Second Street, March 2009, ‘Treme’ set.

I know a Mandingo warrior. Usually he does home repair and he’s got a catering thing, but for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, currently in production in New Orleans, he became a Mandingo warrior for a day, fighting another Mandingo warrior no less, with the aid of three shots of tequila that folks on set downed before the scene. No idea if he’ll make it in the final cut.

Last Tuesday I was a NYC hipster circa 2008 for HBO’s Treme.  I’d registered with Caballero Casting hoping to score a role as an extra in the Treme shoot scheduled the second Sunday of Jazz Fest (Fais Do Do stage for an hour or so, then released to enjoy the Fest) but instead got called up for the NYC hipster circa 2008 group a few days post-Fest.

My wardrobe instructions (incidentally, such information is available publicly on a rolling basis at Caballero’s website):

The look is hip, stylish, Upscale casual.  Sleek and sophisticated.

Please bring 4 different outfit options. Come dressed in first outfit


Good colors are dark and deep cool tones, like black, grey, slate, blue, navy, deep, dark greens.  No pastels, no solid whites.

Men: good items to bring are:  blazers, sportcoats, sweaters, cardigans, ties, dark colored t’s for layering, dress shirts, button up shirts, vests (if you own and wear them), dress pants, dark jeans, dark casual pants, cords, dress boots, loafers, dress shoes.  All shoes and pants should be dark in color.

No linen, no seersucker, no shorts. NO HATS.

For my money the most telling detail was the bit about vests [my emphasis]: “If you own and wear them.” I took that as: Don’t try to play Wardrobe.

I printed out the instructions and handed them to Dedra. She quickly sensed the depths of my apprehension and flipped through my hangers, assuring me I’d be fine, pulling out black jeans and slacks, a dark sports coat. I reanimated and managed to find a couple dark t’s and a charcoal button-up shirt that I ironed.

I showed up at the prescribed time on Canal Street where a tour van idled. It felt weirdly reminiscent of jury duty, the relative randomness of our grouping, the 20 or so of us. Instead of registered voters, we were media whores–okay, that’s a little harsh. Idlers, busy bodies, nosers, wannabes, the broke.

I entered the Canal Street hotel and walked through the lobby to an escalator, following everyone else who seemed to know where we were going, up to the second floor where we checked in with drivers licenses and were issued an assemblage of papers stapled together, forms to sign while we waited to be seen by the wardrobe gatekeepers. Wardrobe would serve as our voir dire.

While I waited, I examined my clothes with new eyes. And these eyes saw clearly the thin collection of dreary threadbare clothes I had to show for myself. In the tour van I suspected this moment would come when I noticed that all the other men had their clothes zipped away in safe keeping, while I just showed up with all my clothes draped over my arm. I only brought the black Keens I was wearing. No ties. I tucked my shirt in and put the dark sportscoat on, thankful that I’d at least ironed my shirt.

A short, slender wardrobe woman scanned the clothes I was wearing, slowly up and down, then scanned through my other options, selecting a pair of dark jeans and asked if I had other shoes.  Disappointed at my answer, she asked my shoe size and found a pair of black dress shoes and sent me off to change. When I came back, she did the slow scan up and down again, and I could tell she was trying to talk herself into saying I was a go. I said, “Okay, right?” She smiled and nodded and I was off. She wore an earpiece–at any moment she could be given a new mission, or told the wrap up the current one; she didn’t spend a moment longer with me than necessary. A few minutes later we were summoned back to the tour van to be taken a few blocks up Canal Street to a tented luncheon area, where we were treated to a buffet about 15 feet long, as well as lemonade and I think iced tea.

A little less than an hour later we whisked back up Canal Street to a posh hotel, where we gathered again in a ball room before being sent outside to claim a prop drink from a table of drinks with each drink placed on a numbered square (I selected an Amstel Light, #42).

I sat at a moody NYC bar and made like I was having a grand time with the folks around me. Ambient noise, maybe the intro to a scene, I have no idea. Through the crucible of the experience I made fast friends with a few of the extras around me, finding little hooks of dialogue we’d use during each shot, building off contextual instructions we were given, and just trying to be some approximation of NYC hipsters out on the town hoping to meet someone important. I think it’s called acting.

I was released about four hours after I arrived. A fellow extra told me I will receive a check for $101.50 in two weeks.

I fumbled together my clothes and crossed Canal Street as it began to drizzle. I could see a green streetcar a block ahead on St. Charles, and I violated one of my firmly held beliefs about catching the streetcar and followed the streetcar I wanted to catch. It was about 5:30 p.m. and traffic was still cramped and I made up some ground on the streetcar, but once it crossed Poydras Street it pulled away. A couple blocks away from Lee Circle I waited and soon another streetcar broke free of the gridlock and I got out of the rain.

Walking up the street from my stop I came upon a neighbor of mine walking his dog ZZ, a crazy active white long haired dog that loves to wrestle with our dog when they meet. I chatted with the guy, telling him about my turn as an extra. He said he’d been an extra on Treme as well, and he was trying to get on with some swamp zombie movie that’s shooting. He said HBO is the best though. “They treat you right,” he said. He’s trying to get as much extra work as he can.

Note: Fellow B2L2 contributor G Bitch did the Treme Jazz Fest last year.

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About the Author

Derek Bridges

Derek Bridges lives in New Orleans, trading in words and pictures. A carpetbagger of long standing, he grew up in the top right corner of IL and later went to college in the middle cornfield part. He has also lived in MS and FL, for educational purposes only, and was diasporized for a time in TX.

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