Breaking the Mold: Boukary Breakdances Way to New Worlds

Boukary Niakate in action at Snug Harbor in Charlotte (photo courtesy Knockturnal)

By Fredy Rodriguez Mera

In a club ambience, two big pieces of plywood are set on the floor forming a rectangular shape, quickly stuck together with duct tape and ready for a pounding. As in many sports routines, an initial warm-up starts the competitive juices flowing as one-by-one the dancers spontaneously hit the dance floor. Money, reputation, and respect hangs on the line as the audience screams for their favorite and amplifies the pressure. One dancer machine guns short leg kicks while spinning around his planted arm, resembling a car doing a doughnut; another uses his own head as an axis, spinning with legs wide open and using his arms as thrusts. Unlike most dances, this one can make you dizzy standing still.

The art of breakdancing was born from the hip-hop beats in the 70s in the New York City borough of the Bronx. It has become a cultural phenomenon that has spread all over the world and inspired many. That long reach includes one of tonight’s performers at Snug Harbor in downtown Charlotte, Frenchman Boukary Niakate, someone whose passion has taken him further than he ever expected. “Breakdancing has shown me that you only need to share one passion to connect,” says Boukary. “When I arrived in New York, I barely knew English, but that didn’t matter because dancing became the first language and thanks to that I have been able to communicate with people that have led me to travel the world.”

The Mali-born Boukary is a 26-year-old who left his home country and was raised in the suburbs of Pontault Combault, outside Paris. Thanks in great part to breakdancing, the third youngest of 16 siblings has spent most of his life doing the things he loves; dancing, filming and traveling the world. Breakdancing, his ultimate passion, has allowed him not only to compete and show his talent but opened doors of opportunities around the globe.

Eleven years ago, one afternoon while walking home from school, Boukary stopped outside a training room and was enlightened by what he saw and how cool it was. “I stopped and watched for a long time,” he says. Boukary observed break-dancers through the street window, but it wasn’t until months later that the opportunity to take action was presented to him. Thanks to a friend of one of his brothers who began breakdancing, Boukary got the chance to visit the same training room he used to observe and got a taste that never went away.

As soon as he stepped inside that room and discovered a passionate and driven community, a member immediately introduced himself and spontaneously began teaching Boukary small moves that would take him on a big voyage. “At this time, I said I want to do this all my life,” he said, smiling and sure of his decision.

Boukary soon joined the French dance crew whom he met, called Outlaw. Before discovering his dancing talents, he looked to have a promising future in the local soccer team, which he ditched to pursue his artistic talents. In the following years, using breakdancing as his passport, Boukary got to travel all around Europe performing in local, national, and international competitions, plus also often exhibiting theater performances. By the age of 17 he had traveled over most of France and by the age of 20 through most of Europe.

But he wasn’t just dancing. Boukary attended university and earned degrees in history, dance, and music. He also joined a rock band called W.E.T, which had its moment of fame on national French TV. He also created his own dance company by the time he was 23 years old. “It was hard for me to deal with all this, it took a lot of commitment.” he says.

His company Groove Workers was the fruit of his Outlaw and W.E.T band experience. The philosophy of the company was to incorporate classic, break and contemporary dance together with jazz music to tell a story on stage. The company has gotten a lot of praise and has charged up to 2,000 Euros to perform at special events. Knowing that he was able to create the company, he applied everything he had learned, and saw film as the art form that would catapult him overseas, so his film project was born.

Self-taught about filming and editing, Boukary embarked on his first film, From New York to New Orleans. The plan was simple: Boukary and his musician friend Valentin Lepagnez dreamt of a

French poster for Boukary Niakate’s second film, “From Seattle to Los Angeles”

road trip around the East coast of the U.S. to explore art culture and the birth of jazz. They pitched the project to various sponsors in France, and got half of the $6,000 budget. Over the course of their travels, they connected with other artists.  “It was like we knew each other long time ago, but it was because we were musicians and no matter who we were, we had that instant friendly connection.” Boukary says.

