The traveler as a film extra

Syrian film set

Damascus, Syria

I had seen the ads for television extras in Bangkok hostels, and I had spoken with travelers about their Bollywood background roles in Mumbai. But I had never made an effort to pursue this myself.

But last Monday at 9:00 a.m., while stepping out of the hostel to buy a bottle of water down the block, I passed a man named Iad sitting at a cafe. He stopped me, said hello, and then said something like, “I’m looking for foreign male extras for a Syrian TV series that is filming today. Can you do it? We pay $40 for the day.” Half an hour later, along with three others from the hostel, I was in a really nice van (plush seats, air-conditioned) en route to a film set several kilometers south of Damascus.

The series was set in the Ottoman period, and we foreign extras were dressed up as British colonial types (that’s me above, goofing off with a Syrian actor during a break). The day was hot and since the shooting was all outdoors we would sweat under our suits. But it didn’t matter. In between shoots we mingled with the other extras, the bulk of whom were local Syrians as well as an unexpected number of Iraqi refugees. The Syrians were fascinating, one guy as big as The Hulk and yearning for nothing more than an acting role in a Hollywood action flick. The Iraqis were fascinating — “I am Fallujah” one would tell me, or “I am Baghdad” would say another — as we talked about U.S. foreign policy and its impact on their lives. The Westerners were fascinating too, one middle-aged guy saying “You know what I miss about home? Porn,” or another guy, 23 years old, telling us a little about his year-and-a-half-long journey from Beijing to here and his gearing up to return home to Canada to start school in the fall.

If you want to meet interesting people, make a few bucks, perhaps watch a famous regional director in action, and maybe even get a free lunch and dinner, keep your eyes out for background roles in foreign series and films. If you are traveling in Syria specifically, contact Iad at di_do2(at) to learn if there are any openings that week.

And that’s a wrap.

Photo credit: Bram van Haver

Posted by | Comments (3)  | June 22, 2010
Category: Images from the road, Working Abroad

3 Responses to “The traveler as a film extra”

  1. GypsyGirl Says:

    That sounds like fun Joel- nice photo! My horse and I got to be extras for a History Channel special a few years back. We had a blast; but I can relate- the costumes were way too warm!

  2. Jeff Pruett Says:

    Sounds like fun. I worked as an extra in West Berlin back in the 70’s when I was in the army. It was a hoot!