As the CBC/BET TV series The Porter prepares to go before the cameras in Winnipeg next week, the need for extras remains urgent, says Kari Rieger of the local casting agency Kari Casting.
"We are still in need of hundreds of Black extras, specifically men between the ages of 18 and 70 years," Rieger says.
"We will be booking throughout the four-month shoot of June 3 to Sept 17," Rieger says. "They will be in various scenes such as a jazz club, church, union meetings, the town of St. Antoine in Montreal, train stations and many more.
"Eighty percent of the extras on the show will need to be Black," she adds.
Showrunner/writer and producer Marsha Greene acknowledges some hesitancy may be due to the province’s currently high COVID-19 infection rates. But Greene asserts strict COVID-19 protocols will be followed on the set.
"Today, just randomly, I was reading this article which was about how all film sets were the safest place to be and that’s because we have these very, very rigid COVID protocols," Greene says, referring to an article in the Friday Globe and Mail.
Still, when you think about extras, one typically pictures a crowd scene, which might be a risky proposal during a pandemic.
"We don’t have any of that," Greene says. "If we have to have a crowd scene, we have a reduced number of people and then we use visual effects to fill out the crowd rather than actually crowding people inside somewhere.
"People are kept separate, whereas before, maybe all the extras would be in one area hanging out. We have to accommodate so that you can only have a certain amount of people in an area," she says. "Of course, all the people the extras come in close contact with, in terms of hair and make-up and wardrobe, will be masked and shielded.
"We have a COVID safety reps on set with us all the time, making sure everyone follows the guidelines we all have to follow to keep us all safe," she says. The show will also employ frequent COVID-19 testing of all cast and crew.
The film-set tradition of having extras cast and crew dine in one place will also being jettisoned for safety reasons.
"We can’t have shared meals anymore. We have individual meals," Greene says. "We just cannot have the kind of communal experience we want to get. That’s really important for our safety.
"People should know we are taking it incredibly seriously," Greene says. "We’re actually very grateful to be working in this time and for Winnipeg to have welcomed us here to make this show.
"We’re just trying to feel like family and have fun while we tell this really important history to our country while remaining really safe and following all the guidelines."
Greene shares that the series will focus on four characters, two men and two women, who tell a story of Black life in the early 20th century. It’s a historical show, but it’s also a show that is itself making history, she says.
"We have this all-Black creative team and we’re telling this untold story," Greene says. "We’re having as much Black crew as we can get to tell this story.
"I guess it’s something we just want to be able to share with as many people from the community as we can. There is obviously our need, but there really is a feeling among us on the show about the importance of what we’re doing.
"It just makes us even more passionate about the project and I’d love to share that with the people in Winnipeg — not just come in and infiltrate the city but really have people be a part of it," she says. "So that when they see it on television eventually they can feel like this is their story."
The series is produced by Winnipeg-based Inferno Pictures Inc. and Sphere Media’s Toronto-based Sienna Films.
An application for extras is available online at karicasting.ca.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.