Musicians, dancers, and skaters from all back grounds were filmed, unknown local artists like Boukary and Valentin. They wanted to show artists that did the same things they did, and highlight their stories and how they came to be, but also show how artistic localism varied around different parts of the East coast.

From New York to New Orleans was shown in over 20 theaters in France, and in one small town so many people attended that even local officials were impressed. “The mayor told me that he couldn’t believe how many people my film attracted and how there were people from all classes united by the film,” Boukary says.

One of the friendships Boukary made on the way to New Orleans was in Charlotte, where he first met Mark Robertson while dancing at Snug Harbor. “He is such a nice person with so much energy, I knew he was going to be good, but not amazing,” Mark says when asked about how good Boukary is. After more than a dozen times competing against each other, often for money and bragging rights, they know how to leave their friendship aside when hitting the dance floor. “He is a tough competitor that never quits, but after the music stops I just can’t help but smile with him, I admire his talent,” Mark says.

Boukary went on to create a film sequel, From Seattle to Los Angeles, which followed the same structure as From New York to New Orleans, meeting with local artist and interacting with them. “I was curious to see how artists differentiated from the East coast, Seattle is also a main city for rock music and Los Angeles has a strong connection with skate boarding and breakdancing,” he says.

But in between these projects, Boukary was offered an opportunity by a dancing academy in France to travel to Peru and Madagascar to volunteer and teach dance in local schools. He said that it was important for him to teach such uncommon dance in those countries because maybe one day some of them would have the opportunity to travel because of it, just as he did. “It was a great experience, and helped me to see the world even more. It’s amazing where dance can take you,” Boukary says.

In his journey, Boukary has had not only the support of his big family and all the friends made along the way, but from his fiancé whom he met in kindergarten, Aurelia Gaza. “She is my best friend and the love of my live, she has motivated big part of my success,” he says fondly. For years they sustained a long-distance relationship while she arrived first to the States for her bachelor’s degree, as he went around countries. This year Boukary decided to settle down and make Charlotte his home base from wherever he decides to go next.

Boukary’s passions have taken him further than he had ever thought, he’s traveled several countries, and touched the heart of many people showing his talent through the art of breakdancing. For him this is just the beginning and at such young age he plans to follow his filming success, “I am very excited for what the future holds and all the places I have yet to travel, I can’t wait.”

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Jonny Fung | A Thinker in the World of Music

Jonny Fung. Photo property of Sol Fusion BandBy Miranda Stryker

“I’m only getting one record, but definitely no more than three,” says Jonny Fung, beaming at the gospel and R&B vinyl section at Manifest Discs.  Holding up a Jesse Johnson record, he exclaims,  “Oh man, do you know who this is? This is D’Angelo’s guitarist right now. I opened for them in Aruba with Anthony [Hamilton]! It was so sick, I gotta get this!”

Charlotte-raised Fung has evolved from playing local venues and bars with friends as a youngun’ of the local rock scene to becoming a well-rounded, full-time professional musician. Fung is now recording with Grammy-winning producer Cedric Thompson, touring with neo-soul artists Tamia and Anthony Hamilton, and making his own way in the R&B and gospel world.  Lately he has been prepping for an upcoming live recording with gospel artist John P. Kee as well as headlining Charlotte’s uptown New Years Eve celebration, First Night, with the band Sol Fusion.

But Fung has never been your typical “artist,” and his path has been one of passion and dedication, one that’s been full of surprises.

Growing up, Fung was a short, skinny nerd who was socially awkward.  He was a good student and had friends but was an introvert by nature.  Generally, he just felt more comfortable keeping to himself—off stage, that is.  At Providence High School, he played a lot of heavy, progressive rock because that’s what he liked.  To add to his role as the shy, smart dude that shreds heavy metal guitar, “I had longer hair than anyone! It literally touched my waist,” he says, laughing and conceding that this may have magnified his social awkwardness.

