If you're a local film buff, chances are you know all about Sonoma County's rich film history. We've all driven past the iconic school from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," and most of us know the taboo story of Santa Rosa High School's involvement in Wes Craven's "Scream."
Forget Los Angeles, Sonoma County, and its lush landscape, adorable small towns and proximity to the ocean is a filmmaker's paradise. A-list actors, like Amy Adams and Paul Rudd have come to the Bay Area to film their blockbuster hits.
But what about the performers in the shadows?
For every movie or television show you see, background actors are needed to give the film an authentic feel: Every extra student in a high school drama, every coffee shop patron in a rom-com, every businessman walking down the street in a political thriller.
But most of these people don't just wander onto a movie set one day. Background acting is, at its heart, acting, and Hollywood can be a cutthroat business.
Susanne McGavin, a professional background actor from Petaluma, advises those interested in the business to treat it like full-time job even if it is a side gig. "Once you are booked, you should take it seriously, like any job – be on time, follow through with your commitment, abide by the rules, be courteous, pay attention to details and follow directions," she said.
While extras won't get Hollywood-star rich, expect to make about $100 for 8 hours, said Morgan Hamilton-Lee, a Santa Rosa filmmaker who has worked on such local projects such as Netflix's "13 Reasons Why." Filming days can be long, typically 12 hours.
Attorney Lindsay Peak, who is a background actor in her spare time, says the work can be surprisingly difficult. "As [a background actor], you get exposed to extreme elements that the stars don’t. You are expected to work for hours in the rain, wind, and sun. The crew tries to take care of you and provides umbrellas, blankets or sunscreen, but those things can only do so much. And, you can’t use the blankets or umbrellas once 'pictures are up.'"
But the job doesn't come without its perks; for cinema geeks, it is the perfect way to see what makes a good production tick.
Hamilton-Lee called being on set like "being a kid in a candy store."
"The cameras, the actors, the sets, I love it all. I’m a filmmaker myself so watching the process of a professional series get filmed is so exciting. Plus meeting other actors who have similar experiences. I love it all," he said.
Lee, McGavin, and Peak have appeared in 17 productions and starred alongside the likes of Katherine Langford in "13 Reasons Why" and Woody Harrelson in Marvel's "Venom."
"I've been a pedestrian, concert attendee, cafe patron, football game fan, winery visitor, protestor, beach-goer, cable car passenger, airport customer, tourist. Sometimes you see yourself, and other times you are just a blur on the screen. In featured roles I've played a store clerk, hospital patient, art student, equestrian, ranch hand, hostage, to name a few, all of which were roles requiring a specific wardrobe and/or skill set," said McGavin.
Peak loves the exposure background acting gives her. "Being seen and getting on camera is the best part of the job. And, the food is a close second. On the set, actors are provided with unlimited snacks, drinks, and hot meals," she said.