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NCRA Members Find Working as Extras Helps Promote the Profession

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09Apr2019

NCRA Members Find Working as Extras Helps Promote the Profession

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By NCRA

Working as an extra on a TV show or movie is a great way for NCRA members to promote the wonderful work being done by court reporters and captioners every day. It can also be a lot of fun. Two NCRA members recently told the JCR Weekly about their experiences being extras.

Helga Lavan

Helga Lavan

Helga Lavan, RPR, is a freelancer in Woodbury, CT.

JCR | What show were you an extra in and when?

HL | The Code, premiering April 9 on CBS. It was filmed in November of 2018.

JCR | How long were you part of filming?

HL | The courtroom scene was filmed for 13 hours on one sitting. One of the leading actors (Anna Wood) had to walk past me as she cross-examined a witness in a courtroom scene.

JCR | Can you give us a description of the scene?

HL | It was a courtroom scene at Judge Advocate General Headquarters in Quantico. Everyone was in Marine uniforms. A star witness is being examined and cross-examined, and the jury is given closing arguments. I kept writing everything I heard, and new words and names of places would come up that weren’t in my dictionary. Of course, I wasn’t plugged in and by the tenth hour my battery died. But it was the same lines over and over again. It brought me back to my school years practicing the same tapes to get it perfect!

JCR | Did you provide your own equipment?

HL | Yes, I provided my own equipment. I get a “bump” of extra compensation by bringing my own equipment. After being in holding for quite some time, I was called down and directed to set up behind a huge square desk, far, far away from the witness stand! I already was dismayed at that. The scene director pointed me to my place, the far end of the room near to where the bailiff was stationed. Clearly not a good setup in the real world but this was TV land, and so I began setting up. He asked me to set up the machine on top of the table. This may sound funny, but I told him it’s not done that way. I have a tripod. And so I set up, and the table I was at totally blocked everything from my chest down. If I would’ve set the machine up on the table (without the tripod), it would’ve been at neck height. Set director came back around and said, “Oh, is that how it’s done? It’s on a tripod?” I said yes. So the whole scene was shot and my machine was under and behind a huge desk the whole time!

JCR | Can you give us more details about how filming went, if you interacted with the actors, would you do it again, and anything else you would like to share?

HL | I would totally do this again. I had to be fitted and wore a Marine uniform complete with medals. I haven’t been able to accept other casting calls, one of them Billions, because of the busy lifestyle I have of owning a business. I’m still freelancing as well as training for marathons. But if another opportunity presents itself, I surely would do it again. Some of the cast members, especially Wayne Duvall, were so intrigued when they realized I was a true court stenographer. Many of the cast members saw me, a new person, on set and went out of their way to introduce themselves and welcome me. They had so many questions and couldn’t believe a real court reporter was on set. What I noticed most was how energetic, gracious, and professional cast members were, filming into the wee hours of the night, and yet they kept a positive attitude, had fun between takes by making each other laugh, and never complained. They had perseverance. I got to see the not-so-glamorous side of filming, and at the same time everyone cooperated and did their jobs. A truly wonderful yet exhausting experience!

Kate Cochran

Kate Cochran

Kate Cochran, RPR, is a freelancer and CART captioner in Decatur, GA.

JCR | What show were you an extra in and when?

KC | The show is Insatiable, a Netflix series still on today. It was March 22, 2017. A friend and colleague of mine shared on social media that a casting agency was looking for a court reporter. Heck, why not?

JCR | How long were you part of filming?

KC | I was lumped with all the extras. We were there all day. Super early for the hair, wardrobe, and makeup people to assess you. However, you bring your own clothes and makeup for them to decide on. It was at least 12 hours, most of which was waiting in the wings. Similar to how it can happen at work, there was a lot of downtime. I was prepared with transcripts and proofreading that kept me busy the whole day.

JCR | Can you give us a description of the scene?

KC | It was a court scene in a rather large courtroom. I was to sit in an old wooden chair in front of the judge, witness stand, etc., which was a real place of prominence over all the other extras, who merely filled a row or two in the room. Ironically, I’ve never worked in court, but this was just pretend, of course.

JCR | Did you provide your own equipment?

KC | Yes, I brought my own equipment, for which I was compensated a very small amount. I was told they had a writer that was probably older than myself. But, honestly, the whole point of my signing on to do this was to promote an accurate image of our profession and show that we don’t all look like old librarians.

JCR | Can you give us more details about how filming went?

KC | I was actively on set for about two hours, during which they filmed the same two-minute scene over and over again. In this instance, every time you get a new camera angle in a given scene, it was another shoot with another lens. It makes for a very tedious process. My biggest surprise: The actors’ microphones are so sophisticated that they barely spoke above a whisper. I couldn’t hear half of the lines! My solution was to create my own dialogue in my head and just keep typing away. Again, pretend.

While on set, nearly the whole production team (first director, second director, etc.) came up and said hey to me. They all said, “You really do this for a living? That’s amazing!” Everyone was impressed despite not seeing me actively doing anything but typing on my keys. If only I could have given them a realtime feed!

We were fed really well on set. Morning meant breakfast and coffee. Lunch and dinner were nice catered events (extras go through last). And midday meant snack time of hot quesadillas. Oh, and there’s a candy stand, too!

Spending all day with full-time extras was entertaining. It was a funny collection of 20-somethings and retirees. They loved sharing stories about their experiences, rattling off lists of what shows or movies they’ve participated in. Us newbies were cautioned to not expect to get in the frame. No matter how close you get to the actors, it just never happens. Atlanta has a huge movie/TV industry, so you can really fill your schedule being an extra. The casting company said they’d love for me to register at their office, as there is steady work being a court reporter extra. However, I felt like I paid my dues for now. I really give the production company credit for making the effort of filling the spot with someone authentic.

Did I get on the show? The show didn’t drop on Netflix for at least a year. I haven’t watched it because it looks kind of silly. My husband found my episode and discovered that I did earn a brief shot on screen.

Originally published April 2, 2019, on TheJCR.com, a publication of the National Court Reporters Association and reprinted here with permission.

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