Burn Notice and Dancing Bears: A Day of Extra Work on South Beach

The hardest part was making the 7 a.m. call time. Since I'd been working from home, my out-of-sync circadian rhythm had me going to bed at 6 a.m. and waking up at 2 p.m. or later.

I'd signed up to be an extra on Burn Notice. And I understood I was a bottom-feeder, an expendable, barely noticeable flash of face in the background. But there is always that self-aggrandizing part of your brain that says: "You know, you could really be a star."

I was nervous. I could lose a few pounds, but I knew it wouldn't happen overnight, even with laxative. I wasn't tan enough, so I made a late-night CVS stop for some self-tanner. And I desperately needed my split ends clipped.

When I landed on set, I'd never seen Burn Notice. But according to the production assistant, it's the most watched show on cable. The episode we were filming was episode 13 of season 4, called "Eyes Wide Open." The trailers were hidden behind Joe's Stone Crab and I was one of ten extras, a clutch of average-looking men and women in their early- to mid-twenties. Our payment for ten hours of work: Free breakfast and lunch, and $100 plus overtime.

A Burn Notice PA and extra wrangler.
A Burn Notice PA and extra wrangler.
Jenny Grafiada

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That work, of course, is easy. We just walked across the street, again and again. For the scenes where extras weren't needed -- anything involving Jeffrey Donovan hunting a serial killer around South Beach -- we waited, melting in the shade, playing with our phones, and napping on the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, especially for another extra with a tongue ring and tats who called himself "VIP," there were no explosions. Instead, there was a lot of screaming to keep quiet and step out of frame. Someone would yell, "Rolling!", then someone would "Cue Background": A girl rode a bike, some guy pretended to talk on a phone, another sipped from an empty coffee cup. Meanwhile, VIP kept pushing for a kiss, especially after the PA told us to pretend to be boyfriend-girlfriend.

The set, crew, and infamous Burn Notice black Charger.
The set, crew, and infamous Burn Notice black Charger.
Jenny Grafiada

Coincidentally, another production company that advertises for extras on Craigslist was filming at a nightclub right down the block. A black Hummer limo pulled up and a gang of skanky girls filed out. It was a "Dancing Bear" shoot, VIP said, where some guy in a Yogi costume dances and shakes his wang in girls' faces. The payment: A c-note if you clap and cheer, another $100 if you grab it, $100 more if you suck it, and a full $500 for the money shot.

Moral of the story: Extra work can score a quick Benjamin, but if you want more, be prepared to do some serious schmoozing -- or a lot of sucking.

--Jenny Grafiada


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