My First TV Job in Los Angeles: Paid Audience Member

Thursday

1:30pm: I scroll through LACasting.com searching for work. This website offers a number of typically low-budget acting work such as non-union commercials, background (or “extra work”), and independent feature films. I see a posting for a “paid audience members,” fifty bucks in cash to sit and be enthusiastic all day. It doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch from my last job at a New York City hedge fund, only this job sounds like less sitting.

4:45pm: I receive an email from the casting director asking me to confirm a couple details then receive another email telling me to call a voicemail number for instructions.

5:00pm: The secret voicemail message tells me to be in Van Nuys, CA by 8:15am, ready to go. It also tells me to look my best. No t-shirts, no jeans, no “tennis shoes.” I am told that this person doesn’t care what I’ve worn to previous jobs, I’m getting paid to look my best, this means khakis, this means an ironed shirt, this means blazer. I don’t have an iron.

5:05pm: I imagine what sort of person still uses the phrase “tennis shoes.”

5:20pm: I finally figure out where Van Nuys is. It will take an hour and fifteen to get there. Or 22 minutes by car, Google Maps tells me this will turn into 50 minutes in traffic. The voicemail instructions say that only street parking is available, which possibly means parking meters, which means at least $6 in quarters and a parking ticket if the show goes longer than expected. 50 minutes in stop and go traffic, having to find a spot on the street, and stress over parking tickets? I decide to take the train and two buses. An hour and fifteen commute doesn’t bother me after commuting from Staten Island to Manhattan for a year.

10:00pm: I go to bed to wake up at 5:00am to leave by 6:30am.

Friday
5:30am: I get up and hang my clothes in the bathroom so the steam from the shower can take out any wrinkles.

6:45am: I leave my apartment and head out for the Los Angeles Metro. Unlike New York City where you get a free transfer from bus to bus or train to bus, in Los Angeles you have to pay a fare for each transfer, $1.50. Well, you’re supposed to, it is incredibly easy to dodge paying a fair, the system involves either swiping a turnstile with your “tapcard” or holding on to a paper ticket to show the marshals who patrol the transit system. But the turnstiles will open up for you if you don’t tap (to allow people with paper tickets entry). With buses, you have to pay your fair or tap your tapcard when you enter. Since it’s a $1.50 for each leg of my trip, I buy a day pass which is $6.00, otherwise I’d pay $4.50 each way.

7:04am: My train arrives to take me to North Hollywood.

7:07am: I realize I am on the wrong train.

7:14am: I am on the correct train.

7:30am: I arrive in North Hollywood and transfer to the Orange Line. The Orange Line is my favorite public transportation line in Los Angeles so far. It’s a bus that has its own roads, like a makeshift trolley.

7:50am: I think I’m in Encino. I transfer to the final bus.

8:11am: I arrive at the studio. All the other “extras” are waiting outside in the drizzling rain. I don’t think most Angelinos own umbrellas. We stand in line and fill out our soggy paperwork.

8:12am: There are no parking meters on the street! I could have taken the car.

8:15am: People keep talking about how they thought the weather would be different in the valley.

8:30am: We are examined by security and told to leave our cell phones in our cars. My car is two buses and a train away. I tell the security I took the train.

“No trains stop out here!”
“I took the bus, the 236 bus.”
“The 236?”
“I took the Red Line to the Orange Line to the bus on the corner over there.”
“OK, I just wanted to make sure, remove the battery from your phone. please.”

8:40am: We take our seats. The show, which I don’t think I’m allowed to name is a dating game type show. There’s a warm-up comedian who’s in charge of the audience. He keeps us occupied with jokes, games, his ipod, and free candy. It looks like a fun job. He orchestrates us with broad facial expressions, expressive hand gestures, and initiatory laughs. We are instructed to clap with our faces as well as our hands.

9:00am: The host of the show enters. He’s a pretty recognizable dude. Applause and cheers! As he gets ready, his assistant rushes to the stage with an opened can of diet soda. He takes one sip and returns the can to the assistant. She runs off. He is now ready.

