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What’s It Like Working As A Background Artist with STRIDE?

This past spring, STRIDE cast the background artists for the feature film, What Is Life Worth? The film, starring Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, tells the story of Ken Feinberg, an attorney who was appointed to be the Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Based on true events, this story answers the question, “what is life worth?” through the eyes of Feinberg, the man who had the impossible task of deciding how much compensation the victims and families of victims of 9/11 will receive.

Director Sara Colangelo, 1st AD Duccio Fabbri, Michael Keaton & Amy Ryan on set of What is Life Worth? Image: Splash_IC

With a story such as this, the emotional impact the audience gets from the background artists is equally important as the impact they get from the principal actors. It’s critical to cast professional, seasoned artists in these demanding roles, so the studio turned to STRIDE to get the right people for the job.

Working as an extra on a set can be a difficult job. There’s often a lot of waiting around for the scene to be set up and then a rush of action to get the shot and move on to the next. So, we wondered, how is casting with STRIDE different? To find out, we asked a few of the background artists who were on set in the early days of principal photography of What Is Life Worth? about their experiences.

One actor, who has been in the union since 1972 at the age of 12, started doing background work in high school to get some extra cash. He left background work for a while to focus on other roles and then later returned in the ’90s, doing both stand-in and background work. After creating a POP profile he eventually found himself on the What Is Life Worth? set as both a background artist and a stand-in for Stanley Tucci. He had nothing but good things to say about his experience: “It was all good,” he said. “I really liked the crew…it was a very pleasant experience.” During one of the days he was working as a background artist, he describes shooting an extremely emotional scene:

“The scene was very intense — there were a lot of people yelling at Michael Keaton’s character. The nature of the scene was sad because it gets to the bone of the title, ‘What is Life Worth?’ I had a headache by the end of the day because of the intensity of the scene. It was very emotional.”

Every actor we spoke to told us they had a positive experience on set, but several mentioned how impressed they were with the professionalism from the STRIDE crew, especially Extras Casting Director, Ronen Gevint, long before they set foot on the location.

Another actor, who started out as a public speaking instructor, decided later in life that she wanted to act. She also found herself having a great experience on set, saying, “I heard about [the film] from Ronen. He was the sweetest and he knows what he’s doing and he knows how to talk to people. When I heard he was working on this, I was just dying to be in that project. He really is very sensitive and he knows how to pick people.”

While the STRIDE team credits much of their success to their incredible casting directors and actors, their true secret lies within their ability to use technology to their advantage. Most casting companies still rely on manual processes where technology could be used. As a POP powered casting companies, STRIDE relies on game changing technology to do the manual work for them — and the results are undeniably positive:

“We were just doing a tuxedo scene for What is Life Worth?” Gevint recalls, “and it made me think back to 2010 when I had a similar scene. Back then I had to pull out headshots and get on the phones to find out if they had a tuxedo. When the images came through later it turned out some of the extras outfit didn’t fit well so they didn’t look good enough for the scene - I had to start all over again. The black tie scene on What is Life Worth? Was so much easier. We already had to up to date pictures of the talent in tuxedos so we could easily check that they looked set ready. Those pictures were quickly sent to wardrobe who could okay it. The whole process was much quicker, much better. The production was a lot happier, and we didn’t have to work until the early hours of the next morning trying to cast this scene.”

The modern film set is a whirlwind. In a place where the motto is, “hurry up and wait,” things can easily go wrong and blood pressure can certainly run high. But, for every chaotic moment, there is a company like STRIDE, exploiting technology to make the industry smarter and fairer for everyone.

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