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What It's Like to Be a Movie Extra: My Visit to the Set of The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Disney is known for being in the dream-making biz…or is that Oprah? Either way, last March the kind, kind folks over at Mouse Ears HQ made one of my life-long dreams come true when they asked me to join them for a day on a real-life movie set. !!!! was my reaction. No words, just exclamations. “Of course I’d love to join you,” I said. (Silently, to myself: “This is my big break. I’m going to be a STAR, people!”) The movie: The Odd Life of Timothy Green, stars the very lovely Jennifer Garner, the studly Joel Edgerton, kid phenom CJ Adams, and was directed by Peter Hedges. In sum the movie is about a childless couple (Garner & Edgerton) who pray for a child and next thing they know, Timothy Green (CJ Adams) shows up in their garden. Cool concept, no? (Check out the trailer here and see for yourself.)

Alas, it was not Hollywood, but rather the beautiful Atlanta, Georgia, where they were filming. I flew in the night before, since we had to be up and ready at the crack of dawn (okay, more like 9 am) to hop in a van that would take us to the set. (I was joined by the very lovely Sara McGinnis of BabyCenter and Rebecca Gruber of LilSugar.) The scene they were filming that day was on a soccer field, and even though it was early when we arrived the entire cast and crew looked as though they’d been up for hours (I later learned they had been.) Filming had already commenced — I could see a very beautiful Jennifer Garner practicing lines with co-star Rosemarie DeWitt on the bleachers ahead of me — so we quietly made our way to the back of the set to observe … or so we thought. Within moments, a casting director came up to us.

“You want to be extras?” she said. DO WE? DO WE? (OSCARS, HERE I COME!) I nodded, politely, that yes, that would be incredible.”Great,” she responded. “Stand over there and walk when I tell you to walk.” Yes, ma’am! And that’s exactly what we did. Our “roles” were soccer bystanders, and every time the director yelled “Action!” we walked from one mark (fancy movie-talk speak) to another and pretended to gab like old friends. We did this once. We did this twice. We did this three times. I could get used to this, I thought. (To myself: I’m a natural. JGarnz, watch OUT.)

As we continued to walk from one side of the soccer field to the next, fake-chatting, it dawned on me that we had at least 25 more takes ahead of us. That’s what they don’t tell you, folks! Those perfectly-executed scenes you see up on the big, shiny screen? They’ve been rehearsed over and over and over and over again until the director is satisfied he has the perfect take. (Not so bad if you’re Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, though, huh?) Also, all the different angles you see when you’re watching a movie? They have to capture those, too, which means multiple cameras, many more takes. I. had. no idea. About an hour later, though, my big debut experience as an extra was over and I was able to enjoy movie-making from behind the scenes. Here are a cool few things the movie won’t reveal:

  • It’s hot in Atlanta, Georgia in March. Really hot. It was about 80 degrees the day we visited the set, but the scene called for it to be November. So everyone was dressed in long-sleeve fall clothing (even me!) The make-up artists must’ve had a field day with the amount of powder they went through to cover up forehead sweat.
  • Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, and director Peter Hedges (pictured above, on the day we filmed) are lovely. Absolutely no Hollywood divas here — all took time out of their busy day to come chat with us. In fact, Hedges even teared up talking about his experience making the movie. It was an incredibly sweet moment. The only downside: Ben Affleck wasn’t visiting his wife the day we visited. Can’t win ‘em all, can ya?
  • The entire cast and crew ate together in one big trailer everyday. (And it was delicious!) No hierarchy there. In other words, I ate a burger next to Ron Livingston. Yes, the dude from Office Space. I died. And after I died, I asked him for a photo.
  • Ahmet Zappa, one of the producers on the film, was especially awesome. Between takes, he talked about his daughter, Halo, and how excited he was to be a new dad. (In fact, he said he was a Babble fan!)
  • Child actors are incredibly eloquent. (I suppose that’s why they got into acting, right?) CJ Adams and Odeya Rush, who play Timothy Green and Joni Jerome, were wise beyond their years. (Fun fact: Odeya didn’t speak English until she moved to the U.S. from Israel at age 9.)

The Odd Life of Timothy Green comes out in theaters nationwide August 15th. (You may even catch a glimpse of me! It’s the soccer scene. Cross your fingers it didn’t get cut!) And check out a few fun movie stills below.

–Andrea Zimmerman, manager of blogs & social media at Babble.com


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