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Movie Review - Fascinating ?Background? Brings Extras Into the Limelight
September 15, 2007
by Paul Donovan

Click For Full Size We often hear stories about people moving to Los Angeles in order to get ?discovered? and become movie stars. My best friend from college did just that. It?s a clich? to hear about actors spending their copious amounts of non-acting time working as waiters ? sometimes for years, sometimes forever. But there is another aspect of these Hollywood hopefuls that is rarely thought about, even though hundreds of them may appear in front of our eyes every time we see a movie.

It could be said that the lifeblood of Hollywood film is the cast of largely unknown ?extras? -- you know, those anonymous people who wander through school halls as students, who sit in the stands at climactic baseball games, who get stomped or smashed by rampaging monsters. The people who you barely notice, but who give a film its sense of realism.

Among the dizzying array of films playing at this year?s Kansas International Film Festival (which runs Sept. 14-20 at the Glenwood Arts Theatre, 9575 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park), one film will be playing that asks you to pay attention to those Hollywood hopefuls who are sometimes literally herded like cattle through a movie set. Strictly Background (playing Sept.15) is a heartwarming ? and heartbreaking ? look at 10 people trying to make their livings by doing background work. And they?re trying to grab a piece of the Hollywood dream while they?re at it.

The film tells us that 1,000 people a week join the Los Angeles casting agencies looking for background work ? though most quit within a year. So the filmmakers had plenty of people to choose from. In a surprising and refreshing move, the filmmakers have avoided the stereotypical pretty people who don?t have much difficulty getting steady jobs playing such extras as high school or college students. No, these are people who are older, and who don?t have the ?Hollywood look,? to say the least. Some of them started as sexy youngsters 30 years ago and are still trying to make their big break. Some just started doing this work later in life, once their kids went off to college. Most had other jobs or careers that they sacrificed for their slice of the glamour ? which pays less than $60 a day.

It?s a fascinating movie that teaches you so much about the business even though you are just listening to the ?little guy.? From their advice on how to edge into the camera?s main action, to their willingness to do nudity, to the frustration of trying to find the right costume from their own wardrobe, these people show a facet of Hollywood that you don?t find on the TV gossip shows.

The movie is not just an amusing and educational look at the movie business. There is a surprising amount of sadness, as well. These people, by and large, seem pretty lonely. They are broke, sometimes being forced to live in a garage. They casually drop names of movie stars that they met between takes in the shooting. Describing their experiences on different movie sets, there is an edge of desperation that creeps in, as if they are asking us to please, please believe that they are legitimate Hollywood actors, and therefore aren?t wasting their lives being treated merely as props and scenery.

Are these people just deluded and pathetic dreamers? Perhaps some may see it that way. But they are no more deluded or pathetic than the people who go to Hollywood to be a star and actually succeed. And all the extras know it. They can recite a list of stars who did background work early in their careers.

While watching the film, you get the sense that the 10 people featured in this movie are using the film itself as an audition tape, in the hope that some bigwig will decide that they have exactly the look they need for their next blockbuster. In a world where the big break can come out of the blue, they need to be always ?on,? always performing ? always begging for acceptance. Or at least attention. And although some of us may be a little put off by the eternal auditions that these people put themselves through, we must also realize that as long as we need Hollywood in our lives, we also need these background workers.

This film will likely be one of the highlights of the film festival. Like no film I?ve seen, it shows how accurate the description of Hollywood as the ?dream factory? really is. The town may produce dreams, but it certainly operates like a factory. It should be required viewing for anyone considering moving to Hollywood and anyone who knows someone already there.

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For more information about the Kansas Film Festival, go to http://www.kansasfilm.com.
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