22 May National Geographic Documentary Making in Bangkok: the Phantom Extra
Working as an Extra in Thailand
No. I am Filipino. I am security here. Who are you?
I am a US Soldier.
And just like that, I was right where I wanted to be. Deep in the movie making magic. Right in front of the camera saying my lines and donning a costume for the role du jour.
Hey buddy, you got a smoke?
My days of being production set bitch were surely numbered. No more lugging heavy ass tripods up 12 story asbestos filled, abandoned buildings. No more pretending like I knew how to focus a lens or knew how to plug a magafahughegighama hag hga into z5 converter mc fuck what. I was doing what I was destine to do: stand around getting paid to smoke, act like an asshole wannabe alpha-male American guy while clad in a fabulous outfit.
It was perfect.
Tyler…I need to move two steps to the right
Yes. I was still being called Tyler…Tanner…Tucker or whatever the hell begins with a T, but I didn’t care. This was my moment to shine. And shine I would. This was a National Geographic documentary after all, and my fastlane to Hollywood and all of its accruements (see: drugs, sex, TMZ footage of me coked out of mind in my underwear 30 pounds underweight in a downward spiral of self-destruction yelling obscenities at a flower pot). I was on my way.
Hey, it has been like 4 hours, is that food coming that you ordered for everyone?
Oh that? Oh that is for the other set across town…you won’t be there for that scene. I am sure if you look around you can find something edible.
But don’t let me get ahead of myself, as I am so accustomed to do. You all are far to too tolerant of my ADD scribed gibberish sometimes. I blame Facebook. Let me focus this blather a bit.
This film shooting taking place was in a downtown Bangkok Thailand studio for a National Geographic Documentary and was about Southeast Asian paranormal encounters. It is a documentary series about tales of hauntings and ghosts that people have witnessed over the years and are credited for the current beliefs and superstitions that locals have. Most of the film shooting happens at the locations. In this episode’s case, at a jail in the Philippines. They film the eyewitnesses of these haunted tales in narrative form, where the person who had the close encounter tells their story of the paranormal experience. My scene was the glorious reenactment, so that the viewers at home get a more vivid picture of what these eyewitnesses really experienced on their fateful night.
My role was that of a phantom, or ghost if you will, of a World War II American soldier who a Filipino security guard had a run in with one night. The Filipino guard on night watch roams the halls of the jail, when he encounters an unknown figure in the distance. The figure, moi, reveals himself and asks for a cigarette. The guard, apprehensive of this unknown visitor, nervously reaches out to give the American solider (see: delusional star) a cigarette, and after lighting his own cigarette finds that the soldier has no feet. When he looks up in a mix of fear and astonishment, the soldier is gone. Poof. Up in smoke without a trace. Gone as if he had never had existed (see: Turner’s past relationships).
Spooky stuff huh?
The day started off like my previous filming experiences – waiting for hours as the production was delayed. I didn’t mind. I had been given my army fatigues and my lines to practice. There were not many lines, but I was determined to act the shit outta them. I was going to live my role and fall into character just like Leo would have done.
I growled at my new co-actor Jaycee, a Filipino transplant living in Bangkok who was playing the security guard.
Soon thereafter I also practiced undoubtedly what my character in real life would have done: striking posses around the studio office in my new digs. JC was then beckoned for his opening scenes while I waited in the office (see: fell asleep on the bench for 2 hours).
Tanner, you are up next.
I gathered myself and went to the area where the rest of the production crew was assembled: a hallway in a Bangkok office building with dark lightening. It was the perfect setting for my phantom debut. For the next 2 hours we shot the scenes. We varied the lines, the lighting, the rhythm of the script…composing all the of the shots necessary to make this scene into the a reenactment of that night the security guard had a run in with a supernatural being.
Tyler, are you a smoker? I need you take a cigarette from the guard and smoke it casually
In anticipation of getting this unforeseeable acting job, I had begun smoking the month before.
Sure, but I am pretty new. I can chain smoke like a DMV employee but I can’t do it like Steve McQueen cool yet.
Take after take, I smoked. I tried different variations of holding the cigarette. I thought to me myself. How would a harden soldier from World War II have smoked a cig? How would he grab it, light it, puff it, blow it out?
Ah…Tyler, the cigarettes are almost all gone and we are technically not supposed to be smoking in this building
Sorry, just going into character.
Okay, now we need your pants for the blue screen shot. Please take off your pants.
This was not an unusual request. I had become accustomed to it after living in Bangkok for 4 months. And then it finally came to a halt.
the director bellowed,
we need to close this up now, we are out of time.
In gitty anticipation, I had waited my whole life for this moment.
So…that is a wrap then?
I asked, wide eyed, looking for him to drop the most clichéd movie making line of all time.
No, it is just a wrap for you. We have more scenes to shoot across town. You can head downstairs and let the girls sort you out in the office. Thanks for your hard work Tyler.
I left the movie studio with more than just a story to tell that day. More than an empty, gargling belly and a cool 1000 baht ($30) in my pocket. I had taken a step into the movie making magic world by being in front of the lights instead of holding them. I had finally landed my first acting gig.
This phantom didn’t merely stroll out into the streets of Bangkok that night, he floated.
Update – You can catch the copied version of the National Geographic episode of me working as an Extra below. Check out the 4.38 mark to hear me delivery my infamous line “Hey buddy, you got a smoke?”.