Back in the late nineties, I moved to Kitsilano and went looking for some fun ‘extra’ background work in movies and TV. I signed up with a casting company in Vancouver, filled in a form and had my head shot taken. At the time I worked as a personal assistant. It wasn’t much fun, but paid the rent.
When the first casting call came, I was super excited. The shoot was taking place at Jericho Beach, on a boat, and called for swim wear. So you can imagine my disappointment when one employer wouldn’t give me the day off. And this was a job that wasn’t full-time, and I was often not needed due to lack of work. It was upsetting, and the casting company never contacted me again.
Fast forward ten years later when I had the opportunity to be an extra in a Kelowna shoot for Jon Voight (Angelina Jolie’s dad). “The Legend of Simon Conjurer,” now renamed “Deadly Lessons,” was a very low budget movie. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t released for over a decade and was renamed. Also an unpaid position, extras were rewarded with a meet and greet with Mr. Voight, and he autographed our photocopied picture of him. Yes, photocopies, not actual photos.
The obscure movie scene that night was shot at the Kelowna library. It was a long night, but still exciting to meet Mr. Voight up close and personal. I’ll always remember his piercing gaze and ability to connect with everyone on set, in spite of the bizarre fat suit he had to wear for the part.
Indeed, when I found myself living in the quaint town of Parksville on Vancouver Island, I wasn’t thinking about acting. I moved for the peace and quiet, and to focus on writing. But then a friend who ran an Airbnb where I stayed advised me that Hallmark shoots a TV series every summer in Parksville Qualicum, “Chesapeake Shores.” She worked as a paid extra the previous summer. Since it was still early winter, I looked up the casting company to discover they had a casting call March 2018.
I know an opportunity to make an unfulfilled dream come true when I see one!
I arrived early, filled in my form, had my head shot taken, and waited. Shooting began in April and would go until mid-July, so I was ready.
By the middle of May, I had given up hope and figured it wasn’t meant to be. Suddenly, I received a late Sunday night text from Jacqui Kaese of Carrow Kaese Casting asking if I was available Wednesday. Woohoo!
Monday’s email outlined wardrobe specifications. We were to bring three different outfits for every shoot. I had fun putting together outfits, but stressed about what would be deemed appropriate. There were many do’s and don’ts—avoid logos, busy patterns, and no black or white. I managed to put some things together without having to head out to the thrift shop, something background actors do to multiply their outfit options. Natural make-up was preferable, with hair styled. A stylist did up-do my hair the last shoot, and I had to take out 19 hairpins when I got home. Michael, our flamboyant wardrobe stylist, was a pleasure to work with and had the most amazing energy of anyone on set, and a great sense of humour. He came to work dressed as a garbage man on one of his sets, just for fun.
We didn’t receive shooting location information and a map until after 10 pm the evening prior to shooting. I’d fallen asleep and groggily read the email and tried to figure out where I was going to be driving early the next day. Thank you Google maps.
Everyone was super friendly during check-in. Around 50 extras arrived. We were shuttled to our secret location in Qualicum through an old growth forest to arrive at a stunning garden setting overlooking the ocean and beach. A rustic home with an array of rustic furniture hid the main actors inside. A pond was surrounded on the other side by flowers. Then we figured out most of the flowers were fake and had been planted by set designers. They did a good job.
The set was a flower show competition between the characters of Chesapeake Shores, including the amazing 82-years old Diane Ladd, who I learned is Laura Dern’s mother. What a great surprise; I was star struck. She is just as southern and funny and charming as many of the characters she’s played through the decades.
Food trucks provided us with plenty of snacks, lunch, and beverages, all included in our work day. Candy was plentiful. It was also fascinating to watch the camera crew set up and move between takes for alternate shots. There are a lot of people making it all come together behind the scenes.
Background work involves a lot of miming conversation. This proves more difficult than one may think, and not everyone is good at lip reading. It was hard not to burst out laughing and remain quiet, at least for me. Breaks between set changes were spent snacking on the beach, watching bald headed eagles catch fish on shore—rough life.
I met many first-time and seasoned actors. People came from as far away as Victoria, Nanaimo, and Courtenay. Victoria travellers had to be up at 3 am so I couldn’t complain about my 5 am wake-up. Many, like me, do extra work for fun, but there are many serious actors pursuing full-time careers.
My second casting call in June was multiple shoots in Qualicum Beach on a 30+ above day. The first shoot Jesse Metcalfe (Desparate Houswives—swoon!) appeared in my scene. Barbara Niven (countless TV movies), stopped and chatted at my bistro set table and was lovely. She also looks twenty years younger than her age. Star struck again!
Naturally I had to snap a pic of Georgia, the adorable set dog.
The third casting call was the final day of shooting harbour-side in Nanaimo mid-July. The day involved a lot of frayed nerves and sadness as many people were saying goodbye to the people they’d worked with closely for the past three months. There were two changes for a regatta scene. It was another 30+ above day, but cool to see the stars up close again, including Treat Williams (movies and TV), and we had a nice breeze blowing in off the ocean. I had the pleasure of meeting Vancouver-based Andrew Francis who plays Connor O’Brien on the show, who remained friendly and approachable with everyone.
On the ‘regatta’ shoot in outfit #1.
Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to take pictures on set, other than selfies. I’m looking forward to checking out Season 3 online and watching for the acting friends I made, along with myself. What a fun way to make some extra cash in “Hollywood North,” meet a variety of interesting people, and maybe see someone you’ve only seen in the movies.
And the moral of the story is… even if things don’t work out initially, they have a way of coming true, even 20+ years later. And… cut!