Confessions of a “seat filler”: A night at the AFIs without so much as a name.

Confessions of a “seat filler”: A night at the AFIs without so much as a name. By Tara Judah.

As someone who’s spent their fair share of time being an extra for film and TV, doing my own hair and make-up and sitting around for several hours waiting for someone to tell me where my walk-through will be is hardly a strange experience. And yet, my role as “seat filler” for this year’s AFI Awards was just that little bit less fun.

There are really only a two things you need to know to be an extra, and these two rules also apply to the role of seat filler: 1) you are the very least important person in any room and 2) you are in no way allowed to talk to the “stars” (and sometimes even the crew) as if they were actually people, because – and this is most the important thing – you are in no way actually “people”. If the second rule is too confusing, please refer once again to rule number one.

One of the most enjoyable things about being an extra (or seat filler in this instance), is chatting to the other extras and swapping what we call “war stories”, and other such amusing anecdotes (these may range from the time Holly Valance snubbed you when you dared to smile at her to the time when Alan Fletcher came over and had a chat about a movie you were once in together – you know, long ago when you had a speaking part and were considered a real person).

Unfortunately, and rather tellingly, a quick survey of the room at the AFIs suggested no such story sharing would take place as not one of the many girls wearing a little black dress complete with wilting corsage had ever acted as a seat filler before. Apparently, once you’ve done seat filling, you’ll never want to do it again. This seemed to me fascinating so I thought I’d spend the rest of my night trying to work out exactly why. After a fair bit of contemplation and assessment I can confirm that no, I would not be a seat filler again, but do my personal reasons speak for the many armies of girls who are all dressed up with no (permanent) place to go?

I should, for anyone who doesn’t know what a “seat filler” is, explain that it is quite literally what it sounds like. When people leave a seat empty, someone who looks nice and has the ability to smile and clap on cue sits in their place so that as it’s televised and the crane does a sweeping shot of the “audience” the place looks full. This contributes to the lush, bountiful ideology that accompanies the concept of celebrity and the world of supposed glitz and glamour they inhabit.

The first “error” made by the media company running event logistics would be that the security was almost non-existent; any woman in a LBD with make-up on could have walked in and then run off to do whatever they liked in the venue for hours. I wasn’t escorted anywhere and no one seemed to mind that I was aimlessly wandering around backstage (at least for a while). Then, they failed to take our mobile phones from us. Now, I don’t have a fancy iPhone but if I did, I could have tweeted some of the winners pre-ceremony, as the less seasoned veteran presenters were actually reading out the winners in their rehearsal speeches (please note not everyone did this and certainly the well trained likes of Willem Dafoe did not).

Some time later, having now taken our handbags away from us, we were each given a bottle of water and told to sit until called. Another three hours later we were told to stand as we’d soon be taking our places against the Regent Theatre’s walls where we would come to look like a mixed bag of grinning models and wilting wallflowers (I’d like to point out at this juncture that I was undoubtedly the latter). Then came the greatest challenge of the night – and I should say that a close second was one of the model women calling me “babe” when she asked for lip gloss – taking one’s temporarily empty seat without “getting in the way”. It’s actually quite staggering as to how “in the way” you can appear to be to other people even though you are only doing your job as directed. So, walking around the crane, ducking down as we crossed the front of the stage and then slipping up the aisle to the empty seat I was rather disappointed when Ben Mendelsohn grumbled as I walked past that the girls were obstructing his view. You try being inconspicuous in six-inch heels.

Having annoyed the night’s premier guest it was time to get up and move once again. At one point in the evening I received a tap on the shoulder from Animal Kingdom’s producer Liz Watts after she returned from the bathroom (or bar; wherever it was she briefly went when I took up her seat), and was briefly captured on camera as David Michôd got up to accept one of his many awards. I took Victoria’s new Premier Ted Baillieu’s seat after he and his wife had to duck out and found myself told by one attendee that they wished their colleague wouldn’t return because actually they preferred my company which, whilst not exactly in keeping with the “don’t talk to anyone” rule, was a very nice thing to say indeed.

My personal highlights of the evening were sitting one seat away from the devilishly handsome Sullivan Stapleton (the Animal Kingdom star who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost out to co-star Joel Edgerton), watching an over-enthusiastic Ben Mendelsohn yell repeatedly “Ten grand! Ten grand!” when David Michôd won the Macquarie AFI Award for Best Original Screenplay, and watching his partner occasionally shake her head during his somewhat long-winded and slightly distracted acceptance speech.

Ultimately, not a bad evening and I think I only tripped over one person’s strategically placed glass of champagne. But if it weren’t to be held in Sydney next year, would I do it again? Absolutely not. Whilst it may provide a further anecdote or two for the scrapbook you do at least usually get paid to be an extra and it has to be said: it’s a whole lot easier to pretend not to be a person when someone’s paying you.

Discuss: Do you have any “war stories” from the world of seat-filling?

2 Responses to “Confessions of a “seat filler”: A night at the AFIs without so much as a name.”

  1. >That's hilarious! Thanks for sharing. I shan't be applying for next year either!

  2. >Great read! I always thought seat-filling simply meant finding empty seats left by no-shows, not stepping in while someone momentarily ducks out! How awkward.

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