Recently, I watched this Ashton Kutcher interview—bear with me, readers—where he said that “Working at Starbucks or McDonald’s is not ‘below you’—not having a job is ‘below you’.” I actually needed to hear this, since the next day I was waking up at 3am to take some work I swore I’d never resort to. Because I’m a vain, lack-of-work actress with a superiority complex, probably.
So I took a job as an extra on a Hollywood film being shot here in Thailand, where I signed a waver that said I wouldn’t talk about it. And the problem was that years ago, I’d said “No, I’m not going to ever take extra work.” Beggars/Choosers—I haven’t been on a set or a stage since January 13th, and it was starting to physically hurt. A set with lights, cameras, and all the wonderful shiny happy “get things done we have X amount of takes to get through in not a lot of time” was pretty okay by me. When I saw a script at the casting agency, I nearly grabbed it off the table and ran, that’s how excited I was.
What wasn’t on the waver, which I can talk about, was the difference between being a Western expat in Thailand, and being Thai. There were about 200 Thai extras that morning, we all showed up for a 6am call time. There were 5 Westerners. The Westerners got to sit in the shade for two hours, while the Thai extras had to stand in lines facing us. For two hours. While we sat there, comfortably in the shade and were asked if we needed anything.
For breakfast and lunch, the Westerners were given their own table filled with food—for five people—while the Thai extras were given two tables of the same amounts… for 200 people.
Westerners got paid four times more than the Thai extras. We got paid first, after 12 hours of standing around and off and on being on set. Not one of the Thai extras complained… while the Western expats… complained a lot.
The woman I was on set with kept changing her clothes mid-scene, sweater on, sweater off, we’re probably going to get cut from all footage. She started fights with the production staff, she complained loudly that they were taking too long to set up a scene/dismantle everything/shoot it again. I kept nudging her and trying to explain, and she kept rolling her eyes at me and saying how pointless it all was and how it was the stupidest thing she’d ever done, and how the film industry was just so incredibly lame compared to the glamour she associated with it.
There is nothing glamorous about a film set. Not one I’ve ever been on, at least. It’s sweaty and uncomfortable, and you have to run up a flight of stairs ten times, from five different angles, just to make sure the footage is there. It’s even sweatier in SE Asia.
And when I got home, 12 hours later, I sat down at my computer and started going over all of my writing deadlines for the night. My roommate came in, another Westerner married to a Thai woman, and he asked how it went. When I explained the differences between Thai extra treatment and Western extra treatment with some small disgust, he asked “And why didn’t you stand up and say anything about it? Why did you just sit there and allow this to happen?”
Because I’m a horrible human being, I replied with, “…I would have lost the job”.
“That’s the problem with the world, right there.”