“I was an extra in Trainspotting 2”

As many know by now, filming for Trainspotting 2 has just finished with the production transitioning into post for a 2017 release.  I was lucky enough to be an extra for a few scenes in the film, one inside on a dance-floor and another outside a club in Edinburgh.  There were many volunteers for a larger club scene that night also, but only around 50 people were paid extras.  This is one of the boons of being a major blockbuster, people actively want to give up their time to contribute and be involved, or to see famous faces.  As a paid extra I got a thrilling insight into some of the inner workings of the production…

Having been an extra once before on a TV show titled “Scrotal Recall” (now sadly renamed Lovesick) I thought I would have a wealth of experience to bring to the table.  But one of the exciting things about being an extra is you do not know the script, and as such could be doing anything.  We arrived in the afternoon to be put into our costumes, 80s themed, and then we were ferried gradually to a club in the Edinburgh City Centre.

Ewan 7th of June.jpg
SPOTTED: Ewan McGregor on location in Edinburgh. (Photo credit Bradley Welsh of Holyrood Boxing Gym.)

Instantly we were taught a dance routine, handed fake drinks and told by Danny Boyle to act as if we were having the best night of our lives.  The scoop here, as regards the plot, is that the Trainspotting boys go for a night out to find themselves at odds with the current Edinburgh night life.  This suggests that the film tackles the theme of ageing, though likely in an unconventional way given the heroin addled past of its key characters. One of the most notable things about filming this scene was the energy of the choreographers who made everyone feel important but tactfully avoided beating down on any of the rhythmically challenged.  Danny Boyle seems to have kept a close team with him following the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony as the choreographers for the history of music sequence in 2012 were our dance teachers.

Being an extra is ultimately a more rewarding and useful experience for those who want to work behind the camera rather than in front of it.

It is apparent that one of the main problems with extras for film crews can be low turn-out, as many names on the roll-call were not checked off by the end of the night.  This then means that the present extras are expected to pull off a high level of energy and maintain it for each shot. For those who have never been on a film set (myself among them on the night in question) it is interesting to watch the nuances of filming a scene like this.  For a sequence which in the film will probably last 2 minutes, we filmed for around 2 hours, dancing intermittently and waiting for long periods of time.

Being an extra is not for those who are employed full time.  The sheer amount of your day you have to commit changes frequently, and not always for the better.  However, for those who have the time and an interest in film, it can be fun and rewarding.  For any sociologists or anthropologists a group of extras could be an interesting test group.  People who have never met before are brought together to dress up and play act.  The characters you meet are always varied and interesting, alliances form quickly but inevitably dissolve once you are ordered to leave the set.

I would recommend being an extra to someone who has a passion for film and wants to see how a set works on a big production.

Due to my “experience” I was worried I would come across as a wannabe actor, but what is always surprising is the amount of people who make a career out of being an extra.  It should be understood by all budding actors that being an extra is not an ‘in’ into the film industry.  You will not be noticed or discovered.  No director will see your face and halt production.  They already have their stars, and the stars whilst friendly and chatty, are there to do their job.  And on top of this, an extra job is not a quick fix financially. The pay does arrive but an important lesson for any extra is- “creatives aren’t punctual”.  I would recommend being an extra to someone who has a passion for film and wants to see how a set works on a big production.

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What was impressive was the kindness of the whole cast and crew of Trainspotting 2.  Ewan McGregor made an effort to talk to many of the extras, as did Johnny Lee Miller.  These experiences make the long hours worthwhile. In terms of experience I would say that ultimately being an extra is a more rewarding and useful experience for those who want to work behind the camera rather than in front of it. It’s a real insight and for those interested in making films, seeing how the best pros do it is an important lesson.

Danny Boyle as ever seemed to be on top form.  Friendly and professional, even giving personal direction to some extras.  Although there is often an assistant director there to control the extras and background action.  Unfortunately we have been sworn to secrecy regarding some plot points.  But I can say that the club scene in Trainspotting 2 is set to be detailed, dramatic and maybe even a little melancholic.  I know I’ll be going to see it, if only to attempt to take a photo if I manage to appear on screen.

By Delilah Niel

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