In the last decade, many foreign companies have started to augment their filming operations here in Colombia. The reason for the increased presence of film projects in Colombia are many-fold; Colombia has many different shooting locations to offer in one country (jungle, the ocean, historic architecture and modern cities), Colombia’s weather allows for film companies to shoot during the whole year, the exchange rate to the US dollar makes filming in Colombia very accessible and the fact that security in Colombia has increased dramatically in the past decade (the US State Department has lifted warnings on Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena). The filmed productions in Colombia range from syndicated TV shows, to car commercials, to movies, such as the comedy El Paseo.
If a foreign person is seriously thinking about making a career of working as an extra/actor in Colombian TV, then the first step this person should take is to register with as many casting agencies as possible. Probably the best agency in terms of prompt payment and the agency that is most enthusiastic about working in TV and movies is the Rudiger Kunze Casting Agency (send photos and contact information in Spanish or German to firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 301 662 0565). Once you get a relationship going with Rudi, you will likely be sent on casting calls for movies, commercials as well as have semi-consistent work as an extra.
The advantages of working in Colombia as a foreign extra are numerous; #1) It is a job that is easily done (and probably preferably done) while drunk, #2) The foreign extra needs nothing in the way of work visas, a Colombian bank account or a RUT to work in Colombia, #3) Speaking Spanish is not necessary either and it is to the extra’s advantage the less Spanish he or she knows (the costume designer won’t insist that you try on the same size of pants that are two sizes too small fifty times if you can’t understand what he is saying).
Which foreigners will have the most success in movies and TV in Colombia?
“Foreign white guys who look like cops or ex-marines will always have a solid future in the movie and TV business in Colombia,” replied Irish actor Pádraig Victor Ciarán Sweeney.
Are there any foreigners who shouldn’t work as actors/extras in Colombia?
“Foreign white males with glasses, a concave chest and unable to grow a mustache have no business working as extras in Colombia,” replied the always candid Mr. Sweeney.
For those of you without a concave chest, once registered with Rudiger Kunze, you will receive calls that will be for anything from;
Extra roles in TV programs – The pay is $90,000 – $120,000 a day
Appearing in movies – The pay is anywhere from $300,000 – $600,000 a day
Recording commercials – The pay is $700,000 – $1,600,000 pesos for a day’s work
Modeling jobs – The pay can go up to $3,000,000 pesos per day
The typical casting call involves showing up at the location of the audition, trying to memorize lines and making as many false promises and embellishments to whoever is in charge of the audition as possible. This author can remember a time when he told the director’s assistant that he was friends with the guy who designed the Weinstein Company Logo.
“Oh really, I am trying to get work as an actress in the United States. Do you have any contacts in the movie business?” asked the director’s assistant, biting firmly onto the bait.
“Yeah, I have a few friends,” lying through my teeth.
“They are actors?”
“My friends work mostly in special effects,” making the fluid transition from reality into acting. “I have one friend who designs the animation at the beginning of the movies when the film’s logo appears,” I claimed, slowly reeling her in.
“Maybe I could take down your information and contact you when I get to the United States?”
After we exchanged information and the audition was finished, I accentuated my embellishment by saying, “Diana, you should definitely write me an email so you can get in touch with my friend in L.A., he says that he has a big project coming up soon.”
Since casting calls are very competitive and very rarely lead to real money, it is more sustainable to focus on work for extras. Information about extra work is sent out the night before via text messages and email. The information is usually pretty limited. A typical message might read: “Recording for Capo 3, tomorrow 9am, CARRERA 50#17-77.”
The roles for this type of work are highly varied, some common roles include; bouncer, cop, ex-prisoner, stripper, luggage handler, foreign businessman, embassy employee or ex-military. A former Dutch actor in Colombia had some timely advice for succeeding as an extra, “My best advice is; if you really want to do it (extra work) forget about any sense of pride, dignity and western critical thinking.”
Some of these minor roles will even include dialogue, “I’ve had basic lines, but nothing terribly complicated, a few in English and one time in Spanish. The pay for being a standard extra rarely gets higher than $120,000,” commented an Irish actor named Brendan Corrigan.
“The opportunity for dialogue seems to go up proportionally, the less experience you have at acting,” says a 56-year old German extra named Andre Tille.
“The text I was given was four sentences long. My character was a parody on how American businessmen conduct negotiations in Colombia. I was dressed in a business suit and given a briefcase to complete my character. My lines were comical. My first line was supposed to convey my impatience with my co-star’s poor English. ‘I am very annoying, I cannot know anything about business until the manager Ambres Perriera attends us,’” recounted Mr. Tille.