For Fung, playing his guitar was a means to “get the demons out,” something he needed as much as he loved.  On stage, his other personality would emerge: the guitarist flinging his hair around, playing his instrument behind his head, making crazy stank faces, and taking his shirt off, among other show antics not exactly characteristic of a typical introvert. He loved the attention and couldn’t get enough.

From a young age, Fung has always had an intense curiosity for figuring out exactly how things worked.  It’s a trait he probably inherited from his engineer father, Raymond Fung. Music was the first thing that fascinated Jonny and gave him the urge to understand every aspect of it, probably subconsciously influence by his mother Jill Fung, a concert cellist.  Aside from his first clarinet at age seven, he took piano lessons for a couple of years until receiving a guitar for Christmas at age 10.

There wasn’t a particular band or music type that made him want to play—like any other 10-year-old boy he thought it would be “neat.”  Not long afterward, though, he was taking composition and improvisation lessons with critically acclaimed Charlotte-based jazz pianist and composer, Claire Ritter.  From then on he was completely hooked.  In high school, he would doodle compositions during class.  Every day after school he would go home, and while other kids were on AIM, riding bikes, or melting their brains with video games, Fung would practice for hours at a time.

Ritter had a major impact on Fung, ranging from his playing to his organization and thinking.  “I’m definitely a neat freak, and probably because of Claire,” he says.  “I just loved the way she had file cabinets with all the sheet music in it organized and labeled.  And all of her pencils were in the same place every time.”

He studied with Ritter for a little over four years, and though he refuses the prodigy label, Ritter says Fung was one of her creative prodigies.  “As a young student, Jonathan had a quiet, introspective disposition,” says Ritter. “He was intrigued with color and sound, multiple instruments, and was a natural performer, and I knew early that he had the aptitude to be a professional musician/composer.”  From his original compositions to the titles he gave them, he was a unique talent with a sharp ear.

Ritter had him learning the compositions of legendary jazz composer Thelonious Monk when he was in fifth grade, an artist she believed to be a sturdy foundation for young musicians to learn about “spice chords” and phrasing.  That influence must have really stuck because Fung and his now-wife, Tara, even named their puppy after him.

Still, like most pragmatic college graduates, Fung didn’t think he could make a living just playing music.  So he spent his first few months out of school as an administrative assistant at a local cemetery.  But he’d apparently discovered the key to taking music from a hobby to a vocation.

“A lot of kids get enraptured with the ‘coolness’ of the scene,” he says with a newfound wisdom referring to the local Charlotte rock scene.  He remembered seeing Scapegoat, an early millennium Charlotte hard rock band, releasing their album These Cards We’re Dealt in 2004 at Tremont Music Hall, and thinking they were the coolest dudes in the whole world.  But with age and experience and an ever-increasing knowledge of music, Fung realized there was so much more to it than just being the coolest dude in the room, and that instead he could be the best. The more he practiced and learned, the more he realized how much more there was to learn and practice.  Fung began keeping practice logs—up to about 1,200 pages at this point—to document his thoughts and what he’s been working on for later reflection and future interests.

The way Fung thinks about music is different from other musicians that talk about the emotions they feel when playing or writing. He speaks about it more methodically and mathematically, and about the pieces and parts of it—the fascination of its construction. Philosopher and educator Cornell West once said, “I am a jazz man in the world of ideas.”  Fung says, “I consider myself a thinker in the world of music.”

The music he was deciding to play became less about what he liked to play and what was cool, and more about what he should be playing to make himself the best musician he could be.  This mentality was instilled in him by his parents with the “no matter what you choose to do, strive to be the best at it” pep talk.  They have always been fully supportive of him, and set good examples with a solid work ethic and passions, never forcing things on him but instead allowing it to come naturally.

Though Fung—his hair now short and quaffed slightly to one side—dedicated so much to learning everything he could about his craft, he still attended UNC-Chapel Hill as a political science major fully intending to get a day job with his degree. But he continued practicing adamantly and playing jazz around Chapel Hill throughout his college years. He came home most weekends to play in local soul rock band Lucky Five with his best friends.  When he graduated in May 2011 and moved back to Charlotte, he continued playing jazz at spots around town, like The Mill in NoDa.  Through demonstrations of his skill and passion during these performances, he made acquaintances with another side of the scene—the R&B and gospel side.

