It arrived in the mail today! The paycheck for a three day “gig” in early November. All the days of phoning in to check if I’m needed, all the frustration of finding the best transportation arrangement in proximity to where I’ll have to check in, everything I learned in school and the life experience gathered since then, all the hours have finally paid off! Even more important, I may very likely be contacted for a return engagement as early as next Autumn!
I’m speaking of course about really being part of this process in LaLa-Land and “paying one’s dues”. Nope, not Extra Work through Central Casting – this is the real deal: being in the Los Angeles Court System jury pool.
In many ways, the two experiences — work as an “extra” or background… and jury duty (well, being a prospective juror) — are painfully similar. Consider these few examples which should be easily recognizable if you’ve ever endured either process.
- Your first experience with either is often when you are an optimistic young adult ready to conquer the world overnight. Nothing can slow you down on what you feel is your pre-destined course — until you quickly learn that registering to vote makes you eligible for that dreaded jury service letter OR that finally registering for extra/background/atmosphere work is NOT a swift 90 minute yellow-brick-road-trip to having those Kansan showbiz dreams fulfilled by some Wonderful Wiz of a casting director.
- By about a week or so before the big day of your first time, you’ve already informed employers, family, friends, that this whole next week (or longer) is definitely spoken for,… though nothing will definitely be known until the evening before. Naturally (because that sadistic prankster Murphy must have signed a pact with the devil in order to be credited for the eponymous Law), that is also the week for employee reviews upon which wage increases will be based, your strong-as-an-ox-103-year-old grandmother who lives 2000 miles away has broken a hip and isn’t expected to hang on past tomorrow night, and your best friend has chosen to invite you to stand up in the wedding party for the spontaneous elopement on the beach in Jamaica (all expenses paid). Oh, and you won spot #3 in the audition lottery to be seen for the new John Waters film in the role you were born to play AND your dream crush from high-school is passing through town next week and is hoping you’d like to meet at the airport for a late-nooner… because after that, well, duh… who did you THINK your best friend was gonna marry in Jamaica?!
Well, the conflicts will vary from person to person but in my case, it meant having to bow out of a role written for me when a short I’d booked lost its location and could only reschedule during the week I was on call for Voir Dire (I love to casually drop the phrase “Voir Dire“; sadly, it’s one of the few legal phrases I readily retained from high school senior year civics class; go look it up).
- You arrive for the mysterious first day well on time and prudently attentive… only to spend about 70 minutes sitting around waiting for the day to actually begin.
- The forms you dutifully complete require more information than is really relevant to what you may be doing. Have I “ever been convicted?”! What does that have to do with whether I can stay awake and feign interest in what’s being said?
- After filling the forms and listening to the dry but frantic introductory speech that is interrupted at least twice by a late arrival, you find yourself herded like cattle from one holding area to another… only to, once again, be sitting around in a large room that is either too cold or way too stuffy. But the less-than-ideal climate control does help keep your mind off the boring wait for when you’ll be called.
- Despite how many times you are perfunctorily assured that you are appreciated for the invaluable service you are performing, no one truly seems to trust you with comprehending the big picture because the trickle of info is about as forthcoming as an August downpour in L.A.
- Either it’s the hypothermic coma or the lack of fresh oxygen in the room but you notice that you begin to lose consciousness; a nap could be the perfect boredom alleviator if only there was a suitable surface for your shameless crash. Alas, squeezed between the corpulent gent and the nun with moth-ball-like halitosis, all you can do is allow your head to slouch forward and irrigate your navel with a stream of drool.
NOTE: That is one difference between the two experiences — In the case of extra work, it’s merely a lay-person costumed as a nun (the halitosis, however, is genuine and remains a constant on both sides of the equation).
- After the crick in your neck curtails your nap (and the drool stain has spread to your lap), you start to eavesdrop on conversations around you and conclude that this is a 50/50 mixture of people who are either very curious and excited about being here OR thoroughly miffed that depite how nobly diligent they are toward their job, fate has brought them to this place today where, if the gig lasts several days, they *may* be able to afford a trip to the grocery store.
- On your way through the seating area to the restroom, you notice something else about this microcosm in which you are stranded: The people around you have no sense of humor and/or seem afraid to acknowledge the humor in this shared plight. Vacant stares meet your quips and blank eyes line your path like the runway lights at LAX.
- One very frightening realization, whether these are potential jurors or extras/background/atmosphere/puppets: generally speaking, this is a large bunch of people who probably don’t have a clue about the workings of a film set.
The truth is that despite the stress, boredom, and how many prayers you may say, ultimately neither will make or break your career — until you consider again all those “I’m perfect for that role” auditions that you’ve had to decline because you knew that you’d be sitting numbly in the courtroom.
Dare I say that in the end, jury selection may actually be better than Extra work for one simple reason: You don’t have to deal with other extras (y’know: the ones figuring this is their chance to be discovered — face it, unless you are a gal with a smokin’ hot body, no director is gonna offer that lottery-chance longshot break to a piece of ambulatory “furniture”).
Could be worse — you could be an Extra **playing** a jury selection process venireman (go look it up).