He went on by adding, “During my 20-minute rehearsal before my maiden voyage into acting, I was introduced to the two Colombian actors who would be playing opposite me and they seemed like quiet and normal guys. The kind of guys who would make great landscapers or employees at a car wash. Once the cameras started rolling, I realized what great actors they were. Each line of my dialogue sent them into intense fits of anger and contorted facial expressions. After our dialogue was over, our team of American businessmen were supposed to walk through the scene and off the set.
As I was walking off camera, I missed the door and rammed my knee into wall, almost toppling the entire set. The director loved my exit and almost fell down, he was laughing so hard. During the next two hours of filming, he would come up to me on the set and ask if I was free of pain. After eating lunch with the other extras, the director, (still chuckling to himself) asked me how much longer I would be in Colombia. He took my phone number in case he had any work for me in the future.”
The difference between being a foreign extra in Colombia versus being a Colombian extra is that foreign extras get paid $100,000 a day (and paid the same day) to work as extras versus Colombians who get paid $30,000 per day (which is paid to them 30 days after filming). The schedule for each TV program varies but usually lasts at least 8 hours. Foreigners will also have access to a lot more exotic work just based on the fact that they are in shorter supply than local actors. “Some foreign people have managed to get roles in the likes of National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad, they seem to shoot in Colombia quite regularly. The pay and treatment in those is much better, but the opportunities are few and far between,” asserted Mr. Corrigan.
What is the typical day like on the set as an extra? Most of the day is spent standing in line waiting to be added to the time sheet, standing in line waiting for your wardrobe, standing in line for your food, standing in line to use the port-a-potty, you are then on camera for 20 seconds (opening a door for a Colombian actor playing a lawyer) and then finally waiting in line for your money at the end of filming. An inside tip for the more ambitious foreign actors; they should use the long hours of standing in line as a networking opportunity. It also wouldn’t even be a bad idea to print up some business cards with your photo, name and phone number to hand out to other actors as well as directors while you are on the set. The most stellar of extras have Blackberry phones which they can get the pins from other phones and receive the latest extra work info via their phone 24-hours a day.
The best way to start a conversation with another extra is, “Do you know the casting agent (insert name)? That guy owes me $180,000 pesos.” After chit-chatting with the other extras for a few minutes you can ask for their pin numbers and hand out your business cards.
Once you get a few key contacts of people sending you reliable work leads, you will have pretty consistent work in acting and extra work. Although there is no guarantee that this will lead to you being invited to pool parties with Colombian models, but you will most likely be able to cover most of your food and living expenses during your stay in Colombia.
…When the country of Peru is mentioned, one imagines a peaceful scene of an Andean alpaca grazing along an Incan stone wall. When Ecuador is brought up, we imagine a rain forest panorama of frogs jumping off branches while butterflies mate in the background. When Colombia is mentioned, we envision a post-apocalyptic city full of overturned buses, being pillaged by men in ski masks. It is obvious which country any rational person would seek to avoid while searching for an internet bride.
“48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong” is a true adventure story about a 37-year-old socially-awkward man who decided that the best way he could deal with a life sentence of microwavable burritos and 10-hour Facebook marathons was to look online for a girlfriend in Colombia and then hop on a flight to Colombia’s capital in pursuit of a woman he has never met.
During his first month in Bogota, Brian falls in with two white, self-assured backpackers who the author describes as, “…not the kind of guys who pump the brakes before going through an uncontrolled intersection.” He is then nearly kidnapped during an encounter with a woman he met online, almost becomes business partners with a Korean man in the “diamond business” and is forced to sleep in the DVD room of his hostel due to lack of funds.
Brian quickly regroups after his first month and auditions for the part of “congressional aide” in a Colombian feature film called “Left To Die.” He then lands a job as a writer for an English-language newspaper where his first interview is with a “suspected undercover CIA agent.” Brian then gets thrown off a TV set for refusing to take off his shirt from under his police uniform. While Brian is not getting thrown off TV sets, he marvels at all the discarded construction materials Colombians throw into pot holes to lessen their depths. Because of this strategy, a bus going over one of these open trenches (full of construction materials) will occasionally sling a chest-high brick through a group of panic-stricken pedestrians.
Brian sincerely believed this trip would put him on a track towards a life of excitement, intrigue and exotic women, far from his increasing first world debt. Instead, he unexpectedly falls into a job as an extra in a Colombian soap opera, has panic attacks, watches other gringos lose their marbles and blows half his paycheck on bootlegged DVD’s. Along the journey, he chronicles his friendships, the deranged ex-pats he meets, and his struggles/triumphs, including one fateful night in a Israeli restaurant that would change his life forever.
To view the complete book, “48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong,” go to …