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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Extra busy

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Extras kill time at the Turtle Bay Resort as they wait to be called for scenes in the TV series "North Shore," filming there. The days as a TV extra can be long, and the availability of work unpredictable.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Extra, Extra! Learn All About It

A seminar with casting directors Anna Fishburn and Sue Larkin designed to teach the ins and outs of extras' work in the various film formats.

June 13, 4:30 p.m.

Anna Fishburn Casting (1121 Nu'uanu Ave., No. 200)

$30 ($15 for previous seminar graduates)

rshawaii.com/seminars or call 521-9100.

Under normal circumstances the chances of fighting for survival on a deserted island one week then bumping into a fellow survivor at a luxury Hawai'i resort the next would be astronomical.

Not so on O'ahu these days.

Not if you are one of hundreds of local actors feasting on a historic bounty of work for extras.

With three network television series given the go-ahead for production and a fourth ("Rocky Point") slated for this summer, there has never been a better time to be an anonymous face in the background of a prime-time drama.

Local artist Faith Fay, 32, has already pulled off an impressive hat trick by appearing in all three Hawai'i-based shows. Fay was a police officer ("the only haole police woman at the station") on the NBC cop drama "Hawaii," one of 48 crash survivors on ABC's deserted-island drama "Lost," and a jogger/bikini girl/hotel guest on Fox's upstairs-downstairs hotel drama "North Shore."

It was at a "North Shore" shoot at Turtle Bay Resort last week that Fay bumped into Dane Justman, a fellow survivor extra on "Lost."

A scene filmed a week ago called for Fay to jog around the hotel pool, smiling at cabana boys Justman and Robert Wittenberg as they set up wooden deck chairs. In the foreground, nattily attired star Kristoffer Polaha traded lines with a gorgeous co-star once, twice, a half-dozen times until director Peyton Reed nodded his approval.

"You have to be prepared for however they want to use you," Fay said. "Today, I brought four different outfits."

Fay began working as an extra this year. She's already worked on "Hawaii" for two days, "Lost" for a grueling three weeks and "North Shore" for about a month.

As a member of the Screen Actors Guild, Fay earns a minimum of $115 per eight-hour day as a general extra. Though the exposure is minimal and the days often very long (there are union provisions for overtime), Fay and other local extras say the experience is valuable.

"The energy is so high," she said. "People suggested I try it because it would appeal to me creatively, and it has. It's nice to work with people, because I usually work on my art alone." In fact, as an independent artist, Fay has one of the requisites every working extra needs — a flexible schedule.

Justman, a 20-year-old 'Aiea resident, has had a slightly more difficult time accommodating all of the recent extra work that has come his way. He works part-time as a city lifeguard and as a sales clerk at Abercrombie & Fitch. He just completed an associate's degree at Leeward Community College and will transfer to the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. So Justman's time is understandably limited, but he finds ways to manage.

"When we were doing 'Lost,' I brought a sleeping bag, and we camped out so we wouldn't have to make that long drive at the end of a long day," he said. "I was taking four classes at the time, so it was a rough three weeks.

"It might have helped me focus.

I got straight A's for the first time."

Like Fay, Justman hopes to parlay his work as an extra into eventual speaking roles. "This is really what I want to do," he said.

There has been some concern on the part of series producers that, given the limited amount of work previously available in the Islands, the local pool of extras might be too small or too unaccustomed to the demands of on-the-fly television work to meet the demands of three network series.

"There was a little struggle at first to get the extras we needed," said "North Shore" producer Harry Bring. "There is core group that does it professionally. There are many others who have other jobs and they need to know well in advance when they'll need to take time off. Of course, in TV we don't usually know days in advance what our needs will be."

Union rules call for a minimum of 16 union extras per day before nonunion extras can be used and paid at a different rate. Not all of the 16 (or fewer) covered extras have to be guild members, but all must be paid the guild rate.

"People generally don't make a living as extras because the work is so sporadic," said casting director Anna Fishburn. "But now, because there are several shows on location, we're developing a large pool of actors."

Fishburn said she is "bombarded" every day by new and experienced actors looking for work.

Wittenberg, the other cabana boy, is picking things up as he goes.

Originally from Detroit, the 23-year-old Wittenberg recently graduated from Indiana University and came to Hawai'i to be with his father, who teaches at UH. With all of the extra work recently available, Wittenberg says he's spending more of his time on TV sets than at his day job with Gold's Gym.

"This is my first time being an extra," he said. "So far, it's a lot of fun and the money is good. It's all new to me, but the more I do it, the more I enjoy it."

Tracy Smith, a professional R&B singer and a casting assistant at Diamond Head Film Studio, has been doing extra work for about eight years, long enough to see what periodic dry spells have done to the local acting pool. "Hawai'i isn't a hub like Hollywood," said Smith, 32. "It's expensive to live here; people have to have real jobs. You have to do a lot of shuffling to be able to do this kind of work."

Smith, who has worked in Los Angeles and Hawai'i, says she chafes when she hears people in Hollywood question the level of talent and commitment in Hawai'i.

"There is a lot of talent here, but it's hard because there's been a lack of work," she said. "It's hard to keep your chops up. After '50 First Dates' shot here last year, there was an eight-month dry spell.

"When there's a dry spell, there is no motivation. Then suddenly something like this happens where we get three shows all at once, and people are flying by the seat of their pants."

Smith said that if even one or two of the series survive, the prospects for actors here will improve dramatically.

"Locals actors who use this as a side hobby will have ... opportunity to be more serious about it," she said. "People who do extra work might be able to get recurring speaking roles. The demand is here now and I think locals actors will have no choice but to get in gear."

Industrious folks such as Darin Fujimori have been in gear for years just waiting for the opportunities.

Fujimori, 29, started working as an extra four years ago on the set of the film "Windtalkers," where he played a Japanese soldier.

A part-time specialist at a customs brokerage, Fujimori has shuttled to and from Los Angeles the past few years hustling up work as an actor and stunt performer.

"I treat it like a business," he said. "You can't expect people to call you. You have to make the call and create your own opportunities. Once a job is done, you have to start looking again. It's like constantly looking for a new job."

Last year, Fujimori spent three and a half months in New Zealand shooting "The Last Samurai." He also did work on the local production "Blood of the Samurai." All that acting and stunt work earned him a total of $16,000.

This year, Fujimori has served as a stunt double on "Hawaii" and a general extra (another cabana boy) on "North Shore."

With a background in tae kwan do and boxing, Fujimori said he'd like to focus his energies on stunt work, generally much more profitable than extra work. "If you can get yourself established doing stunts, you can get a lot of work," he said. "It's not my goal to be famous. I just want to work consistently."

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2461.