As the creator of such cult classics as “Election,” “Sideways,” and “The Descendants,” Alexander Payne has demonstrated his mastery of story. The extras in his films are not just backgrounds or stage hands but integral elements to the narrative.
This post will explore using extras as a critical storytelling tool and discuss some examples of how this technique is employed in Alexander Payne’s work.
What are Extras?
Extras are the individuals who populate your story but do not have any speaking lines or major impact on your characters. They do not affect the plot but instead serve as a figurative and literal stage on which that plot can play out. They allow you to stage a scene without feeling limited by the script, and they can be used to portray a certain atmosphere or mood.
They are called extras because they were originally supposed to be the background. They were paid less than the main actors, so they did not need much training. They were there to fill in the background, making it seem as if your world was more alive and lived in. More recently, however, directors have realized that extras can be used for more than just atmosphere. The natural ebb and flow of extras can add a sense of realism to your scene or script that would otherwise be lost.
Importance of using Extras
Giving our characters backstories, traits, and qualities that we identify and empathize with can be used to create a deeper connection between the audience and characters.
Adding extras in a scene can be used to create a sense of mood or atmosphere that would otherwise be missed. A place could look empty but feel frantic if you have an extra walking around places, or add laughter and bustle as if it were late in the day despite being at night.
Sometimes even the smallest aspects of a scene can be altered if we add extra visual details. What would happen in the same situation with that extra in place? By mixing up the extras with different types of people, you can create more realistic and believable scenarios.
You can create a sense of artificiality in your scene and narrative by creating an artificial setting. Using extras that are not there but do not appear, you can make the scene a bit more surreal and alienating than if you were to use real people.