15 August 2012

Namibia: Mad Max's Impact On Young Extras a Concern

THERE are concerns that children employed as extras in the 'Mad Max Fury Road' production at the coast are being financially exploited and that their schoolwork is suffering.

The students, all from Swakopmund, agree that being an extra for 'Mad Max' was "fun, but not worth it".

About 50 children between the ages of 16 and 18 were used as extras during the filming. They were hand-picked by recruitment scouts because they were "tall and skinny and had a certain look in their face".

The Namibian understands that the children are all boys from three high schools, namely Westside High, Swakopmund Secondary and Namib High.

The school principals and parents were informed by the production company, Moonlighting Films, and were requested to sign an employment contract that would end in November.

The Namibian spoke to some of the boys and their parents, who wished to remain anonymous.

The boys said the recruitment scouts promised them an opportunity in the movie business, and that they would get paid for their work. Since April, boys were selected, partially informed of the movie and trained in shadow-fighting and drama. They were also fitted for costumes and had their heads shaved. They would allegedly be paid between N$100 and N$500 per day.

A parent said they were promised that most of the work would be done during the May school holidays. This arrangement changed, according to the parent. The second term exams were approaching and work on the film was increasing, putting pressure on the children. Call-outs were random, with no real schedule.

The extras said on a few occasions they were called at 06h00 in the morning to meet at the production headquarters in town (the old Swakopmund municipal building) and be shuttled to a set.

"There would be no breakfast. We were just hustled into a changing room and jumped into action. We would have to stand bare-chested on moving cars. It would be freezing," one said. On one occasion they were out for two days near Henties Bay for about seven hours a day.

Cash was eventually paid into the bank accounts of the extras. They received about N$380 after tax was deducted.

One parent said they could not understand why the children had to be taxed on such a small amount.

"The film people said the learners would be able to claim it back. Maybe they just want to be careful, but on the other hand they are also taking for granted the fact that these learners have to be at school and that their precious time is being used," the mother of one of the boys said.

The school principals said they were not in favour of the boys' recruitment, but left the decision up to their parents.

"It is understandable that the learners enjoy the work, but it comes at a dear price, and we cannot allow their schoolwork to suffer," one principal said.

"Parents are responsible for their children, and although I did not like the idea, I left the decision to the parents. What I did emphasise though was that if the children missed tests and exams, they would be penalised for it," said another principal.

The boys' exam results will show whether the film had a negative effect on their studies, the principals agreed.

"School comes first. This international film company probably thought Namibia is a poor third-world country that does not know better, but they are wrong.

I don't think there is a problem with the movie or the recruiting, but it should be organised better and the learners should be better rewarded for their time," a parent commented.

Attempts to get a comment from Moonlighting Films were unsuccessful.

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