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October 8, 2015

I Was an Extra on 'Law & Order: SVU'

by Chris Harnick, posted Oct 19th 2011 2:30PM
It's a rainy Friday afternoon in late September and I'm in The Crazy Horse Cabaret, a strip club in the Bronx. To my left is a man dressed like a bloody doctor, to my right is a taller gentleman dressed as a caveman.

We're not speaking, although it looks like we're deep in conversation. The doctor orders shots from the bartender. I'm handed a glass, but the clear liquid is not vodka; I'm doing a shot of water. Don't feel sorry for me though -- we're on set of the 'Law & Order: SVU' Halloween episode.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

I got to experience the magic of TV firsthand as a background actor on the long-running NBC crime drama to get even more insight into how the show gets made, plus some time with the stars for one-on-one interviews.

What don't you see on TV? How about the fact that it takes roughly 20 minutes to shoot a portion of a scene -- and that's just from one angle. On traditional single camera shows like 'SVU,' they shoot scenes from a certain angle first, then film the exact same scene from the opposite angle, and sometimes a few more.

My scene was set in a Lower East Side bar on Halloween, but we filmed in the Bronx. That's TV for you. And, like the experience of most background actors, my scene didn't make the cut. That's typical show business.

In 'Missing Pieces,' the detectives race to find a missing baby. A young couple claim their car was stolen -- with baby inside -- on their way into Manhattan and the SVU' team must travel around New York searching for clues.

Below, check out my behind-the-scenes gallery to see what it's like being a background actor for a day. While on set, I interviewed 'SVU' stars Ice-T (Detective Fin Tutuola) and Danny Pino (Detective Nick Amaro) and included some of their comments in the gallery.

'Law & Order: SVU' airs Wednesday, 10PM ET on NBC

Follow Chris on Twitter.

This is the scene I was in. You can't see me, I was on the other side of the bar.

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Shirley Davidson

I have watched Law and Order SVU since it started and remain a fan of the show. However without Chris Meloni
the show is definitely missing something. The ensemble that worked is broken and the new members are fine, but they change the tone of the show. After years of sharing the personal stories of Olivia and Elliot, they became like family members You know what made them tick.. When Mariska took time off, the show was not the same, now Elliot is gone and it hurts the show. Their chemistry together as great partners cannot be replaced.
Thanks Chris Harnick for giving us a little insight into a day on the set. Extremely interesting. The interviews were good, especially with Ice-T. He is much warmer than the Fin character he plays. I hope the show lasts for
awhile longer, but time will tell.

October 24 2011 at 6:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One of my favorite programs to stimulate the brain .Now,if they would just do more scenes portraying the sleazy workings of some congress men and women.Most would use their fake acting skills without a problem .

October 24 2011 at 5:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My Dad was a background extra in the Nash Bridges tv show, George of the Jungle movie- exciting and cool stuff...

October 24 2011 at 5:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I remember the first movie I was in The Jakal #1 Box Office Hit I had sceenes with all three Richard Greere, Sidney Poitier, and Bruce Willis. I was on the front page of the paper on the first day of my first movie with Sidney Poitier. I even turned her down the first two times when she came up to me and asked if I wanted to be in a movie then she said those three words that will get just about any Man to do what a Woman wants "We'll Feed You" Yes I did it for the free food, and I got into trouble at work because I couldn't deny that was me on the front page of the paper.

October 24 2011 at 4:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

are you hiring?

October 24 2011 at 3:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
In My Opinion Only

Glad that I'm no TV star or an extra (been an extra for a couple of days) or I'd waste way my life. There's much more to life than 16-18 hours workdays.

October 24 2011 at 3:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to In My Opinion Only's comment

how can i be and extra

November 16 2011 at 9:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My family and I learned how long it takes to shoot a TV show years ago when there was a live taping here for a Bob Hope special. It took almost 10 hours to shoot a 1 hour special. The same scene would be shot over and over and over and over. Do you know how hard it is to laugh "spontaneously" at the same joke for the 8th or 10th time? It ain't easy!!!!! This was in the middle of the summer too on the air base tarmac with not hardly any shade. We were all sunburnt to a crisp by te time it was over. I swore (and I haven't) I'd never go to another live taping again! It's so much better waiting and watching it on TV!

October 24 2011 at 2:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Chris, thanks for sharing your story about SVU. Ice is awesome.

October 24 2011 at 2:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Only 20 min to shoot part of a scene? The cast and crew must be fast from having worked together for so long... or does "part" mean the different types of shots... like close-ups, twos, etc.... and he must not be including the time needed for reset of lighting and camera when they got to do the reverse shots.

3:50pm on a Friday... that means that they were heading home as the sun came up. The call times for Monday would probably be 5:30 or 6am. Then the cycle starts again. Not really all that much fun.

October 24 2011 at 2:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Too bad most of NBC's lineup is failing big time. The network is already looking for many replacements for its current schedule. "Law and Order - SVU," although long-running, may be gone by next season too.

Like most of NBC's programs, it's getting stale, it costs too much to produce, and too often injects too many attacks on religion, the military, and the government (although, since Obama has been in office attacks on the federal gov't have been fewer).

Some cable programs on Fox News, TNT, and Bravo now have more viewers than some of NBC's prime-time line up.

October 24 2011 at 2:40 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to bjrboyd's comment

They should be criticizing Obama and the Fed more. After all, more unemployed generally means more crime. Do you think the "Occupy Wall Street'" crowd will get any play?

October 24 2011 at 3:08 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

How much does the GOP pay you to post this drivel? Yesterday you guys were here saying the same thing about Movies. Today it's TV shows?

October 24 2011 at 5:44 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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