He began exploring that side of the music scene and got a job playing guitar at Forest Hill church in Charlotte.  Soon after making acquaintances with the producer Cedric Thompson, he got asked to record on a couple of new friends’ tracks and eventually found himself playing Maya Angelou’s 85th birthday party in Winston-Salem.  There, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Common, and later D’Angelo and Pino Palladino, among others.  Before he knew it, he no longer needed his office job to sustain himself—so he quit the cemetery gig.

As his next phase in his musical career journey, this guitarist hopes to become a producer.  He’s also been doing some composing, which Ritter was elated to hear. Knowing how coveted the producer position is, he has already begun messing around regularly with producing tools on his own compositions.

In keeping with his mathematical music thinking, Fung left Manifest with five records because he likes odd numbers. He probably went home to shred over them immediately.

Sharon Dowell — Capturing the Energy of Place in Paint

By Casey Smithling

If you’re familiar with the Merry Oaks neighborhood stretch of Central Avenue in Charlotte, you’re probably familiar with the bold, 20-foot long mural that contrasts layers of red and black architectural elements with the portrait of a ghostly female that serves as the subject of the composition. That’s the work of 33-year-old artist/teacher/gallery coordinator Sharon Dowell, who has recently been commissioned to create another large-format, site-specific piece in Charlotte, this time by CATS Transit at its new 25th Street light rail station in North Davidson.
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Dowell’s the ideal candidate in many respects. Her work, like the Central Avenue mural, is known for capturing the energy of a place via layers of figurative and architectural subjects — and who better to represent the people and energy of NoDa than a local artist and NoDa frequenter? Perhaps just as importantly, the murals serve notice of Dowell’s achievements and growing profile in the local arts scene.

Although the artistic gene runs on her mother’s side, Dowell is the first in her family to make a career out of the arts. From the age of 3, her parents noticed how taken their daughter was by the magic of crayons on paper. Despite her father being a logic-oriented safety engineer, he and his wife encouraged their daughter’s artistic inclination, even if she ran the risk of winding up a starving artist. Looking back, Dowell laughs at the acceptance her parents showed towards her interest in art as a career. “Maybe they thought I would marry well or something, be a trophy wife,” she jokes.

Luckily, Dowell was able to pursue her interests and make her passion a way of life. Normally light-hearted and joking in conversation, she turns into an equally energetic but more serious and passionate conversationalist when talking about the arts.

An original Texan, the modelesque, fashion-forward redhead graduated from UNC-Charlotte with a BFA in painting after moving here in 2000. Since graduation, she has been director at Center of the Earth Art Gallery in Charlotte, an arts editor for Seen uptown magazine, worked in corporate sales and social media for RedSky Gallery, and now serves as gallery coordinator and professor at UNC-Charlotte.

Her preferred medium hasn’t changed since those college days when she first discovered that she loved acrylics. Dowell’s ability to capture the energy of a place comes in part from using acrylics to create a dynamic scene of layers and textures, mirroring a city’s cultural fabric or political issues. She typically begins with an under painting taken from a de-saturated photograph. “I can build up physically, I can dig into it, paint back over it, see what that does, see where the paint gets caught up in the crevices,” she says.

Dowell has long had a fascination with figurative pieces, and the feelings and stories associated with people. She bashfully admits that back in her earlier days she painted candid street scene people. After graduating in 2003, the budding artist moved to the art capital of America, New York City, where she was inspired by the hustle and bustle of New Yorkers. Her concept of capturing the energy of place took a turn when she began thinking about architecture as a way to convey that.

“Architecture is a great way to capture that, especially with older buildings,” she says. “You think of all these windows and you think, well, ‘who’s lived there and what stories are held within the walls of those spaces?’” Since then, architectural facades and streetscapes have been the primary subjects of her work, abstracted and layered to reinforce the dynamism of our environments.

