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By Eric Campos | September 28, 2007

Filmmaker Jason Connell gives long overdue respect to a large group of people who make their living in the background – movie extras – and he ends up making an overwhelmingly charming documentary while he’s at it. In Strictly Background, Jason follows around several background actors in their daily hustle to find work on a movie set. These interesting characters provide an entertaining watch, as well as an eye-opening one as plenty of information is divulged that could serve as more than useful for people looking to get into extra work.

We spoke with Jason Connell about his film to find out what‘s going on there in the background.

What drew you to make a film on the plight of the background actor?
Being an aspiring filmmaker from Tulsa, OK and moving to Los Angeles 3 years ago, I myself was an extra for a month because I wanted to see what a big Hollywood set was like. However in doing so I became fascinated by the sub-culture of movie extras. I couldn’t believe there were people who made their living doing this type of work and appearing in some of today’s greatest films. Then I began talking to these people and soon realized that they were as genuine and colorful as any characters I’d seen in some of my favorite documentaries and that I had to make a film about them.

How did you go about choosing your subjects?
Well having met some great characters when I was an extra (cast member Jay Michaels being one of them) I knew what I was looking for but I also knew I wanted to follow several people from different backgrounds rather than focus on one or two. So I was looking for a great group that would mesh together well and quite honestly I just got lucky.

Side Note: Geoffrey Gould as stated in the film “would rather be an hour early than a minute late” and true to his word was already waiting for us as we arrived to set up for the open casting call. He was sitting in his “extras” chair and securing himself as the first one in line and inevitably a place in the film.

These people are obviously hungry for camera time, but did any of them ever get tired of you and your camera being around so much?
Not at all and in fact it was probably quite the opposite. With 10 subjects we had to move around quite a bit but I would get constant phone calls from them letting me know their daily schedules in case we had time to film them. So I’m sure if you asked them we couldn’t follow them enough.

Were there any other actors you planned on using, but ultimately dropped due to running time?
I actually picked out 13 extras and filmed the interview portion with all of them before scaling it down to 10. The 3 omitted were younger and just weren’t meshing well with the others. However I did promise them I’d do my best to get some footage of them as a DVD extra (no pun intended).

What were some major obstacles you faced in making this film?
I’d have to say the major obstacle was trying to get on film sets. I spoke with countless production studios and although they all loved the idea of our documentary they said there was just no way to get us on their sets for countless reasons. So knowing that I would need at least some footage of our extras on sets I got on craigslist and started looking for independent productions that were looking for extras. Then I’d email them and offer the services of my cast as long as we could film them on set. And after responding to numerous postings I was finally able to get onto three different sets and of course with some of my extras.

Have you heard from any of your subjects since the film has begun its film festival tour? What do they think of the film?
Absolutely. I keep in contact with them all the time with press updates as well as new film festivals we’ve been accepted to, etc. Also when we screen at local festivals, like the three we had this past March & April, I had them all there to be part of the Q&A. The most memorable one was at the Newport Beach Film Festival because it went on for nearly 30 minutes in which they all got to share their love of the film and how it’s impacted their careers and then ended with them handing out posters to the audience in which they had all signed.

As I just touched on the cast truly loves the film and couldn’t be more proud of it. I wouldn’t show them anything while shooting and editing and finally when we had our cast and crew screening they got to see the film for the first time and their responses were overwhelming. I mean I knew they’d love it but then to see the joy they got from seeing it was really emotional for me. Then compound that with the nearly 5 minute standing ovation they gave me made it night I’ll never forget.

If you were to make a narrative feature, would you cast any of these people as your leads?
Oddly enough I’ve been writing on two different narrative projects and I’m sure I’ll be able to find a spot for them somewhere. And if nothing else perhaps as a feature extra, if of course they’re still doing background work by then.

Side Note: I’m also pitching “Strictly Background” as a reality TV show but of course it would be a new cast and most likely include the younger element in which I didn’t put in the film.

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