Appearing on TV or in a feature film can be an interesting and memorable experience particularly as one advances in age.
The first time I appeared on screen was as a nine-year-old in 1958 in a BBC documentary Morning in the Streets which was filmed in Manchester.
My family had moved to this industrial smoke covered city from the green fields of east Mayo. The slum clearance programme was gaining momentum in Britain and the BBC wanted to preserve community life in those areas on film for future generations.
I was playing with an old car tyre when the camera crew arrived and filmed me as can be seen in the photo above. This documentary is available on YouTube. It records a working class community that was soon to be bulldozed and turned into tower blocks and roundabouts.
It was a community that had lived together since the industrial revolution and through two World Wars but would now be scattered to the new suburbs where nobody knew each other.
Of course the kids were happy moving to new estates with more green spaces but many older people were not too happy moving away from where their families had lived for generations.
Even though the back-to-back small ageing houses were not much to look at, there was a strong atmosphere of neighbourliness that could not be replaced in a new clean suburb.
The slum clearance would put an end to the local rag and bone man and the neighbour who would oblige when we had run out of sugar or milk. Supermarkets began to appear and the corner shop was gone for good.
When in Rome...
The local pawnshop was in great demand for those on a low income whether it was the dole or the old age pension as were the many corner shops who gave groceries ‘on tick’ to trusty locals. The prices were entered in a notebook until the customer was able to pay, which was usually at the end of the week.
My next appearance on screen occurred when I was hitchhiking around Europe in 1968. I was in Rome for a few days when I heard that film extras were needed for The Games starring Ryan O'Neill. A bus arrived at the youth hostel where I was staying and took a dozen or so of us to the film location at Tivoli.
It was a great experience for me at the age of twenty to be rubbing shoulders with actors, film producers and film crews. Many years later I had returned to Ireland at a time when work was scarce and I heard that producer Roger Corman had begun filming Angela Mooney Dies Again starring Mia Farrow and Brendan Gleeson. It was made in Uchtar Ard in Conamara and I managed to get a few days’ work in a number of scenes.
In 2016 Telegael in An Spidéal provided me with more work in the Jack Taylor TV crime series starring Iain Glen. Very soon after that, I was an extra in Murdair Mhám Trasna a TG4 funded film about three innocent men from Conamara that were hanged in 1882 for murder that has just been broadcast.
This film exposed the kind of justice that existed at the time in Ireland.
The scene in which I took part was made in Renmore Barracks in Galway where a replica scaffold had been erected. Seeing a simulated hanging of three men created a brutally sad and horrific atmosphere that I did not forget for a long time after that.
Never grow old
Along the way I got a some work as an extra in Ros na Rún the TG4 soap opera. My next stint came in Never Grow Old starring John Cusack and was made in Glengowla Mines in Conamara. Hundreds of extras from all over the place were involved and was very enjoyable despite the long days and the bad weather.
Overall, being an extra in feature films and on TV has been a great experience for me. I had a chance to observe the making of films and some of the various stages of its production.
From the casting process to the make-up and costume crew I got an insight into the skills of the mostly female workers who travelled the world to wherever the work was in that field.
At first, I did not like having make-up powders and lotions put on my hands and face and having my inside leg measurements taken by feisty females but I soon got used of it!
The mostly male camera and sound technicians and crews were meticulous in their insistence of getting a perfect production. Lots of the scenes had to be rehearsed over and over to near perfection.
Finally, I would highly recommend being a film extra for anyone who is interested filmmaking, whatever your age. It was for me an introduction to the many facets of the film industry that the general public don’t get to see. And who knows, the humble extra could even be discovered as a potential film star!