Boldly Going: Being an Extra on Star Trek Beyond

A surprise attack in outer space forces the Enterprise to crash-land on a mysterious world. The assault came from Krall (Idris Elba), a lizard-like dictator who derives his energy by sucking the life out of his victims. Krall needs an ancient and valuable artifact that's aboard the badly damaged starship. Left stranded in a rugged wilderness, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew must now battle a deadly alien race while trying to find a way off their hostile planet.

On October 15, 2015 I boldly went… onto the set of Star Trek Beyond.

I first learned about the opportunity in August 2015 from the Facebook page of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. After auditioning, I was invited to act as an extra on the final day of filming at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. The production had been previously filming around Dubai in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) (where some set shots were captured).

First I had to get fitted for a costume.  The outfit they had planned included an alien head, but the headpiece was too tight. So we tried Costume #866: a blue heavy sweater top (with a turtleneck that I was supposed to button up, covering my whole head), a black jacket/overall combination of sorts with overall-like straps (that I held onto as I walked), black leather gloves with what appeared to be two fingers and a thumb, dark blue ski pants, and black motorcycle boots. Oh, and it had four arms!

I arrived on set at 11 am Thursday, October 15 and left at 5 am the next morning (18 hours total with 17 of them being active on the set). After I arrived and got into my costume I walked in front of a green screen and was photographed in 360 degrees for digital capture. It’s possible, that given both of these activities, I appear in the film although my head was covered by what I called the “turtleneck” of the costume.

Fortunately, I was able to leave my head uncovered during the on-set filming — which is why I was able to see myself on screen! Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of myself in my costume (beyond my 1.5 second appearance on-screen, explained below) because we were prevented from having our phones.  But, you can catch a glimpse of the set in the Instagram video below from Zachary Quinto who plays Mr. Spock; I was to the right of the person recording it:

Despite the futuristic world in which Star Trek is set, I felt “Amish  adjacent.” Being accustomed to regularly checking my phone, I felt awkward, but eventually the digital detox was a welcome change. We had nothing else to do but talk with each other! This was my first time on a major motion picture set: everything was impressively overwhelming. There was an army of friendly assistants wiping sweat from our faces, squirting shaving cream down our necks to cool us off, and giving us water. It was simultaneously invigorating and exhausting; I was energized yet tired at the same time by the activity and excitement that surrounded me. Some random memories of my “extra experience” include:

  • Costume designers fixed costumes with thread, tape, and glue.
  • Countless people with clipboards stood at the ready.
  • Extras moved about the set like a sea of bustling humanity.
  • Grips with duct tape swinging from their belts scurried about.
  • Production assistants wrestled with film equipment.

The set where I worked appears in the first 10 minutes of the film when the Enterprise arrives at the Yorktown Starbase. You can very briefly see me at 1:31 to 1:32 — 1 second of movie magic — in my dark blue and gray costume on the left hand side of the frame! I took a screen shot from the YouTube clip and enhanced it, circling myself in red. It was a long day (and night), but it was an exceptionally unique experience that I would definitely do again. I made many new friends and got to be a part of something memorable and meaningful.

A surprise attack in outer space forces the Enterprise to crash-land on a mysterious world. The assault came from Krall (Idris Elba), a lizard-like dictator who derives his energy by sucking the life out of his victims. Krall needs an ancient and valuable artifact that's aboard the badly damaged starship. Left stranded in a rugged wilderness, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew must now battle a deadly alien race while trying to find a way off their hostile planet.

My mind is filled with a multitude of memories I will forever remember:

  • A Walk to Remember: I quite literally I walked for 12 hours straight (more or less). For most of the takes I walked with a similarly costumed character — either side by side or single file. As the My feet ached for a week and I wore sneakers to work!
  • Green Screen: I walked in front of a green screen alongside two other extras with my face covered by an extended knit turtleneck part of my costume (this made it nearly impossible to see). The crew also took a series of digital capture photographs of me and did a 360 degree 3-dimensional body capture.
  • Meet and Greet: I shook hands with Simon Pegg after his scenes in the film concluded. I had just seen another film of his, Man Up, and shared with him how much I enjoyed it. At one point during a break I also used the bathroom at the same time as Zachary Quinto (but I didn’t shake his hand).
  • Social Experiment: One of the most interesting aspects to the experience was that people grouped themselves together with others in similar costumes; even people in different Star Fleet uniforms and different ranks segmented themselves together.
  • Well Armed: The costume I wore was alien-esque (I had four arms), but I did not have an alien head.  I was able to wear my costume with my face showing during my work on set and got to walk in front of, behind, and alongside several of the main characters including Chris Pine as Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock.

A surprise attack in outer space forces the Enterprise to crash-land on a mysterious world. The assault came from Krall (Idris Elba), a lizard-like dictator who derives his energy by sucking the life out of his victims. Krall needs an ancient and valuable artifact that's aboard the badly damaged starship. Left stranded in a rugged wilderness, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew must now battle a deadly alien race while trying to find a way off their hostile planet.

Live long and prosper.

 

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Matthew A. Gilbert, MBA, is a lecturer of marketing at Coastal Carolina University, where he teaches consumer behavior, personal selling, and principles of marketing courses. Connecting academia with industry, his research and writing intersect humanity, industry, and technology. Considered a charismatic communicator, he facilitates professional development workshops and has delivered three TEDx Talks. As a consultant, he designs marketing communication materials and serves as a subject matter expert.