What ‘Back to One’ Means – Film Extra Tips from a Professional

When I was a young teenager, I was given an opportunity to work on a film set as an extra. I still remember the feeling of excitement that rushed through my veins as I stepped out of my mom’s car and onto the set. There were cameras, makeup artists, lighting equipment and an energy in the air that was so thick you could cut it with a knife. While I thought I was prepared for my duties as an extra, there was one thing I didn’t know, which was the saying, “Back to One.”

As an extra, you will be given verbal cues as to when to move and when to return to your starting point. Within this particular situation, my role was to simply walk across the street. Sound simple enough, no? After walking (an award winning walk, might I add), the director yelled “Cut!” and the production assistant in charge of extras yelled, “Back to one, everyone!”

I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights. I looked around, hoping the movements of my fellow extras would hint as to what this meant. Standing with an air of confusing quickly engulfing me, a makeup artist, who became my on-set buddy, rushed to my side to fill me in.

Looking into my eyes she said, “Honey, what’s wrong?” Embarrassed, I replied, “I don’t know what ‘Back to one’ means.” I swear she tried to hold back a serious bout of laughter, but tenderly she said, “Well, it’s exactly as it sounds – go back to your original starting point.”

Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my mind. Trying not to look dumb, I thanked her for this information and quickly made my way back to my starting point. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know what that meant. But, to my surprise, after talking with several seasoned extras that day, the majority of them also didn’t know what that phrase meant on their first day on the job.

As an extra, you are given your starting point, which is sometimes marked on the ground with an X or T formation. This is your “One” spot. After moving to your next destination, or your “Second” spot, you must then quickly head back to your original location once the production assistant gives the cue.

While this article may seem a little arbitrary to some, I hope that my experience educates you, and helps prevent some budding new extra from standing frozen in time after hearing, “Back to One!”

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