[Missing after tsunami]
Two years after that day of filming, The Impossible has now been released. I had almost forgotten about it until I saw a recent preview so I was eager to see the final result, and to see if I had made the cut.
The Impossible is based on the true story of a Spanish family of five (anglicized in the film) who survived the catastrophe. The film begins on December 24 with the family flying to Phuket for their holiday on Khao Lak. Everyone knows the story of the tsunami, so you know there is two days before the tsunami hits. Watching these two days of holiday normalcy is almost unbearable knowing what is about to happen.
Then there is the tsunami scene. The special effects of tsunami is unbelievably realistic, as you can see on this preview:
YouTube: Trailer : The Impossible
The films narrative is based on this families story of survival in the two days after the tsunami. Some reviews have been critical of not portraying local stories, and the thought crossed my mind while watching the film as well. However this film is one story out of millions that could have been told, and it is not meant to be a broad sweeping documentary. And their survival story is truly staggering, and according to one tsunami survivor it is realistically depicted.
As for my scene I didn’t make the final cut. While it was a worthwhile experience to see movie making behind the scenes, being an extra is not something I would rush to do again.