Whoosh! Issue 54 - March 2001

By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Content copyright ©2001 held by author
Whoosh! edition copyright ©2001 held by Whoosh!
1409 words

Author's notes:

Renaissance Pictures uses a lot of actors beyond the leads in any given episode. There are townspeople, soldiers, tavern customers, town inhabitants, zombies, you name it. These extra actors are just that—"extras"—and Anita Corcoran took some time in November 2000 to tell us about how that gets done.

The Fine Art of Extra Casting (01-02)
Breaking In (03-04)
The Process (05-12)
A Nomadic Existence? (19-20)
Did I Mention the Food is Good? (21-22)

An Interview with Anita Corcoran (Extras Casting Supervisor)

Um, why no, I'm not just surfing the Web!

Anita Corcoran, in her natural habitat (her office at Pacific Renaissance Pictures)

The Fine Art of Extra Casting

Extras casting. That sounds very esoteric and specific. What is involved?

Jockeying for position near the catering tent

Extras give a sense of dimension to a scene.

Well it quite often involves large numbers of people. They're all the background performers. I'm not responsible for stunt people, or wranglers who deal with animals, but all the people in the background, villagers, people in taverns, Amazons, a large group, all those are extras. I go to all the talent agencies to see who's available. I'll be told by the director what look he wants. It may cover all age groups or ethnic areas depending on where Xena and Gabrielle are wandering around. When they're selected, my job becomes one of organization, making sure they get to set.

Breaking In

How did you get started in extras casting?

[4] CORCORAN: Just by accident, really. I was working in reception while I was part time at university. I was doing my B.A. in film and TV studies. I started full time at the end of last year. Tracy Hampton was doing the job before me. I noticed they were very busy in this department and offered to lend a hand. She said, "Thank you very much" and a little while after that told me she would probably be leaving. She asked if I was interested in doing her job, and I said that would be great! She recommended me and I got the job.

The Process

How do you find out what you'll be casting extras for? Do you get a script ahead of time?

I'll get a script, read it, and do a breakdown. I'll go scene by scene to figure out who will be there in the scene. I basically just read it as referenced in the script, but if it says "Xena and Gabrielle go into a tavern" it might not say there's anyone in there, but of course you might have to presume there will be. I meet with the director, and we lock everything down at that point. We'll have our head of department read through and sometimes things will get changed there as well.

Do you have a budgetary constraint you have to work within?

It tends to depend on the episode. Some episodes do blow out the budget just because of their scale. We're doing a large Roman spectacle one now. That requires crowds of people. We generally keep to 150 man-days per main unit. There could be any number of players, and it's not so much the number of people but the number of days.

[9] The director also has a great input as to the look of the extras. It's almost like an art department. The look of the people can make things quite stylistic. Apart from just a normal village setting, if it's anything unusual, the director will like to say what he is looking for.

[10] There is a "general XENA" look, which is quite old-fashioned in terms of long hair for women, men with beards and long hair, quite rugged. We want people with features that stand out, not like the people you might see next door. They should have a distinctive visual characteristic. That's the look we try to get.

Have you done extras casting for any of the other shows?

No, just XENA.


Is your current Roman spectacle [THE GOD YOU KNOW (124/612)] your biggest challenge so far?

Number 42!  Now serving number 42!

Crowds in the background cheer and soldiers keep order in THE GOD YOU KNOW.
Only about ten percent of the people in this shot are unique.
Special effects duplicated the same set of extras over and over.

Casting it was a lot of fun. It's pretty big, yes. The director (John Laing) wanted quite an unusual look, and there was quite a lot of wigging and makeup done. Extras don't usually get that. I just had to concentrate on faces, and the makeup department added the wigs to make them look even more outrageous.


I'm recalling some of the episodes we've seen broadcast so far this season where there really weren't so many extras, that must give you a bit of a break.

Oh great!  Now I've lost a lens!

A hard Amazon is good to find!

Almost like a holiday. (laughs) It gives me time to catch up on my accounts and read scripts. But at the moment, I'm working on an Amazon episode [TO HELICON AND BACK (126/615)] that's being quite difficult to work out. We've got about seven different Amazon tribes, and we have to make them distinguishable. I've been working with the wardrobe department to see what they can do and what I can do in my casting. We want to make them look like they're from different parts of the world.

So you may have blonde haired people in one group, dark haired people in another?

Exactly. Agencies tend to group people by their look, so one deals mostly with Asians, such as Chinese, Korean. Another does Polynesian, Indian, and so forth. I'm behind on this project, actually, because we're still working out numbers and who's going to be in what tribe. What happens now is I need to liaison with extras wardrobe because they're the ones that make the costumes and dress them. We set two days aside for everyone to come in and get their costume, and then we have a day to get them all together to make sure everything is perfect before we go out to set.

A Nomadic Existence?

I imagine there are some people you really like to use but you can't put them in too often.

There are some people that tend to pop up everywhere. Those people have a unique look, they're very reliable, and it's very tempting to use them a lot. Sometimes you'll find someone who looks great but doesn't turn up, or they turn up one day, hate it, and don't turn up the next day. Often it's a schedule problem, making sure people will be available on the right days. Sometimes we organize a bus if it's a location shoot, but usually they'll just drive themselves.

Did I Mention the Food is Good?

I notice they are fed pretty well.

(laughs) Yes, the catering is good. Most of them have a lot of fun, meet and talk to other people, and they get to wear a costume and become someone else for a day. I don't get out to the set much myself but when I do, I really enjoy it as well.


Schmoozer Spice Bret Ryan Rudnick
WHOOSH! staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206); Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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