Humour - Movie extra - Elephant King

So, finally The Elephant King ( is released in Thailand. I went to work as an extra on this movie when they were shooting in Chiang Mai nearly 4 years ago and wrote a silly piece about my experience. I didn't know what the movie was about or what the heck was going on. I think that much is obvious.
The film's pretty good, by the way. And you get to see the back of my head for a few seconds. Oscar!
The Final Act

Wanted! Overweight farang past his best to sit around in a bar all night doing nothing much. We are making a movie here in Chiang Mai and need ecktra. Fame and fortune guaranteed. Free beer and food, reasonable pay. Send photo.

At least, that's how I read the advert.
"You don't look much like your photo."
He was sharp this casting director. Not sharp enough to recognise the picture of David Hasselhoff I had swiped from Google and sent in, but sharp nonetheless. It was his own fault, that he offered me the work I mean. Didn't he realise that no one except The Hoff wears that kind of underwear any more?

"Here's your wow-cher," he said.

"I'm sorry?"

"Your wow-cher. Show it for food and drinks every time."

I took the wow-cher and studied it more closely. Milk Arkin, West Man 1. Cool, a screen name and my first character name. West Man 1 might not quite be up there with Charles Foster Kane or Travis Bickle in terms of celluloid gravitas, but it's worth remembering that all great actors started somewhere.
Mister Al Pacino's first role, for example, involved singing the radio jingle for meat flavoured gum-drops ("Pork Candy, Pork Candy, oh boy, so chewy!") while Nicole Kidman got her big break by dressing up in a rabbit costume and holding a placard outside a carpet warehouse in Nabbler's Twitch, New South Wales.

I looked around the bar beer centre they were using for the night's filming to let my first impressions of the world of cinema sink in. On the far side of the boxing ring, a group of men in dire need of the Goatee Support Group were standing about, stroking their chins and staring at a Pantip-Plaza-load of electronic equipment that quite possibly went beep, while the other big group of people loitering around was the crew. I knew they were the crew because they were all wearing baseball caps on back-to-front and those funny trousers that have so many pockets, you wonder how the bag industry will survive. They were also wearing T-shirts that read 'crew'.

"Please wait with the ecktra," the casting director said.

"I'm sorry?"

"The ecktra. Please wait with them."

I looked around but couldn't make out any ecktra among the beards and pockets. Could it be that I was the only ecktra? Surely not! Chiang Mai is absolutely packed to the moat with ecktra. Walk into any bar or cafe and you're almost guaranteed to get cornered by some Welsh hairdresser or other who's practically wetting himself in desperation to tell you how he has just spent 12 hours eating sticks of cold pork fat while dressed in a loincloth for a film called Zombie Kid 4. There had to be more here.

Then I spotted them. Dotted around the room, all at separate tables looking as protective of their territory as a double-seat-hogging Brit on a train. Not exactly laying out the welcome mat, but these were my people. We were the ecktra.

Fitting in is a peculiar thing. In schools up and down England, you aren't really accepted until you've smoked a cigarette behind the garages, flatulated volcanically during morning assembly and paid a girl called Claire Knowles three pounds to look at her knickers.
In America, it's different. You're not truly one of the gang Stateside until you've learned how to take three minutes to order a coffee and have had at least one girlfriend with a unisex name like Bobbi, Toni or Alan.

In Asia, and Chiang Mai especially, there is a similar social phenomenon. In order to make the cut out here, every foreigner must have appeared on screen at least once. It doesn't matter what you actually appeared in, just as long as part of your body has been visible on screen for at least half a second. And this... this was to be my 'in'.

"Position one, places please," called the director beard.

"PLACES!" screamed the assistant beard, whose job seemed to be to say what the director beard had just said. But a whole lot louder.

My first scene involved sitting at a table with a gorgeous young lady, miming a conversation as a beautiful person walked by. We were duly served nice cold bottles of Singha and asked not to look at the camera.

"And, action," said the director beard. ("ACTION!" bellowed the assistant beard.)

The beautiful person flounced by, Gik and I mimed a conversation and the director beard said something. (And, of course, the assistant beard repeated it, very, very loudly: "CUUUUUT!")

When we had re-shot the scene fourteen times and the director beard announced that he liked the first take the best, I realised that it was going to be a long night.

The hours ticked by. We broke for dinner - "You have wow-cher?" - we watched the beards re-shoot scenes and the pockets electrocute themselves and giggle. We watched beautiful people walk past us from the left, and beautiful people walk past us from the right.

Then, after a good ten hours of being walked past, the final scene for the night was announced. It was to be a boxing scene, in which the movie's farang hero had to get his head kicked in by a mountain of a Thai guy while the ecktra whooped and hollered in the background. The panache I had shown earlier obviously impressed the director beard.
"Ok, can the little fat guy come over here," he said. "We need an ecktra for close up." ("FAT GUY HERE!")

"Okay," said the director beard. "We want you to shout at the white guy. Tell him he sucks. Curse him out. Let him know you're happy he's losing." ("SHOUT! SUCK! CURSE! HAPPY!)

The photographer beard got down behind me, and aimed what is known in the trade as a ca-me-raa over my shoulder and at the boxing ring. The poor farang got belted from one end to the other, and then, when he got knocked over in front of me, I readied myself. I felt a little tap on my shoulder, my cue, and I was off.

"You f*&y#ing t@$t" I yelled. "Stay the f*%$ down, or I'll get in there and rip your f$%^ing head off myself, you worthless…"

"Cut" (CUT!)

The beards were all looking at me funny, the ecktra all had their hands over their eyes and the pockets had even stopped blowing themselves up. After a period of stunned silence, during which several tumbleweeds rolled past and some trees even shed their leaves, the director beard announced that it was a wrap ("WRAP!") and that we could all go home.

Collecting my money from the casting director, I asked if everything had gone alright and whether they wanted me to come back the next night. He put down his pen, handed me my money and said, in a bewildered kind of way, "give me your wow-cher."

I don't know if West Man 1 will make it into the final cut, or whether I'll ever work as an ecktra again - never mind see another wow-cher - but at least I'll be able to hold my head up next time I see that bloody Welsh hairdresser!
Citylife, March 2005

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