Disquiet on the Set

By Amy Jarvis

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My short-lived, somewhat volatile film career started with being cast as an extra on the television show One Tree Hill. I was enthralled with being on a film set: the lights, the cameras, and, in one particular episode, finding myself standing next to Chad Michael Murray (who was, of course, a major heartthrob at the time) on a Wilmington street that had been transformed into another city, while passersby grouped together and watched the show being filmed.

After appearing in eight episodes of the television show, I began submitting headshots to other production companies. It wasn’t long before I landed a featured extra role in the movie River Guard. My role was simple – one of the primary characters was the bartender, Banger, and in the scene we were slated to film, I was to portray his on-the-side girlfriend. I watched the director as he pointed to my starting point, explained that I was to approach the bar, act as though I hadn’t seen Banger in a while, and he would do the same. My nerves jumbled in my stomach the first time I stood on my mark and heard the countdown of quiet on the set, rolling, background, action. I approached the bar, climbed onto the stool. Banger looked over and threw his arms up. I smiled at him. Then he leaned on the bar while we pretended to talk. I playfully touched his arm, laughed silently, and drank my vodka cranberry—minus the vodka—being careful to make sure the ice didn’t clank against the glass because the boom mics would pick up the noise. The actor who played Banger reassured me that I was doing great, each time we reset and repeated the scene, over and over.

In the following scene, I was directed to leave the bar, which meant counting down and walking across the dolly in front of the camera. But I was still reeling with anxiety, which resulted in my moving into frame several seconds after my cue, which forced me to cross the dolly more quickly to compensate, which caused me to accidentally kick a misplaced paint can, which in turn tipped over with a bang and rolled, until it collided into the wheels of the camera. I froze, my heart pounding against my rib cage, and looked around the set, at everyone staring in my direction.

There was a painfully long silence that followed, in which the only sound was the paint can rolling, until it came to a merciful stop. The director cleared his throat, yelled cut. Then they started the scene again. This time without me.


Following River Guard, I landed a featured role in the movie The Remaining. I was sitting in the front row of a church with several other extras. The scene was to be about the survivors of a religious apocalypse who find themselves under attack. While we waited for filming to begin, another extra sat down beside me.

“You’re perfect,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re perfect,” she repeated. “For film.”

She told me she was the costume designer for River Guard and that she had noticed me on the set. I stared in an effort to place her. Her spiky hair, lined eyebrows and lips.

“How tall are you?” she asked.

“5’2,” I said.

“No you’re not, you’re 5’3,” she said. “What size are you, two or four?”

“Two or four, depending.”

She nodded thoughtfully, still appraising me. “You need an agent,” she said. I didn’t tell her I already had one. “You’re the next Shailene Woodley or Lily Collins. The industry will love you.”

Several minutes later, she retook her seat across the aisle, and the director approached and offered me a featured role. As he instructed hair and makeup to make me look as though I had just survived an explosion, I looked back over at my spiky-haired acquaintance. Told you, she mouthed.

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The scene in The Remaining was as follows: I was supposed to be watching the news on an iPad and reacting to the devastation. Several main actors would be around me, and they would do the same. The director stood in front of us, the camera placed directly in front of my soot-covered face. One of the crew members turned on the string of LED lights around the screen (since electronics don’t actually work in film; it’s all CGI), and the director began his countdown – quiet on the set, rolling, background. My muscles tensed. Action. I imagined meteors falling from the sky, people being attacked, dust, rubble. I knitted my eyebrows together and bit my bottom lip. I was so determined to make sure my acting was on point that I felt nauseous when we cut twenty seconds later.

In an effort to soothe my nerves and the lightheadedness I felt, I stared down at the iPad. After a moment everything became a blur. The room narrowed.

“Can we get some emotion out of you, Amy?” the director asked.

I looked up, confused. That’s when I realized that in my anxiety-induced state, I hadn’t heard the director’s count. We were filming the scene again, and I was staring blankly at the iPad at what was supposed to be devastating news. I swallowed, narrowed my eyes, and exhaled a slow, shaky breath.  

“Good. There you go,” the director said, before calling cut twenty seconds later.

Following my featured scene, we moved on to the second scene of the night, in which demons attempted to break through the ceiling of the church. Only there were no demons, no loud banging, nothing shaking the rafters. The director explained that he would count, and gave us specific spots to look at with each number. I held my breath as the director counted down to action.

One. I gripped the row in front of me and looked forward, toward the altar. Two. I cowered in my seat. Three. I looked toward the back of the church and pretended to scream. Four. We reset and did the same thing, over and over again.

Amy Jarvis is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.