After spending a year in New York City, Dowell moved back to North Carolina where she was hired as assistant director in 2004 at the Center of the Earth Art Gallery owned by Ruth Ava Lyons. While the NoDa gallery is no more, Lyons says she admired Dowell’s “professionalism and friendly disposition.” Throughout Dowell’s Center of the Earth tenure, she managed to gain public recognition through exhibitions and awards, including Best New Artist and Best Local Artist issued by Creative Loafing.

Travel opportunities soon began to open up for Dowell, beginning in 2009 when she received an arts grant to travel to Iceland, a pristine landscape that she returned to in 2010 under the NES Art Residency. There, in paintings like Color Shift, she explored the idea of juxtaposing landscape and architecture, creating “a commentary on man’s relationship to nature,” she says.
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The following year, Dowell received a residency in Charlotte’s McColl Center. She was now able to work on projects that for a long time she’d been unable to. Charlotte magazine awarded Dowell Best Visual Artist in 2012. That same year, she received the Tyrone Guthrie Center Residency in Ireland, and more recently returned from a trip to San Jose, Costa Rica, where she observed beautiful landscapes amidst difficult third world conditions.

Those trips have ignited Dowell’s interest in struggling societies, which she translates into vibrant yet combative compositions. She says one piece, titled Usurpation, is about the Irish surviving famine, political divides, civil unrest, invasions, and the British Monarchy’s harsh imprint on the Irish.

In a recent exhibition at CPCC called Forged Landscapes, one large diptych titled They Never Saw the Ocean was inspired by a Netflix documentary on the history of gang violence in Los Angeles. At first glance They Never Saw the Ocean is clearly different from Dowell’s other works. The color palette is limited and the white space is used to show separation between the painted objects. The use of black is uncommon in Dowell’s vibrant palette, and seems to speak to the violence and self-destructive areas of L.A. Orange cubes are painted in groups, signifying the segmented ownership of gang territories.

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The new direction didn’t come without some trepidation, though. “I pulled back,” she says of the painting. “When you do something new and you put it out there you wonder what people think.”

Gallery coordinator at CPCC Grace Cote certainly liked it. She says Dowell’s paintings are a “bright, organic, vivid contrast, which, through their visual components of maps, streets, and¬ buildings, provide a wonderful visual echo.”

As much as her travels inspire her, Dowell loves Charlotte and sees herself staying put here in the future. In addition to introducing UNC-Charlotte students to art through Rowe Gallery, Dowell also partners with other departments at the university to arouse public interest. One of her initiatives has been to set up several gallery openings alongside other departments, like the architecture department, in order to help diversify and promote cross-disciplinary learning.

“There are still so many students within other departments and other majors that don’t even realize that we have an art gallery and don’t even know where the Rowe Arts Building is,” she says.

Outside the school environment, Dowell has worked with various public organizations including the YMCA, Freedom Partners, and the Shelter for Battered Women. “I’ve started to get more involved in different ways,” she says, “like giving back by donating pieces for auction or charities or being a mentor to younger artists.”

Her work on the 2009 Arts & Science Council/City of Charlotte commissioned mural has been the most impactful piece because it was designed alongside the community and people in the neighborhood. They got to voice what was important to their area, an idea that would intimidate a lot of artists but was welcomed by Dowell. She says, “The goal is to reflect the place where you’re creating the work and I really tend to enjoy that and the community interaction.”

As for her next public mural, Dowell is one of sixteen artists (from 383 proposals submitted to the LYNX Blue Line Extension) to create art for the new 9.3-mile transit line, which broke ground July 18, 2013. The projects submitted range from walls, bridges, parks, to the stations themselves. Despite the expected completion date being Spring 2017, Dowell’s mosaic mural is already well underway. Her role entails making a series of ceramic tile mosaic murals, designs for glass windscreens, column cladding for canopies, as well as railings and benches.

