Guest column

My summer as an extra on ‘The Hunger Games’

May 8, 2012 

I was an extra in “The Hunger Games.” And believe me – it was even better than it sounds.

It was last May. I was obsessed with a series of books called “The Hunger Games.” I started following a couple of Hunger Games fan sites on the web. That’s how I found out that there were going to be casting calls for “The Hunger Games” movie in Concord. I had no idea where Concord was, so I looked it up on Google Maps. It was in the general vicinity of Charlotte. I begged my parents to take me there so that I could apply to be an extra. My brother applied, too.

Afterwards, we didn’t think much of it. Until, of course, we got the phone call a week before exams.

My brother and I would be children in District 12 – a very poor area of Panem, where the main character lives. We would appear in the Reaping, when two kids are picked to go into the annual death match known as the Hunger Games. However, there was a catch – we couldn’t tell anyone. Because of the popularity of the books, revealing inside information about the movie would probably be too risky.

We were given an address where we were supposed to go to get fitted for clothes. Inside the building, there were racks and racks of Depression-era clothing. I was given three dresses to choose from, so I picked the simplest one: a cream-colored thing that resembled a fitted polo dress. It had little blue, green and red flowers growing up from the hem. They also did my hair in braided pigtails that got pinned up to the back of my head.

About a week later, we drove back to Concord, got a hotel room near the set and explored the town a little before the next day, when filming would begin. When morning arrived, we drove to a gravel parking lot where we then boarded buses that took us to the set, a few warehouses clustered together. On the side of one was painted the words “DISTRICT 12.”

I squealed with delight, all desire for sleep forgotten – we were here! Really here, on the set of “The Hunger Games!”

After check-in and breakfast in a huge white tent, all of the extras were herded into a tent to put on our clothing. Next, we were taken to another tent that held a bunch of brightly lit vanities. People bustled around as extras sat and got their hair done. My stylist’s name was Sarah. She did my hair in the same style as before. She also brushed a little bit of brown powder on my knees, elbows, and under my nails so that I would look like a hardworking District 12 child. It was all very authentic.

Later, all of the children were called onto the set. My mind raced as I walked, trooping in a line with all the other child extras. What cool Hollywood adventures were awaiting us? We were put in a warehouse that we soon came to know as the “holding area.” It was where we were to go when we weren’t filming. It was dark but lit by huge inflatable lights that looked like jellyfish. Later in the day, when the sun was higher, we were led outside to begin filming.

For our first scene, we would stream into a central square from behind the warehouses. We were supposed to look miserable and scared. After a few takes, the heat was bad enough that that wasn’t much of an issue. We trooped through the mud in our flimsy shoes, awkwardly trying to avoid the cameramen as they jostled around in front of us. We sneaked looks at the main star, Jennifer Lawrence, and the girl who plays her little sister, Willow Shields. Between shots, we were provided with water, sunscreen and shade. The temperatures soared. For the Reaping scene, we had to stand still and look afraid for take after take after take.

After at least five straight hours of doing this, we were all exhausted and sunburned. We were taken back to the big white tent for lunch; then, after a few hours of rest, we went back to continue filming.

We soon got used to life on the set. Each day, we’d get back to our hotel room at about 11 o’clock. We’d stay up to wait for a call that would tell us when we had to be on set the next day, which was usually at about 5 in the morning. We got to know the crew. The entire crew was the best crew ever. They were super kind and generous to every one of us. They ensured that we never got dehydrated, never went hungry and never got too hot.

When the movie came out, we were invited to attend a special extras-only screening of the film in an IMAX theater in Concord, close to where we did the filming. It’s understandable why so many people love “The Hunger Games” – the quick plot and edgy topics, the real characters and beautiful story. But I love it for a bigger reason – because “The Hunger Games” gave me one of the best summers of my life.

Julia Bartel, 14, is in ninth grade at North Raleigh Christian Academy.

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