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How To Randomize A Crowd

Most of the time, you’re not going to deal with more than a handful of extras in any one scene. That’s because extras are people, too, and people cost a lot of money.

Still, every once in a while, you’ll get a crowd scene. The problem with a crowd of extras is that, at a certain point, they stop being individuals and become a single mass of humanity. From the extras’ PA position, it can become really easy to be a jerk.

Don’t do that.

But that’s not what this post is about, anyway. Most likely, the director isn’t going to want them to act like a single, uniform mass. You’ll be instructed to break your extras up into groups, so they can be given separate directions (this section cheers, that section boos, whatever).

Your first thought might be to just walk into extras’ holding and split the room up by where they happen to be sitting. “This half of the room is Group A, this half is Group B,” or something like that.

There’s a couple problems with this. First, in any group of fifty people, at least five of them will forget what group they’re supposed to be in. If you have a lot of extras, that’s quite a few idiots asking you what they should be doing.

Plus, this division won’t be truly arbitrary. People like to sit next to their friends, and so you’re likely to create groups that look and act alike. This is probably not what you want.

There’s a better method– divide the extras by their birth months.

There are twelve months in a year, and the fun thing about the number twelve is,1 it’s divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6. That covers most of the ways a director might want to divide her crowd.

Just as importantly, everybody remembers what month they were born. When the AD calls over a megaphone, “Everyone born in January, February, or March, stand up,” (approximately) a quarter of the people will stand.

Birth months are also useful when you need a reaction to build. For instance, maybe the hero gives a rousing speech in front of a theater. After a moment of stunned silence, the villain begins slowly clapping. Then a few people join in. Then a few more, and a few more, until the whole room erupts in applause.

Again, the number twelve comes in handy. First, cue everyone born in January…

Then, everyone born in February and March…

After that, April, May, and June…

Finally, everyone applauds…

This is only useful if you have a fairly big crowd; say, over 50. If you have only 20 extras, by mere coincidence, you might get five or six people born in the same month.2

Bonus! If the AD hasn’t already thought of this (even though it is fairly common), you’ll get brownie points for being clever and organized.

* * *

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Okay, that’s enough of a plug. Go out there and wrangle extras!

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Yes, I’m a big enough nerd that I think some numbers are “fun.”
  2. Strangely, if you have 23 extras, odds are better than even that at least two people will share a birthday.
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2 Responses

  1. I work as bg, and I love the month method! Also, I love it when production puts the alphabet signs for sign out ABOVE the desk. Cuz the 200 bg cannot see the letters if they are hanging off the desk. Stampedes start this way.

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