Normally a solo designer, Dowell is partnering with contractors, engineers, and architects to sort out budget, materials, and specifications. But her favorite part is working with the public to learn how it will resonate with the riders. “Over the past three years, we have already had several public meetings to show and discuss our early stage designs for the stations,” she says, adding that  “making a partnership” between the arts and the public is one of her goals.

Breaking the stereotype of a starving artist, Dowell’s made a life and career out of creating art that reflects a place’s energy. Charlotte is a vibrant, growing canvas for Dowell, a canvas that over time will reflect the energy of its artists, too. Like the city, Dowell has a lot to offer Charlotteans.

From Hunger Games to Homeland, Charlotte Locals Work as Extras

By Haley Twist

“Run like hell!” someone screams, inspiring pedestrians and shoppers to run for their lives outside the TCL Chinese Theater on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame. Groups of men and women dart pell-mell down the street past a traffic jam of cars and buses. But it’s too late: some people are thrown through the sky, while others melt and vaporize into thin air.

“Cut!” yells the assistant director of Iron Man 3, putting an instant halt to the pandemonium. These busy streets of Hollywood are actually the Iron Man 3 film set, and the pedestrians are standing in a huge green room where the filmmakers can later use computer-generated imagery (CGI) to add cinematic special effects.

Among the pedestrians is Lewis Herman, movie extra by day and J. Murrey Atkins Library information desk employee at UNC-Charlotte by night, hired as an extra for the scene. His job when the cameras start rolling is to quickly run in a predetermined direction until someone calls “cut.” When he hears this, he walks back to his mark and waits for “action!” to be called, alert and ready to shoot the scene many times more.

“The scene’s not done until they say ‘checking the gate,’” Herman says, who first began taking extra calls in 80s. “Usually there’s a long break while the cameras are moved and set up again.”

Like the other extras, Herman’s given specific instructions about how to act and when. In between takes, the extras wait — and wait…and wait…and wait — while equipment moves around, gaffers gaffe, actors re-think their motivation and writers’ re-write. In the life of an extra, there’s a whole lot of ‘hurry up and wait.’

In recent years, Charlotte and surrounding areas have become increasingly popular film locales. From older films like Steve Rash’s 1996 comedy Eddie and Peter Farrelly’s 2001 romantic comedy Shallow Hal, to the more recent Gary Ross novel adaptation The Hunger Games and the Showtime Emmy award-winning series Homeland, Charlotte is being featured more frequently on the big (and little) screen. This gives local movie or television buffs the chance to see the action first-hand — and sometimes even get paid for it.

Often called “the background,” “the atmosphere” or “the non-principal performers,” film and television extras have a unique job that differs on every set. From long days consisting of minimal work to short days filled with tedious activity, an extra’s point of view is unlike that of any other position on set.

“Each set is different,” said Richard Poplin, a recent UNC-Charlotte graduate who frequently appears on locally filmed television shows. “Each time you go, it’s something different because we are always shooting different things, from raves to being a cop. You never know what you are going to get.”

Whether it’s a vaporized pedestrian, a high-class businessman, an concert-goer or an Amish countryman, extras get the chance to wear many masks.

“It was a lot of things: terrifying, ego-squelching, boring, exhausting, and, yeah, kind of fun,” MSNBC.com contributor Kim Foreman wrote about her experiences as an extra on the set of Ugly Betty. “You get to go behind the scenes, get into secret places and see and do things that are normally off-limits. And when you see yourself on TV you jump up and down shrieking ecstatically and then show your friends the tape.”

Herman has similar feelings about appearing as an extra, but says the possibility of seeing himself on-screen never gets old. His Facebook cover photo even features a still of him appearing in The Hunger Games, made-up to look like a high-class member of the fictional Panem society and experiencing his own taste of stardom.

But the process to appear on the big screen is a long one, and it all begins with finding the gigs.

