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‘Treme’ extra dreams large

By Christian Brandt

You are now looking at a newly minted, fresh from the set, certifiable movie star … extra.

An extra in the TV show Tremé, which is all about New Orleans post-Katrina. Let’s be clear: Being an extra is not as easy as it sounds. I literally sat in a tent in the freezing cold for three hours in order to do one scene from the show. It was grueling, and I didn’t even get a hotel room, or wine (there was breakfast, though).

Being an extra, however, isn’t as anonymous as it may seem. Au contraire, ye of little faith; I walked past the cameras at least 50 times, which obviously means that I’m going to be featured prominently. Who knows, maybe they liked my impassioned shouting so much that they’ll ask me back for a more permanent role. That’s how people make it in this business. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.

Speaking of impassioned shouting, let me elaborate on the whole point of this.
In January, 2007, two residents were murdered in New Orleans when they opened their doors to robbers. The city had been suffering from extremely heightened crime rates post-Katrina, and these two seemingly random acts of violence sparked an impassioned response from New Orleans’ embattled citizens. They marched on City Hall, demanding that something be done.
Basically, the episode that I worked on was a recreation of this march.
In preparation for my acting debut, I watched the Treme pilot, and really, really enjoyed it. Gritty, engrossing, great acting. A project worthy of my time and talents.
I arrived (read: walked, no limos for me. This job is so. hard.) at 9 a.m. with my twin sister and friend. We checked into a tent that had been set up on Rampart Street, near City Hall. This is when the sitting-in-the-tent-forever ordeal began. We were there with several hundred other volunteers. No, I wasn’t paid for this. I did it to advance my acting career. And for the publicity, because any press is good press.
I was initially unsure of what we were going to be doing, because the producers didn’t tell us anything. We sat and waited.
What we ended up doing was march, complete with signs (my friend carried a “WE ARE WATCHING YOU, NOPD” sign, complete with creepy eye), in three different locations. The first location was just north of downtown, and was supposedly where “everybody came together,” basically the joining of the neighborhoods of New Orleans. The next two scenes were pretty much the same thing, just in different places.
But at the second scene, something interesting happened. We were supposed to be marching down Canal Street, along the streetcar tracks. Ninety percent of this scene was spent dodging the streetcars, which sounds fun, I suppose, but gets old really quickly. What I thought was interesting about this scene, however, was the fact that the directors separated the extras by race. The white extras were sent to march down Canal Street, where they were supposed to join with the black extras, who were walking down a side street. They billed it as “black and white coming together,” but it seemed contrived. When one of the crew members told us that we were going to be separated by race, everybody around us (they were mostly New Orleanians) was confused, and it was super awkward. The mood was lightened by one of the extras, who was black, who said, “Well, I guess I’m going to the black side of town.” Many of us laughed. Awkwardly.
My friend, who lives here, was particularly bothered by this. She pointed out that racial segregation by neighborhood is largely incorrect. The city of New Orleans is a lot more racially integrated than the producers seemed to be showing (head here to see what it looks like).
I can’t blame her. New Orleans is so often misrepresented in the media, especially post-Katrina. And for a show that is so authentic in its portrayal of the city, doing something like this seemed irreverent.
But what do I care? I was making my acting debut (which is far more important than mere social issues).
I have to say though, that I’m not sure I’ll ever sign up to be an extra again. Even if (read: when) my face is shown prominently on television, the amount of pain and suffering (and work) that had to go into those few seconds of fame was totally not worth it. I’m so over being an extra. I’m so over staying in a freezing cold tent for three hours. IIs that even legal under the Geneva Convention? I definitely am over being a volunteer. I didn’t even get severance benefits. Or health care.
Anyway, I’m sure the directors of Tremé were awed by my performance (Emmy-worthy, if I do say so myself). I can march with the best of them.


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