Behind the Scenes: What’s Life Like as an Movie Extra in Hawai‘i?
My Where’s Waldo?-like acting “career” in locally shot movies and TV shows.
James Charisma, Contributing Editor
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an actor.
My supportive mother encouraged the dream and took me to dozens of auditions. I got to be an extra in Picture Bride and hung out with the other children on the dusty plantation film set. There’s a scene where the fieldworkers are visited by a benshi (a Japanese performer who narrated silent films during the era), played by legendary Rashōmon and Seven Samurai actor Toshiro Mifune. Watch for a distracted little boy wearing a red-and-white striped shirt on the far left of the screen.
In fourth grade, I played a fake film critic (my character’s name was Knott Impressed) in a sketch as part of Aloha Vision III, a half-hour special on KHON directed by the late Ray Bumatai. I cut out of school to shoot the episode, which was way cool to 8-year-old me.
As I got older, my interest in acting shifted to writing and directing. My high school buddies and I often filmed independent movies on the weekends. One featured the son of Lost assistant director Richard Schroer; when I later got to be an extra on an episode of Lost in 2008, I chatted with him briefly on set about working with his son. Schroer then yanked me out of the crowd of background extras and plopped me right into the scene.
It’s the third episode of the fourth season. In a flash-forward, Sayid (Naveen Andrews) travels to Germany and courts a woman in a bar, which was filmed at the former Palomino restaurant in Harbor Court. I’m only on screen for a second as the camera pans by, but in that glorious moment, my entire gigantic head fills the screen. Score! Later, I’m walking and talking to a guy behind Sayid on Merchant Street, which was covered with ice to resemble the winter streets of Berlin.
A couple of years later, I appeared in the background of an episode of the short-lived Last Resort. At 5 a.m., I actually got to sit next to Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Andre Braugher for makeup (they had to fix my hair) at the Diamond Head film studios before they drove us to Sanoya, a ramen shop on King Street, which doubled as a Washington diner. Club Genji next door became a green room—with literal green walls—for the other extras and me to wait around between takes.
You don’t see me in Last Resort. Honestly, you barely see me in any of the four films and TV shows I’ve been in. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to extra work. But the food on set is always good and my pay as a non-SAG actor was between $12 and $15 an hour, which isn’t bad for mostly sitting around for hours at a time. Being on a set is fun, both in front of and behind the camera. But Hawai‘i’s film industry is changing. Find out how recent shifts in tax credit incentives may affect future productions in the Islands in HONOLULU’s October cover story.
Find more bizarre James Charisma adventures on Instagram: @jcharisma