TAMPA — Mario Núñez hoped for his Hollywood break when The Infiltrator starring Bryan Cranston filmed throughout the area in 2015.
He was one of a dozen extras picked among hundreds of hopefuls for a scene to be shot at St. Petersburg’s Don Cesar hotel. Maybe he’d be placed near Cranston, Núñez hoped, or earn a line of dialogue.
Rain cancelled the shoot. Prior engagements then kept Núñez from the makeup day.
“I’m looking forward to another opportunity" to be an extra on a film, he said.
He’ll have to wait.
Filming permits, suspended throughout the Tampa Bay area for two months to slow the spread of the coronavirus, have been greenlit again. But sets are limited to 10 people or less, which means productions likely won’t use extras for a while.
That is sad news for those who consider being an extra to be the most exciting part of movie productions coming to the area.
“The intrinsic value of having a film shoot in your community is the interaction,” Hillsborough County film commissioner Tyler Martinolich said. “If that is taken away, the enthusiasm is taken away."
Still, he added, “We’re in a different world where you have to consider space and the best way to utilize it. Extras might go the way of the dodo bird for a while.”
Best case scenario, Martinolich estimates, is that productions might feel safe using extras by “sometime next year.”
When extras do return, Núñez hopes the casting process changes. He recalls hundreds lined up inside the Tampa Convention Center.
“It was a cattle call,” said Núñez, who also hosts The Tampa Natives Show on the Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network. “We were in a line within inches of each other. There is no way I’d do that again. I think this is a fundamental game changer for the industry for the time being.”
Industry leaders agree.
St. Peterburg/Clearwater film commissioner Tony Armer called the “cattle call” system for casting extras “a thing of the past. You’re going to have to work with a casting agency with hundreds of client head shots and pick from those."
Steve Heinz is a model and commercial actor, but still enjoys taking work as an extra on movies.
“The film stuff I do for the experience of being involved," said the Sarasota resident who most recently was an extra on National Geographic’s The Right Stuff and Justin Long’s Lady in the Manor, which shot in Tampa. "As an extra there is no decent money.”
Still, actors can use such work to get into the Screen Actors Guild, which provides health insurance.
“If you are recognizable in a union commercial as an extra, you get a union card,” said Kelly Paige, owner of Level Talent in Tampa. “If you do three union commercials as an extra, you can also get a card. If you are cast as an extra but get a line in a union movie, you get a union card.”
Still, productions will continue to hire locals as crew and featured talent, said John Lux, executive director of non-profit advocacy group Film Florida.
To better ensure safe sets, Film Florida released a six-page list of recommended guidelines such as cast and crew wearing masks and gloves.
Production departments should be sequestered in pods of 10 or less, Film Florida also recommends, and “eliminate crossing pods as much as possible.”
“The electric people come and do their work, and then the next day cameras and actors,” Martinolich said. “It may take longer, but it provides the ability to shoot safely.”
Paige requires productions to provide a list of safety precautions to be shared with those she represents.
“If they do not feel comfortable on that set, they should not check themselves available,” Paige said.
As for scenes that require extras, Martinolich said, scripts will either have to be rewritten, the productions will have to wait until it it is safe to bring crowds of people together, or they can create “digital crowds.”
Tampa independent filmmaker Rick Danford can’t afford the latter.
“I have a Christmas film called Santa Letter that has a big scene with 15-30 people jammed into a living room,” he said. “I don’t know what I will do yet. Extras are important.”