What are extras talking about?

I was watching Three’s Company a while ago and it had a Reagle Beagle scene that interested me. I’ve always wondered, what are the people sitting at the tables in the background talking about?

This may be an impossible question to answer, but who knows, maybe someone has been an extra before.

I’ve never been an extra in a movie, but was involved in a group scene in a college play. (I learned I loved backstage work!) We were given no specific lines that weren’t in the script, but were expected to come up with “covering” sounds and movements to make the scene appear more natural. I remember having a “squabble” with my “boyfriend” in a scene from " Dark of the Moon".

I would figure they’re just making up stuff as they go along. Writing up scripts for all the extras would take way too much time, especially in a crowded setting. I would figure they’d tell everyone to converse naturally about anything they wanted.

It would be kind of cool to know what people were talking about in episodes of Three’s Company, though. Real time machine.

I clearly remember a phrase written by maybe Harlan Ellison or perhaps David Gerrold, not sure who, sorry. But he was an extra in some scene and he said that in that case the parties were saying “Natter, natter, natter” and replying “Grummish, grummish, grummish.”

Hence why he sometimes used the phrase “Nattering and grummishing.”

Just a small data point on the question. I’m sure others will have better, more comprehensive, answers.

A friend of mine was an extra in the movie Avalon. He was a waiter in the background at the country club. He was told to just pretend to be taking people’s orders. So he said somthing along the lines of:

“We have a fine hashish today, sir”

“LSD for you, madam?”
His “customers” were elderly and he said the had no idea what he was talking about and thought he was just saying gibberish.

My experience with stagework suggests that there are three possible things extras are talking about:

[ul][li]Actual, in-character discussions or arguements, which are intended to look natural to the director.[/li]
[li]Their personal lives, gossip, politics, pros and cons of potential and actual romantic partners, and how much better they could play this role (often a justified observation).[/li]
[li]Vulgar jokes and comments intended to make the other person laugh.[/ul][/li]
Option number 3 seems to pop up more and more often as the run of a show goes on, because actors are getting bored with the play.

It also depends on the scene as well. Sometimes extras are just moving their mouths and not saying anything outloud so they can capture the main actor dialoge. They loop the background chatter in later.

This is most likely in a filmed or taped setting, where getting the dialogue down is the only thing they sound people want to hear, and all necessary background noise can be edited in later. I was an extra in a dance club scene once, and to get ready, they played about 4 bars of a dance tune, then filtered everything out except a synth bass drum thump, to keep the whole room of a couple hundred dancers in sync. We all gyrated silently in the background while the dialogue scene was filmed.

In a large scene in a stage play where a crowd is to mimic individual conversations, actors will improv about anything, make up nonsense, or fall back on various standby words like “rhubarb”, “watermelon”, and/or “canteloupe”, which are reputed to sound like naturally occuring conversation when a roomful of people say them all at once out of sync.

When my sister was an extra (back in the seventies) they were coached to say “peas and carrots, peas and carrots, peas and carrots” while trying to make ordinary body language movements.

That’s exactly what I heard from my mom. No idea how she would know that. She wasn’t an actress, and didn’t know anyone in the business that I was aware of.

A movie was filmed at a local school when I was in Vancouver. A few of my close friends were extras in it, since it was at their high school.

In some scenes, they were given a ‘motivation’ and told to go from there. They were fighting, or happy, or talking about homework. Some scenes were more involved. This particular movie involved a ‘big game’ at the end, where the athlete hero scores the winning touchdown. Obviously, they were told to cheer. One friend was a cheerleader (with the rest of the team) and they were actually performing a routine through the thing.

Other times, they weren’t really told to do anything other than to not look at the principal actors, the dog, or the cameras.

For the record, it was Air Bud: Golden Receiver. I doubt it will launch any of their careers.

Rhubarb is a well-known one.

Wikipedia says:

“It is or was common for a crowd of extras in acting to shout the word “rhubarb” repeatedly and out of step with each other, to cause the effect of general hubbub. As a result, the word “rhubarb” sometimes is used to mean “length of superfluous text in speaking or writing”, or a general term to refer to irrelevant chatter by chorus or extra actors.”

Interesting question. Nothing to add but to say I’d like to see many more responses here. I know we have acting dopers and I really WOULD like to know what they were saying in the Regal Beagle.

I can’t remember which show it was, but one episode had an older actor claiming that he created the “wallah.” He then asked for all the other folks in the room to demonstrate it. Everyone just started saying, “Walla wallah wallah” and acting like they were really having a conversation with the other folks at their tables.

I also imagine that some of the extras are rehearsing their lines for another show.

Whan i lived back in Australia, a scene from an Australian drama series was being shot at a local bar. The extras in the background were told to make their lips move and to appear as if they were talking, but to make no sound at all.

Not only that, but the scene called for a couple of extras to be walking across the room at various points, and those people were asked to take their shoes off and walk in their socks/stockings so that they wouldn’t make distracting noises.

That was David Gerrold, recounted in his book on the making of the ST ep “The Trouble With Tribbles.”

Michael Winterbottom talking about his movie Wonderland:

What normally happens in a film is that you’ll shoot an 11pm pub scene at 11am in the morning. The pub will be empty and you’ll fill it with extras saying ‘rhubarb’ to each other. And then you’ll edit out all the ‘rhubarbs’ and put over talking tracks, which feel false. Instead, we decided to film the scene in the pub at 11pm when it’s full of people who are drunk and are preparing to go home.

I’ve been an extra in a number of films, and I also went to the “nadder nadder gromish gromish” school of acting (pronunciations may differ from coast to coast).

I’ve been an extra several times - if it was with people I knew, we’d spend the time trying to crack each other up by various means, such as surreptitiously revealing rude body parts at inappropriate times. Or once during a picnic scene, by trying to stuff as much food into our mouths as possible, then turning our heads to show our buddies what we’d done. If it was strangers, we’d just go “wibble wibble wibble” and smile and nod.

I was also in an ad where there was no soundtrack, but I had to look like an angry executive in the boardroom, so I was waving a piece of paper and shouting “I’m a doctor and I want my sausages!” I was on screen in the final cut for about half a second.

I’ve been a movie extra.

For long shots, street scenes with people passing by and the like, we’d generally be talking about anything: the weather, sports, you name it.

Closer shots might be the same, but they might also require silence from us extras while the principals had dialogue. So we’d talk to each other silently–mouth moving as if we were actually speaking words, but not using the voice. Try saying something like, “Did you see the Patriots game last Sunday? Brady threw some great passes” without using your voice to get an idea of what we were doing.

In one scene, another extra and I were in a bar. We were supposed to be quietly laughing and talking with a principal actor, who would spot his friend across the room, say goodbye to us, and go to join his friend. Up to that point, there would be background bar noise; after the two principals met, their dialogue would take over.

But we two extras keyed in on the “laughing” part of the director’s instruction, and told jokes to each other, very quietly. Problem was, we got the principal laughing so hard, the shoot had to be delayed a few minutes while he recomposed himself. After that, the director told us to concentrate on sports and weather while smiling a lot. We did, and the scene still worked.