[Editor’s Note: Welcome to Diary of a Web Series, the column that offers you an entertaining look into the machinations of a zero-budget web series made possible by an idea, fortitude, and democratized tools of production. For all the background on why we started publishing Diary of a Web Series – and why we think it’s great – check out the first installment right here. You can watch the web series the diary is about, too. It’s called STRAY and it’s good. Click here to watch it. And you can catch all the installments of Diary of a Web Series right here.]
We didn’t need that many extras for season 1 of STRAY, except for a couple of shoots for which a few friends sufficed. We were a bit more ambitious for season 2, shooting at several locations, including bars, a performance venue, and an art gallery, which demanded more extras to fill out the frame. During the process of coordinating extras, I quickly discovered that something always comes up.
Some extras had thoroughly unremarkable reasons for their tardiness or absence, like train traffic (it would be curious if they didn’t experience train traffic in New York City), but others offered more original excuses.
“I’ve been kidnapped by Somali pirates. You don’t happen to have three million dollars, do you?”
“I was swept up by a flash dance party. I’m in Tuscaloosa now.”
“I called next on this pickup basketball game, and neither team has yet been able to win by two.”
“I have whooping cough. That’s still a thing, apparently.”
When I heard the same excuses from the same people across several shoots, however, I had to question the authenticity of some of those excuses. Maybe they weren’t kidnapped by Somali pirates, and maybe whooping cough wasn’t actually still a thing. I don’t know how many of the explanations were real or how many were invented, but the result was always the same: one fewer extra for the shoot.
Securing the right number of extras was a matter of reconciling the risk of having too few extras with the risk that you might freak the location manager out by showing up with Drake’s entourage. You accomplish that by accounting for the whooping cough factor. It’s simple: Invite too many extras, and hope that some of them are abducted by pirates.
I’m sure that when you have a big budget and you’re able to pay all of your extras something respectable, coaxing them with glamour and a cornucopia of craft services, you don’t have to worry about the whooping cough factor. As an indie web series producer, not unlike octogenarians luring squirrels to their park benches with acorns, you can’t avoid it. The formula for figuring out how many extras you need to call in for an indie shoot is as follows:
[Number of extras that would freak the location manager out] – [the degree of your cowardice] x [whooping cough factor] = [probably still the wrong number]
So the next time an extra tells you that they can’t make it to your shoot because they have to attend a knighting ceremony in the Scottish Highlands or that they’re allergic to Tuesdays, express wonder at the ineffable droll humor of the universe. That, or ask yourself why you haven’t hired these people as writers.
Pablo Andreu is not a creator or a scriptwriter. He’s certainly not a filmmaker. He’s just a guy who decided to make a web series called STRAY. It’s a bromantic comedy featuring a brash gay dude and a nerdy straight guy. He hopes it’s funny. By some inscrutable alchemy, his scribblings have wormed their way into The New York Times, McSweeney’s, and Slackjaw.