One casting call, an excess of extras
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001
PINELLAS PARK -- The busiest shopper Saturday at Pinellas ParkSide mall didn't buy a thing.
Casting director Danny Dehring knew what he wanted; several hundred people to hire as background extras for the upcoming Warner Bros. film Ocean's 11. Dehring was caught off-guard by the number of choices offered during an open casting call.
Nearly 6,000 people with time on their hands and stars in their eyes waited hours to deliver application forms and photographs. They daydreamed about working alongside actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Alan Arkin when director Steven Soderbergh begins a three-day shooting schedule at Derby Lane greyhound track later this month.
Finally, the 25-year-old casting director put his purchases on layaway.
"I was planning to book people right away today," Dehring said. "But with so many showing up, I'll have to look at the material later and call up everyone next week who's hired. Obviously, these numbers are so overwhelming."
Dehring, representing Rich King Casting of Los Angeles, previously conducted Ocean's 11 casting calls in Cincinnati and Las Vegas. Saturday's turnout at ParkSide eclipsed both of those.
"These numbers are so overwhelming," Dehring said. "Turnouts in Cincinnati and Las Vegas weren't nearly as big. Those other two combined didn't have as many waiting as we had here."
Saturday's crowd was four times the number Dehring expected, lined up throughout both floors of ParkSide's concourse from end to end, then outside and around the northwest corner. Applicants arrived as early as 5:30 a.m., doing anything possible to catch Dehring's eye.
Some came bearing small gifts or dressed as clowns or in drag. Several applicants were obviously experienced actors looking for a resume boost. They dressed to the nines, or carried portfolios Dehring had no time to browse. Most looked like typical mall shoppers, all ages and shapes.
Others arrived in groups, such as the Gulfport Community Players, or were towed by the hands of stage mothers. For these hopefuls, adding a high-profile credit such as Ocean's 11 can be more valuable than the $75 wage for extras.
"Every great actor or actress has one of those 5-second flashes in a movie when they were really young, before they made it big" said Gwen Webster, 26, of Clearwater, poised and primped as a runway model.
Michael Newman, a 43-year-old actor and stunt player from Homosassa Springs, thinks stardom can strike even faster.
"You never know where it can happen," he said while sharing his publicity shots. "You get a spotlight next to the right guy and somebody tells you to say one word. That's all you want, that break. Everybody's hoping to get their break."
Then there were those applicants who simply wish for a brush with celebrity.
Tarpon Springs resident Marissa Pinchot, 20, arrived late and impatient for her chance. She scanned the lengthy queue, complaining: "There's way too many people. I came here today to try and at least get noticed. I just want to be seen in a movie. I've always dreamed of being an actor or meeting one."
Pinchot was reluctant to hang around Saturday. People who waited made it to Dehring's makeshift office -- formerly a Kaybee Toys store -- within about three hours after the process began. Dehring finished addressing his final group of nearly 200 applicants at 4:30 p.m.
Dehring spent several minutes with each group providing details and answering questions about the production. He worked the room like a stand-up comedian, welcoming one audience with the greeting: "Okay, everybody, this is the blood drive. Please roll up your left sleeve."
The casting director also cautioned that being an extra on a movie set can be dull.
"Once you're on the set, it's hurry up and wait," he said. "We may tell you to be there at 8 (a.m.) and don't be late. Then you'll sit there from 8 until noon and we won't do a thing. You'll wait and wait until you don't know how to wait anymore and then you'll figure out new ways to wait."
There was plenty of time to practice that skill Saturday. ParkSide marketing director Susan Robertson said applicants were generally cooperative.
"You get a little bit of complaining about people cutting in line but, for the most part, people have been pretty good," she said. "My concern was having enough room for (stores) to do business, that they weren't totally blocked off. There have been a couple of those issues. For the most part, people are handling it well."
Near the front of the line was St. Petersburg's Mary Fairbairn, 59, who made a reconnaissance visit to ParkSide on Friday.
"I scoped it out and knew the upstairs (entrance) was closest," Fairbairn said. "When they opened up, we came running down here and beat the whole crowd. They were all running but they had farther to go. That's how we got here first."
Not all of the aspiring movie extras were as dauntless. Becky Duffy, 47, of St. Petersburg arrived at 11 a.m., when the line first began snaking outside the mall onto the sidewalk.
"We waited maybe a half-hour and my friend went to scope out things," Duffy said. "We figured it would be a 5- or 6-hour wait so we went shopping instead. At least we were part of the action. We came, we saw, we left."
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