As Mockingjay Part 2 premieres in theaters, it brings an end to the era of The Hunger Games films. I had the great privilege of being able to work on Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part I, and Part II as a core background extra (meaning that I was there for many months of filming. Some crew joked that we were there more than the actors!). While most behind-the-scenes videos and commentary are understandably focused on the main cast and heads of crew departments, I thought I’d lend my voice to the little people – the professional blurs in the background. So without further adieu, here’s a background extra’s look at the behind-the-scenes of Catching Fire. Enjoy!
It was a brisk Saturday morning in October 2012. At 3:30am, I rolled off the air mattress on my friend’s floor to pack my bag and head out for my first day ever as an extra on a film set. (What a set to start on, right? I couldn’t start on a small film to get my feet wet. Oh no, as per usual, I had to go for the gusto!) I had no idea what to expect, but I packed my little bag with a book and some light snacks and headed off to set.
Upon arrival, I got my first lesson in the game that extras know how to play best – waiting in line. Waiting in line to check in. Waiting in line to drop off cellphones. Waiting in line for wardrobe. Waiting in line for hair and makeup. (Though I’ve now come to enjoy waiting in line at extra gigs as there usually at one engrossing conversation going on Or the amusing antics of punch-drunk-sleepy extras at the bum-crack of dawn).
I was cast as one of the many thin, plain looking District 12 extras (between this and The Walking Dead, I fear I’m getting typecast. Hehe). I changed into my costume and shuffled into the back of the makeup line. After an hour of doing my best not to complain about the nippy cold outside (a stamping of feet still happened despite best efforts), I was ushered inside the (slightly) warmer tent. I found that I was one of the last of a few hundred extras to plop down in the makeup chair. I had just settled in when an exasperated Production Assistant came running in, “The extras aren’t dirty enough! They’re getting to set and the director says they’re just not dirty enough. This is a coal mining town. Get that dirt in their pores!” And get the dirt in my pores they did…
By the end of the three days of filming of those scenes, I garnered the reputation for being the dirtiest extra on set (that stuff was fun to wash off, lemme tell ya. Took almost a week to get the dirt out from under my fingernails). This ended up working in my favour though as because I was so dirty, the Assistant Director wanted me up front to better represent the look of the district. Funny how that works, eh?
After makeup came hair. One of my favourite parts of the daily lineup. (I’m the gal that’ll sometimes fall asleep in the chair because getting my hair and face fussed with can be rather relaxing.) The look for District 12 was based on Depression Era Appalachia, so the wardrobe and hairstyles were simple. Some had their hair down, some had braids, but nothing too intricate. I overheard the hair stylists double-checking their lookbook notes, “No down braids of any kind on any of the female District 12 extras. That is reserved for Katniss only.” Fair enough.
As the stylist started doing my hair, I felt a familiar shape taking hold….She was doing the iconic Katniss braid on me. I remarked on that as I didn’t want her to inadvertently get in trouble for giving me a braid (silly me thought she might be a day-player. Oh no, she had done the Katniss braid on Jennifer Lawrence before, so she knew exactly what she was doing). “Oh don’t worry, hun. I’m doing this as an updo, so you won’t have a down braid.” Good! Because my hair looks like a rat’s tail when it’s braided….but then she secured the braid with only two small bobby pins. I politely let her know that my hair is a thin, slippery son-of-a-gun, so more bobby pins would be a good idea. She waved me off, “nah, you’ll be fine!”
The extras piled into a pair of coach buses that drove us over to a holding tent just outside of set (which happened to be the Goat Farm Arts Center in Atlanta). The sun broke over the horizon as we filed in to claim a spot at the tables laid out inside. Then began the long wait….
A small handful of extras were called in for the first two scenes. I, however, was not called in until many hours later for the last scene of the day. But time is rarely ever wasted among extras who are friendly and a wee bit creative. I had the fortune of sitting at a table of fun, chatty folks. As I was a complete newbie at the time to being an extra, I was full of questions and bright-eyed cheeriness. I made some fast friends.
Now, remember the two small bobby pins I mentioned holding my hair up earlier? Surprise, surprise, they fell down. So there I sat with my Katniss braid laid over my shoulder. Of course I couldn’t find where the bobby pins had launched off to in order to resecure my hair. “Don’t worry, the hair stylists will see you on set and immediately stick your hair up. No Katniss braids for anyone in District 12!” the other extras said playfully. Well, the hair stylists did come around to check the extras before a group went on to set and not a single comment was made about my hair. This got the wheels turning at our table.
One of the things we did to pass the time was create characters for ourselves. Who were we? What roles did we play in District 12? One of the odd things that happened earlier on in the day was folks telling me I looked like Katniss. Not the Jennifer Lawrence version, but that I reminded them more of book Katniss (sans colouring). So I rolled that into the creation of my character, Ora; a factory worker who separated the coal and the ore (hence the name and an explanation as to why I was SO covered in soot!). She idolizes Katniss Everdeen, but alas, is not the brightest bulb in the box. Whatever Ora see Katniss do, she tries to replicate, only fails miserable. For instance, she tries to be the ‘girl on fire’, but doesn’t understand the stunt in the arena was synthetic fire. So she runs through town with a torch, but ends up singeing off half of own hair (explanation of why my hair is so thin).
And thus ‘Reverse Katniss’ was born.
The other extras at my table came up with equally interesting characters as well. One guy was Pumpernickel, rival baker to Peeta (as the extra looked alot like Josh Hutcherson). He thought he was a better baker, but in fact was much worse, not being able to quite tell the difference between rocks and bread. (On set he’d try to pass off rocks as food.) There was Buttons, seamstress, babysitter, and tutor to Prim. Then Star, the town prostitute who didn’t actually sleep with anybody, just stole their supplies (and had a chastity belt ala Robin Hood: Men in Tights hidden under her way-too-large costume). My personal favourite was Hingle McCringleberry, mechanic and general fixer-upper who purposely didn’t fix things completely so he could get more work. Only spoke in the 3rd person. (I’m still friends with that lovely extra to this day. He looks like a mini-Cinna.)
It finally came time where we were all called to set. The scene set was where Katniss returns to District 12 via train to greet her family and the adoring throngs of District 12 to welcome her home. But all is not well as you can see in the deleted scene below.
Can you spot me?
While filming this scene we discovered that Jennifer Lawrence and I are the same height. (There was some talk of me coming back to be cast as her stand-in for Mockingjay, but only if her current stand-in didn’t return. While that would’ve been fun, I’m glad the original stand-in returned. She was lovely, professional, and super funny.)
One thing that was not so pleasant was getting my foot crunched by Josh Hutcherson who was hugging his ‘family’ too fast. There wasn’t an easy opening for me to slip into due to extras who were bent on being camera hogs (there were SO MANY). He moved too fast and I didn’t move fast enough. I think one of the family extras mentioned something to him because the subsequent takes were slower. But such things happen on film sets. No harm was done and it was an honest accident. Nothing to get upset over. So I kept quiet and happily went on filming the rest of the scene.
That’s a wrap on Day One of my first ever extra gig! Stay tuned for Part II!