How I Became a Vampire in Malta
I always wanted to be involved in making movies, but I was from Ohio.
That’s not to say great movie people don’t come from Ohio; we’ve begotten our share of great actors, directors, producers, screenwriters, and editors, including such illustrious names as Wes Craven, Chris Columbus, and Steven Spielberg… and effectively exported them all to Hollywood.
Ohio is a great place for producing creative people because it’s very boring. Kind of like how so many comedians hail from Canada because it’s very cold and people have such a lot of time to sit around the fire making each other laugh.
Don’t get me wrong, Ohio is beautiful in it’s own quiet way, but until George Clooney convinces the big shots to haul their business over to the Midwest, it’s not a place where aspiring film people are going to make it.
And if you have neither money nor connections, and no way of making either, it’s really no use to hit the road for California.
As the strange twistings of fate would have it, last year I found myself living on a desert island in the middle of the sea. No, really. Frustration with the American economy had driven me to look for work elsewhere, and to my great shock, I had a contract 5 days after I started my online job search. The next day I handed in my notice. The day after that I bought my plane ticket. 2 weeks later I was here.
Here is Malta. Smallest country in the EU, crossroads of the Mediterranean, and strangely, a little island with a strong magnetic pull for the film industry.
Malta is made of neutral colored sandstone, which looks great on celluloid. Not to mention, there are a whole lot of castle-like structures, underground tunnels, natural rock formations, and a dazzling blue sea, which all make for great sets.
Brad Pitt had been here filming World War Z just before I arrived. The Rome section of Gladiator was made here, as were several entire movies and many small scenes from both cinema and television. Often “at sea” sections are filmed off Malta. The film studio here specializes in coordinating maritime scenes.
I didn’t come to Malta to work in the movies, but it didn’t take long to learn that doing so was not so far out of the question. Though the entire island isn’t much bigger than my hometown Cincinnati, a lot goes on here in the industry, and oddly enough, it’s because of the short distances and thoroughly networked everyone-knows-everyone infrastructure that opportunities are so accessible.
One day as I was waiting for the bus, I got into a conversation with a boy selling tickets there who had worked as an extra in World War Z. He told me to join a facebook group called Malta Film Extras, where openings are posted. I did so, and one day saw a call posted. Interested persons were invited to join in a shooting at a certain street in the city of Isla, from 6pm to 2am. Dress code: Carnival.
I almost didn’t go. I wasn’t feeling good that evening, but I figured I could either stay home and feel sick or do something fun and try to forget about it. I had never experienced Carnival in any European city, and didn’t really know what to do. In the end I settled for my most brightly colored skirt and a polka-dot scarf.
I had never been to Isla either. I looked up where it was on Google Maps and found the nearest bus stop to the right street. When I got there, it was dark and the streets were quiet. I walked down to the marina where I found an old man and asked him for directions. He pointed out the street to me, so I walked all the way to the end of it but didn’t see anyone. It must have been canceled, I figured.
Then I turned around and walked down the street in the opposite direction. And then I saw vampires. Vampires and a lot of people looking very busy. I’d found it.
I had to smile at the irony. This was a vampire show, and I was going to be in it.
I’m the kind of person that so pitilessly makes fun of Twilight that my sisters didn’t even tell me when they went to watch Eclipse. The irony went one step further. The name of this show? Eklissi. That means eclipse in Maltese.
I spotted a man who looked like he knew what to do and asked, “Can I join?”
He brought me into an open door on the street and up the stairs. This was someone’s house, an old Maltese structure with bare limestone walls and painted floor tiles, with contrasting modern furniture. A bathroom was being used as the makeup studio. The man took a look at my face and gave some instructions to the artist in Maltese. When the girl got finished, I looked ready to suck blood.
Back in the street, I got an idea of what it means to be a film extra. Basically, there is a lot of waiting around. A lot of shutting up so that you don’t spoil scenes you’re not in. A lot of imagination required. But ultimately, a lot of fun too.
We spent several hours dancing around without any music, forming a backdrop for the actors who were performing the story. I had a few memorable moments, like when one of the vampires had to run through the crowd of us, and on every take slammed into me really hard, until I was convinced he was doing it on purpose and went scrambling to get out of the way as soon as action was called.
I even got a cameo. The director arranged a shot of me dancing with one of the vamps. I didn’t even know how to dance, and I got to dance on TV. Irony again.
After that first time, I worked once more with Eklissi, and almost got to be in an action scene, but then I got terribly ill because we had been shooting in a freezing cold mansion while wearing summer clothes, and so I wasn’t able to make it.
Later I worked once on another Maltese TV show, two separate productions that were strangely both about boxing (lots of cheering and screaming for several hours straight for us extras), and finally on an actual feature movie, in Danish.
Is being an extra really being in the movies though? Yes and no. You get to be there, yes, but really your part is to be invisible, the scenery that needs to be there but that no one notices. You really can’t work your way up from being an extra, unless you happen to be David Niven. And you usually won’t get paid.
On the other hand, you get to watch how magic is made. You get to meet interesting people. You might even get a chance to be a vampire in Malta.
Images courtesy of Viktor Vella.
Stephanie Spicer is an American living in Malta. She works at Elanguest English Language School in St. Julian’s.