Everyone remembers and compares their three waiver stories as if we’re all going to be asked to tell the tale on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Mine were on the sets of Law & Order, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and a big-budget Chanel commercial directed by Martin Scorsese, respectively. (When I told my parents the news, my dad, ever the pragmatist, understood that I was saying I had the opportunity to be more financially stable. My mother wanted to know if I was going to be attending the SAG Awards that year and if so, would I get a plus one?)
The union increases and overtime rates made a difference, affording me a small but significant amount of wiggle room for making rent, even if I hit a lull in getting booked. I hardly ever worked less than three days a week. My first steady stand-in gig was on the show Royal Pains for the actress Jill Flint; then I landed a full-time job on The Good Wife, standing in for Julianna Margulies. I felt a huge sense of relief: I already respected the series as a viewer, and the idea of not bouncing from show to show anymore and having a routine with a set group of people felt like the equivalent of a promotion. I worked on The Good Wife for five seasons, and even during its yearly hiatuses I found opportunities on other TV series and films, having cultivated a reputation for showing up to work on time and working well with the crew. (Word spreads in the industry, whether it’s positive or negative.)
Along the way, something that I had kept looking at as a temporary fix started feeling like a reasonable, reliable, longer-term solution while I plotted out my next professional move. I didn’t want to be an actor, but corporate life had lost its luster for me too, and I liked learning about this industry from the bottom up. And as it turns out, film and television were where I wanted to be, only in a different capacity: as a writer. So I used my work days as learning experiences. I asked questions of the camera department, the cinematographers, the directors. I took notes, voraciously read each new script, and paid attention to how scenes were structured on the page and then brought to life. In my sporadic downtime, I would find a quiet corner to write and pitch articles to various publications.
The work of an extra or a stand-in may not be front-and-center in the way that a director or starring actor’s is, but it’s an integral part of any production, and helps provide a livelihood for many people. I met aspiring actors and folks who fell into it as I did, including a couple of teachers who’d been laid off and needed some extra money. And the feasibility of doing this sort of work regularly is only growing: As streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon double down on original programming, filming for television shows is no longer relegated to a standard nine-month network television schedule—meaning jobs like mine can be available year-round.
As for me, this summer, I started pitching concepts for a television show, and I’m almost done co-writing a feature film. And if I’m lucky enough to sell any of it? Maybe it will serve to give someone else a job they really need—like this industry has done for me. But hopefully without that hideous dress.