9:05am: An assistant with a big solo cup walks around making everyone in the audience spit their gum in it.

9:15am: OK, when the host is speaking we can applaud enthusiastically but we can not make “Woo!” sounds, only after he finishes speaking. Are we cool?

9:30am: I notice that the host is reading lines off a teleprompter and can see the text. But I also notice that the jokes and asides he’s making aren’t in the script. If he’s just making these little bits of commentary up on the spot, he’s pretty funny.

10:00am: A woman in the audience falls asleep. The warm-up comedian employs olympic class miming to try to get her to hold her head up.

10:45am: The first episode has completed taping. A woman comes out and says she saw some of us yawning and putting our heads down. She’s going to let it go this once but if it happens again, she’s going to have to get nasty.

11:00am: We are allowed a bathroom break, but told only if its an emergency. The bathrooms are fancy portable johns in the parking lot. They have electricity and the finest plastic seats.

11:05am: When we return to our seats, the producers are shifting audience members around. Some audience are being questioned, they have been spotted talking on a cell phone and have two choices: surrender the cell phone or leave.

11:30am: I notice that when the contestants say something funny (offensive) or long winded, production stops and a producer rushes out and coaches them on what to say with whispers and broad gestures. If the audience is laughing before a take and the contestant doesn’t look too serious, the director comes on the studio mic to say, “Quiet everyone, now big ‘reality’ moment.”

11:35am: I start to wonder if the audience is fake, what’s real about the rest of the show? Are these contestants just actors trying to make a car payment? I ask the guy next to me about this, he assures me, “It’s just a show! If love happens, love happens. They check to see if they’re married or have a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

12:00pm: The host makes a joke in reference about him considering botox: “I have more lines in my face than I have in this show!”

12:30pm: We are excused for an hour. The warm-up comedian says that they have “Lunchables” for all of us, then admits he’s joking. I find a lot of my fellow castmates are heading across the street to Del Taco, which is like a cross between Taco Bell and Dairy Queen. I see a lot of people getting meals for $7-$8 which seems like a feast compared compared to how much we’re being paid and that we’re just going to be sitting all day. I splurge and get two “fat tacos” and a bottle of water for $5. The cashier goes away for five minutes to find me a bottle of water. The fat tacos are delicious.

1:30pm: We have to go through security again. I meet another dude who has his battery removed from his cell phone. I ask him if he also took the bus. He does not want to talk about it too loudly but eventually tells me that I live in a very hip part of town.

1:40pm: New seats. New episode. New hope.

3:15pm: Taping has finished.

3:30pm: We are paid in cash.

3:50pm: The bus finally arrives.

4:20pm: On the Orange Line, my theory that the most interesting things in Los Angeles happen on the bus is proven again, as I eavesdrop on a conversation about a guy from African talking about his studying for the bar. He’s a lawyer in an African country but wants to work in the U.S. He’s talking about Miranda rights, how they came from Miranda vs. Arizona. He then mentions that Arizona doesn’t like people’s rights. This peaks the interest of another guy on the bus. “Arizona? What about California? There are 33 prisons in California…” Then the conversation is alive, people started talking about police brutality, how the Hispanic and Black communities are in conflict, “If they join together, who knows what we could do?” The “33 prisons” Guy then says he had a friend who fled from police when they asked for his ID and was shot in the back. The bus then detours into Conspiracy-Land, with people accusing police of staging drive-by’s and other shenanigan’s to fuel hatred between and amongst the communities. Then a woman says we have to deal with ourselves before we confront people about outside influence.

5:00pm: I blow my salary at Ralph’s on fruit and potato chips.

5:30pm: Home.

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2 Comments

  • Aunt Nancy says:

    Jeremiah,
    What a detailed write up on a day in your life to earn a $50. Quite the experience as an “extra.” Best wishes on your hunt for steady employment.

  • Erik L. says:

    Sounds like a great day…. I have had many days like this, and honestly i wish I could get more than just some dinner with what I make some days, but the stories make it all worthwhile!

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