My Extra Life by Maggie Cobbett
I had heard my husband's stories of being called in with groups of his pals to act as extras in episodes of Miami Vice and battle scenes being filmed near his bases when he was in the military. He enjoyed it immensely and I understand their idea of 'fighting' was occasionally more realistic than might have been called for. However, that was really right place/right time rather than a job. In this modest little book My Extra Life written by Maggie Cobbett who worked as a supporting actor (or extra) in various television and film dramas for many years, the reader is offered an insight into that hidden world that most of us will never know.
Supporting artists, or 'extras' as they're more commonly known, are the unsung heroes of television and film. Maggie Cobbett recalls the ups and downs of twenty years of 'blending into the background'.
I thought My Extra Life was a fascinating read. It is not a long book, but it gives insights into how the author began her unusual career, the requirement for extras to travel, at their own cost and to be ready to take on any task they have claimed they can do. It is in the third chapter that the reader learns of an extra hoisted by his own petard after making claims he could ride a horse. It is a very funny story, but I won't spoil it for you.
I also found it interesting that those extras with professional acting training were in a minority. It seems that learning on the job and being willing and able to follow instructions to the letter were far more important than that.
It was also interesting to learn about the combination of fake and real food on set and the difficulties of filming seasonal scenes out of time so that Christmas scenes with thick clothing could be filmed in July and holiday scenes see cast members and extras alike shivering at the beach in October.
All the little insights and observations the author shared in this book were ably illustrated with excerpts from her diary. It is an entertaining and interesting read which I highly recommend.
Having taught modern languages at home and abroad for many years, Yorkshire born Maggie Cobbett found a second career working in television and film. Everyone she met had a tale to tell and Maggie, never without a notebook and pen to hand, is a very good listener. Much of this is reflected in her latest book, 'My 'Extra' Life: Memoirs of a Supporting Artist'.
Fiction is Maggie's first love, but she's also had many articles and theatre reviews published and even the occasional poem. Her stories range from light romance and humour, mostly written for the woman's magazine market, to dark tales of murder and betrayal. These themes are also reflected in her debut novel, 'Shadows of the Past', and three short story collections, 'Had We But World Enough', 'Swings & Roundabouts' and 'Anyone For Murder'? Maggie has also written a couple of novels aimed at younger readers. 'Wheels on Fire' is a contemporary story set on a school visit to Paris. Kaz, confined to a wheelchair after a tragic accident, is out for a very unusual kind of vengeance. In 'Workhouse Orphan', set at the dawn of the 20th century, David, barely 13 and sent up to work in a Yorkshire coal mine, has to figure out a way of rescuing the younger siblings he was forced to leave behind in their London workhouse.
In between times, Maggie writes 'fillers'. Surprisingly lucrative, these have led to the publication of 'Easy Money For Writers & Wannabes' in which Maggie shares the tricks she's learnt along the way.