“Facebook is a great resource for finding these opportunities,” said Kayla Turner, a junior film studies student at UNC-Wilmington, who appears in multiple television shows shot regionally, including the CW’s One Tree Hill and Showtime’s Homeland. Turner adds that the local newspaper also lists which productions are in need of extras or stand-ins that are filming in town.  Another source is  the online film commission (website) and, of course, Google. But maybe the best resource of all is Tona B. Dahlquist, a casting agent who manages Charlotte-area productions as well as others in the southeast.

“(She) basically does all the casting for everything in the Charlotte area, so once you work for her one time on any set, and are reliable, you can pretty much count on working every project she has at least once,” says Poplin, who’s used social media to find casting opportunities like the The Hunger Games, Homeland and Cinemax’s Banshee.

Once added into her Facebook groups, which are often disguised as code words for larger, more well-known projects, extras have access to casting information and opportunities for surrounding area productions, including those in Charlotte, Gastonia, Wilmington and Atlanta.

Anyone interested in available casting opportunities can apply as long as they fit the criteria the filmmakers are requesting. That can range from “looking for a set of sisters ages 4-7” to “seeking women with an exceptionally unique derriere.” After an application is submitted and approved, the extras simply wait for the call sheet, which provides the where and when.

Once on set, which could be a studio, sound stage, green room or an outside location, extras are given their instructions for the day. Depending on the scale of the production and what the extras are playing, some have to bring their own clothing. But if it’s a larger or more specialized production, hair and makeup is often provided for the extras.

“One of the weirdest things was having to wear so much make-up during The Hunger Games,” said Poplin, who sported a teal toupee during the filming of the movie.

From there, the waiting game between takes begins. While some extras use the time to socialize and eat, others bring their own activities to keep them occupied, like their books, Nooks or crossword puzzles.

“A lot of people bring books or have their iPads, or even on the last set I was on, someone was knitting,” Poplin said. “Also, it’s not a bad idea to close your eyes and rest them for a few, considering most [shoots] are at least 12 hours.”

With such a unique job also come unique rules. Extras never talk to the actors while filming as to not distract them (after all, no one wants to experience a Christian Bale-like freak out from an uber-serious actor). Another is to never look at the camera while it’s filming. Herman admits that it’s really tempting to look in the direction of the camera, but it’s something that with practice can – and should — be avoided.

“If you ignore it, you can act much more naturally,” said Herman, who once ruined a scene by accidentally looking into the camera while filming Eddie in the old Charlotte Coliseum. “They yelled out ‘cut!’ and they said ‘Somebody looked at the camera and we have to do that over again.’”

While many extras first get involved in the business because of a passion for film, production or acting, the hard work and long hours earns them at least a little more than just experience. In Charlotte-area filming, the pay rate is usually $7.50 for the first eight hours, and then time-and-a-half for every hour worked after that.

“However, they also feed you and there are times where out of eight hours you might work two, so even though the pay is almost minimum wage, you still have a good chance to make a few dollars,” said Poplin, who has been using the money earned on film sets to sustain him during post-graduation life.

According to Herman, it’s possible to make a larger amount of money for contributing something additional that the production team is looking for, including smoking, biking and even nudity, the latter often paying a couple hundred dollars per day. If you’re able to land a speaking role, you may eventually be eligible for a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card, which could result in massive pay raises.

Many extras who prove they’re hardworking can even be called back on set for re-shoots, which occur when the director is not happy with the primary footage. That chaotic Iron Man 3 scene, shot in Wilmington, is a re-shoot of the original scene shot last June on a Wilmington sound stage.

“I like re-shoots because we’re more likely to be seen in the final picture,” said Herman, who traveled to Wilmington to appear in both the original scene and the re-shoot. Herman hopes that being an extra will eventually lead to a featured role, which would pay more, as it may or may not contain speaking and even lead to SAG card eligibility. Others are happy to continue as an extra for the mere experience, which can sometimes be more interesting than anticipated.

“I did make really good friends with this one actor (I won’t name who) and he turned out to be really inappropriate in his conversations with me and wanted to fly me out to L.A.,” said Turner. “I stopped talking to him, to say the least.”