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What’s it like to be an extra on a Tampa Bay movie set?
Columnist Stephanie Hayes was a background performer in ‘A Taste of Love,’ being filmed in Dunedin.
Cinematographer Michael May, left, films a scene with actors Erin Cahill, Martin Kove and Susan Gallagher during the production of A Taste of Love at Edgewater Park in Dunedin.
Cinematographer Michael May, left, films a scene with actors Erin Cahill, Martin Kove and Susan Gallagher during the production of A Taste of Love at Edgewater Park in Dunedin. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jul. 26

I’ve worshipped at the altar of romantic comedies all my life, studied the art of cupcake bakers and hometown hotties and Christmas tree farms. If the day ever came to brush against these hallowed halls, assuredly, I would be ready to answer the call.

The call came. Now picture me frantically thumbing through spring dresses at Marshall’s. I was not ready.

I‘d been invited to the set of A Taste of Love, a feature film being shot in Dunedin. I would spend a day as an extra, or “background performer,” then write about the experience. How hard could it be to stand glamorously? Turns out, much harder than it looks.

A Taste of Love is the latest in Tampa Bay’s romantic movie renaissance, the fourth produced here by Hallmark stalwart Elayne Schneiderman Schmidt. This one isn’t a Hallmark film but will likely land on a streaming platform like Netflix or Hulu.

It’s about out-of-work celebrity chef Taylor, played by romantic movie fixture Erin Cahill. Yes, of course, she returns to her hometown. It also stars Jesse Kove and his father, Martin Kove, who is — wait for it — noted villain John Kreese from The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai.

Most viewers probably don’t notice background performers, but they’re vital to the environment. They’re at parties, tree lightings, shopping centers, making worlds feel real and complete.

“A lot of it has to do with personality,” said one of the film’s casting directors, Karlie Loland of KLR Creative Group. “When people submit their photos to me, I’m keeping in mind that these aren’t people that are speaking. I’m looking for something to stand out about them.”

This time, Loland had more than 8,000 submissions. Fifteen of us gathered on the Fenway Hotel roof one morning, plus a handful of stand-ins and actors playing wait staff and bartenders.

Jesse Kove, left and Erin Cahill are the stars of 'A Taste of Love,' filming throughout Pinellas County.
Jesse Kove, left and Erin Cahill are the stars of 'A Taste of Love,' filming throughout Pinellas County. [ Courtesy of Rod Millington ]

The day before shooting, we all got COVID-19 tests. Then we received orders. Our scene was a birthday party. The season, spring. The look, wholesome and fresh, wedges, tasteful tops, sundresses. Avoid patterns. No white, black or red. No Apple Watches. Clear nails.

I looked through my closet: black, black, red, white, black, print, print, an obscene amount of leopard. I considered my black manicure and killer Apple Watch tan line. Loland told me not to worry, bless her.

We were to arrive camera-ready for a call time of 8:30 a.m. I got there at 8:27, the last background performer. Cool. First movie realization: if you show up on time, you are late.

Related: Meet the producer bringing Hallmark romance to Tampa Bay movie sets

Costume supervisor Julia Siegmund observed my cantaloupe-colored dress, which I named Marshall. I also showed her a backup outfit. She said I looked pretty but not to stand next to anyone else in melon. Feeling confident, I showed the straw clutch I brought as a prop.

“Hm,” she said. “Do you have anything less sparkly?” The only other thing I had was a black fanny pack. Springtime! Failure!

Other extras wore small patterns, and I wondered if I’d taken the instruction too literally. Two other women, now my arch-nemeses, wore melon dresses. Costume designer Lori Ellison eyed us, making sure we weren’t in a horrid melon clump.

Cahill came on set like an angel in a spring dress, probably not from Marshall’s. “Happy Thursday!” she boomed. She introduced herself and kept thanking the crew. When she complimented my dress, it took all my restraint not to say, “THANKS, HIS NAME IS MARSHALL.”

My job was to stand in the bar, walk to a table of food and chat with Ashley Dulaney, who plays romantic foil Linda. This comes naturally to me, looking at food and chatting. Nonetheless, it was awkward.

My “friends” were Tiehra Renee, 21, and Brandon Lufriu, 22. Lufriu broke the tension when he whispered, “You know, you start to die at 25.” Our fake conversations got more twisted each time. Yes, folks, smiling movie extras are talking about cellular degeneration.

It took three hours to film one short scene. Director of photography Michael May called filmmaking a “puzzle,” so many pieces to put together. An incredible amount of planning, practice and continuity work goes into moments we take for granted.

I will watch with a new appreciation when the movie comes out early next year, looking for those Dunedin businesses on screen, maybe a sliver of my arm or head. And what’s next? If productions continue to realize all that our slice of Florida has to offer, we’ll have real movie magic on our clear-manicured hands, holding bags that don’t sparkle.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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