DePaul students take extra roles in Chicago TV shows

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DePaul students take extra roles in Chicago TV shows

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Dahee Will recalled director Mario Van Peebles looking at her and then motioning towards his assistant. Van Peebles, a director for the hit TV show “Empire,” found the extra he wanted to feature in a scene where an enthusiastic young girl waits for an autograph from Jamal (Jussie Smollett).

Will, a junior at DePaul, was chosen from the 30 extras to be in the front of the scene.

“The director looked at me and said ‘that’s the feature,’” Will said. “You can see me at the beginning of the scene and I was on for maybe like five or 10 seconds.”

Being an extra on a TV set has become the norm for Will. While she’s majoring in economics, Will has taken advantage of the various shows that film in Chicago, such as “Empire,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Fire.” She said she’s appeared as an extra around 20 times.

Her most recent outing was three weeks ago when she was an extra for “Chicago Fire.”

“I’m not an acting major at all,” Will said. “I just do it on the side for fun. Once casting companies get to know you, they kind of call you with an opportunity because they’ll know you’ll do well. They’ve kept calling me so it keeps going.”

There are plenty of opportunities for students to be extras. Casting companies will routinely list postings on Facebook or directly on their website. Will said she filled out an application after stumbling upon a casting call during the summer after her freshman year.

And the pay isn’t bad either. Extras are guaranteed an $80 minimum for what’s usually eight hours of work, but shoots can last either shorter or even longer. After eight hours, extras get paid time and a half.

Darlene Hunt, who runs ExtraOrdinary Casting, has been in the business of casting extras for 20 years. While there are sometimes certain specifics in what a show looks for, she said availability plays a large part in who gets chosen to be an extra.

“We want people who, if they say they’re available, they stay available for us until that role is filled,” Hunt said. “Sometimes that can be a couple of days. But if they say they are, we then want to hold them to their commitment. “

Hunt said a lot of descriptions are “ND,” or non-descript. Directors normally want people who will blend in to the background.

“We get a lot (of students) who want to do it for some extra money, like with the holidays coming up,” Hunt said. “We get some because they aren’t sure they want to get into acting and they want to see what it’s like behind the scenes.”

Freshman Marcus Aubin falls into the latter of that category. Aubin, a computing and digital media major with a concentration in film production, said he wants to become the director of a film one day. He’s been an extra twice and has used it to observe how people on the set conduct themselves.

“One of my major goals coming into my freshman year was to get experience on a set,” Aubin said. “I figured that even though I’m not trying to become an actor, I figured getting on a popular TV show like (“Chicago P.D.”) would be great to see what a real set looks like.

“It’s just cool to see their fancy cameras and experience some fancy lingo,” Aubin said. “If there’s one thing that caught me off guard, it was very laid back. I expected the tone to be very strict and everyone to not talk.”

Aubin and Will said that there’s a lot of waiting that comes with being an extra. Extras have to arrive by their call time, but from there, there are large amounts of sitting around waiting for directors to come in with instructions.

Both, however, said they have benefited from it. For Will, it’s now become routine.

“The first few times (of being an extra) can be kind of confusing,” Will said. “But once you’re used to the drill and you’ve done it a ton of times, it’s not really frustrating.”