Tag Archives: Sidehustle

Filming a TV Show in NYC in a Pandemic

EMT’s jump into a vintage ambulance and speed off past NYPD Chevy Caprices. The backdrop: a spooky, mostly disused hospital on the fringes of New York City. Two menacing men in flat-top fades and thick gold chains saunter toward the entrance.

This is the world I spent yesterday in, as a background actor (also known as an extra) playing an EMT for a popular cable show. Background acting is a fun hobby I picked up in late 2019, but I hadn’t done a gig since the beginning of COVID. But now I’m fully vaccinated and back in the game.

So what’s it like to film a television show in New York City in the middle of a pandemic? First, be prepared to get COVID tested a lot, even if you’re vaccinated. I took a COVID test 10 days before the shoot, a rapid test at the fitting one week out, another test 4 days out, and yet another rapid test as soon as I arrived on set.

But that’s not all. You have to fill out an online form about symptoms and travel every day you come in. Even on the shoot day, you wear a mask at all times unless you’re on camera or eating.

Even with these changes, filming is a lot of fun! I wore an elaborate costume that had been tailored to fit me personally. The tailor even sewed “EMT New York City” patches onto the uniform. I was rather honored to have such a fuss made over me, despite being just a background actor.

I had the opportunity to ride in a 1982 Ford ambulance like this one, which was fascinating! My fellow EMT, who was also a trained stunt driver, took the wheel. I also got to see circa 1990 NYPD squad cars on the set, which is a rare opportunity.

The episode was set in 1991 and we filmed in a remote part of New York City. I can’t get into specifics on the show until it airs later this year, but I was incredibly impressed at the very real little world they had created. Two characters had Timberland boots, thick gold necklaces, and tall, fade-style Afros cut specially for the scene. The cars were picture perfect. There’s something about seeing a little world where the past has been recreated, and becoming a part of it, that’s quite thrilling.

In all, with the many tests and fitting and elaborate setup, I was only actually on camera for maybe 90 minutes. That footage will later be cut down to probably just a few seconds. The amount of work that goes into making a perfect scene that may last just an instant is incredible.

I look forward to being a part of lots of other interesting shows soon!

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Photos:

“VFS Film Production: ‘Milligan’s Stew'” by vancouverfilmschool is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“1982 Ford F-100 ambulance” by sv1ambo is licensed under CC BY 2.0