Extra! Extra! Read all about David’s experiences on set

David Rees has been an extra in various roles on television and film.
David Rees has been an extra in various roles on television and film.

Fife man David Rees has starred in a number of Scottish films including Mrs Brown, Tommy’s Honour and Trainspotting 2.

He has been on the set of big productions, mingled with the stars and attended a movie premiere.

David on set in Outlander

David on set in Outlander

Now you might be wondering why you don’t recognise the name ... and it is because the parts he plays is that of a film extra.

The 66-year-old retired senior probation officer recently spoke to Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) about his experiences.

He revealed he has been a film extra since 1996 and described how he got involved: “I was taking a break from writing an MSc dissertation on criminal justice when I read articles post Braveheart about the desirability and feasibility of a Scottish film studio.

“I’d also noticed an extra I knew in Dr Finlay’s Casebook around that time and fancied the idea.

David's favourite film role as an extra was in Tommys Honour.

David's favourite film role as an extra was in Tommys Honour.

“There was a footnote advert for Scottish Screen, whom I contacted. I spoke to Camcast, a Fort William based agency and joined them. Nothing happened for six months, but I was celebrating my MSc success with a family holiday in Florida and came back late September to find my first two jobs waiting for me.

“The first was a pilot BBC comedy The Creatives, where 12 of us played a film crew that had no idea what it was doing. Perfect casting because none of us had a clue! We were all new at the game. I met actor Tom Georgeson and comedienne Sally Phillips, Jack Docherty and Moray Hunter in the exotic overnight location of a Focus DIY store in Carlisle to film overnight.

“The following week, I was called to Duns Castle to play a Royal porter in the Judi Dench film Mrs Brown. I can still hear her laughter!

“It was a freezing cold October day and during filming I was carrying a packing case to load onto a stagecoach when I sliced my thumb open on a sharp edge.

“It was so cold I didn’t notice, but the film rushes picked up the blood trickling down my hand. The director shouted cut.

“It wasn’t until the nurse on set appeared to tend to me that I realised they had cut because I was cut! The cast were good about it though – Billy Connolly was patient, supportive and engaging and I became a fan.”

He said Tommy’s Honour was filmed over a six week period from August to September 2016, and filmed in locations in north east Fife. David played the part of a burgler while shooting in Falkland.

He continued: “In Upper Largo/Drumeldrie they built a replica of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse in a field, and sprayed another field with artificial snow for a winter scene. It was over 20 degrees at the time!

“Jason Connery was an affable gentleman who engaged with us, laughed with us at our mistakes and took us along with his evident enthusiasm for the story and his ability to get the best out of people.”

He added: “It was a pleasure to go into work.”

It was as a result of working on Tommy’s Honour that David had the opportunity to attend its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016.

He said: “Jason Connery introduced the film and went out of his way to thank the extras, and of course we cheered him to the rafters for taking the trouble to acknowledge us. Believe me it is not always like that!”

David even got to meet some of the main actors on the set of the film. He said: “I met The lovely Ophelia Lovibond, Jack Lowden, Peter Mullan and Ian Pirie. There were 41 cast members altogether, but usually we were grouped with the main cast who freely engaged with us.

“But the golden rule of being an extra is that you do not engage with the cast. It is after all their workplace and they need to concentrate.

“Neither Jack Lowden nor Peter Mullan could play golf, but they soon remedied that. Between takes they practiced and practiced and became gentlemanly competitors, often sinking shots off camera that took ages to replicate once the cameras were rolling.

“We were willing spectators throughout, cheering them on as if actually filming.”

He continued: “Jack Lowden greeted us every morning as did a cheery Peter Mullan. Often he’d come up behind you and pat you on the back.

“I’d met him very briefly on Sunshine on Leith. On set he always had a story and some of his old school chums were extras.”

For anyone thinking about becoming a film extra David has this advice: “If you can’t leave your ego at the door, don’t be an extra.

“There are now thousands of extras in Scotland and many competing agencies. If you go out of your way to disobey instructions and directions because you think you know better, you will quickly be put off set.

“Examples of this kind of disruption include moving props, deliberately placing yourself in front of the camera, failing to remove jewellery in costume dramas, talking over the director and disturbing cast or crew.

“Take any thanks offered gracefully – Danny Boyle thanked me on Trainspotting 2 in person, as he does with all extras when he can. If you think ‘I’m really an actor and I’m only here till something better comes along’ then don’t be an extra. You’ll be found out and other extras will soon reduce your ego to the correct setting.

“Also try not to tell everyone how wonderful you were in whatever you’ve been in; the film was not about you – you had a miniscule role in it. Turn up, follow instructions, be patient while waiting, above all embrace the experience, have fun and enjoy it,” he added, “but remember you are merely human furniture on set.”

Costume, make up and filming

On most contemporary productions you appear in your everyday clothes. For anything else you go to wardrobe for a period fitting for example when I was playing a French nobleman in Outlander, a 60’s juror in George Gently and a peasant in Virgin Queen. Make up usually only involves either a whisker’s beard or a moustache. If it’s a particularly macabre film it can take two hours to change your face, for example into a Zombie, and then one hour to remove the make-up.

A normal day includes arrival and sign in, await instructions, breakfast, wardrobe, check if make up props are needed, then head off to location, either by foot or by bus. If it’s a night shoot, filming could start at 10.30pm and then carry on through the night until about 7am. Lunch would be at 2am. You are usually off set by 8am and then possibly home by 10am unless overtime kicks in. You can usually spot yourself on screen, but you have got to know where to look. I know exactly where I am in Mrs Brown, Tommy’s Honour and most of the productions I have been in.