I just read that the cost of the new Lone Ranger movie was $225 million. Based on my past experience as a high-paid major motion picture star (Translation: Extra, “Atmosphere,” or A Person We’d Rather Not Be Forced to Deal With But Must to Make Our Celluloid Fantasies Appear Real), I figure that 3% goes directly into what you actually see on the screen, 2% goes into retakes and 95% goes into food for the actors.
One typical day, I worked on Home Alone at producer John Hughes’ studio in the former New Trier West High School. I arrived at 8:30 a.m. and, with three changes of clothes draped over my shoulder, sauntered into a lounge with about two-dozen other extras. Twelve or so were selected and the rest were released with a day’s pay. There went a bunch of dollars. Cha-ching!
No nudity in this scene, so we dressed appropriately and went into the old gym, where the First Class section of a 737 had been constructed. After being seated (the only time I’ll ever be in First Class), the set decorators placed a breakfast of eggs, toast, and a glass of champagne (ginger ale) before us. When filming began, we started to eat. Cut! Do it again. A new plate of food. Eat. Shoot. Cut. Do it again. After Take 3, the set people said to take small bites because they were running out of eggs and toast.
The fifth take was good, so we had a break while the crew removed some seats for the next shots. Being a small puff of atmosphere, we got to eat with the big-time actors—-unusual because extras were accustomed to standing in line getting fed weasel meat with a slingshot. In the vestibule, tables were set with baskets of fruit, a squeezing machine to make fresh orange juice, all types of coffees, teas, bagels, cream cheeses, donuts, sweet rolls, a toaster, a chef making omelets to order, a cooler with milk and yogurt and another filled with various bottled liquids. Around 10:00, food service people morphed foodstuffs on the tables into brunch fare. We went back to the set. Cha-ching! Millions spent.
At lunchtime, a cook wagon in the courtyard supplied char-boiled half-pound burgers and thick-cut fries, with ice cream sundaes for dessert. Lunch over, back to work. Meanwhile, the food tables inside were restocked for afternoon snacks, including a frozen custard machine. By now I was so full I thought I would retch into my airsickness bag.
I’d been seated on the aisle just across from Dad, John Heard, and Mom, Catherine O’Hara. Director Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter, etc.) decided I should be reading a Wall Street Journal instead of just sitting there blowing up my barf bag and trying to grab the stewardess. There was no overhead light, so the techs had to install one. We cleared the set and went outside. I flipped a Frisbee with John Heard, a couple of the sound techs, and Joe Pesci’s stunt double. An hour later I was back in my seat, reading. After reviewing the film, director Columbus decided I was too distracting, so he had me sleep instead. Dinner buffet time. Cha-ching! Millions gone.
After dinner, some more no-longer-needed atmosphere was sent packing, leaving only three of us. I plucked a Dove Bar out of the gym freezer, strolled to the camera, and peered into the monitor over the director’s shoulder. He was shooting the scene where Mom suddenly realizes she forgot a kid at home. After “Cut!” Chris turned to me and said, “What do you think?”
Did you think I’d tell him it was the most hackneyed bit of doo-doo I’d ever seen? No. With drippy ice cream bar and bare face hanging out, my educated, professional response was, “Uhhh…Looks good to me.”
Around 11:00 p.m., we last three expendables were released. I stopped by the midnight snack tables, said goodnight to John Heard who was hanging there, and loaded my pockets with rations for the road.
There you have it. Mass quantities of food and exorbitant pay for my fourteen-and-a-half hours, plus millions of other dollars spent for ninety seconds of useable film. Cha-ching!