Stadium shots are the lifeblood of Gonzo Bros. This March, the company landed its biggest job, a movie of the week for Walt Disney Television, which needed 3,000 cutouts for a hockey arena in Canada. Because cutouts are easy to ship, Hamilton and Platts plan to take their business nationwide. Since starting, they've landed nearly 50 jobs from New York to Madison, Wis. Producers usually hire between 200 and 500 cutouts for five to 10 days.
It's not clear what effect the emergence of 4,000-plus Gonzo Bros. extras has had on real extras, many of whom are aspiring actors trying to build careers in Hollywood. A spokesman for the Screen Actors Guild, which represents extras, said he hadn't heard any complaints.
Tony Hobbs, a director at Central Casting in Burbank, which books 2,000 real extras a day, doesn't see Stand-Ins as direct competition.
"We know a lot of producers don't have the money for real extras," Hobbs said. "You have to feed bodies; you don't have to feed cardboard."
Sometimes, though, real extras' tensions about their cardboard brethren flare up.
Mike Dunn, a salesman at Sony Pictures' property warehouse, said some of his flat people have returned from a job with magic-marker beards scribbled on their faces and eyes poked out. A few, he said, even had their heads ripped off.
"The real extras hate them," Dunn said. "They think the cardboard guys are taking their jobs."
Sony Pictures' warehouse stumbled into the cutout business four years ago when Sony made a baseball movie called "The Fan" and commissioned the construction of 10,000 cutouts to fill the stands. After production, many of the cutouts were ruined during a flash flood on the set of another movie. Today, Sony hires out the remaining cutouts for practically nothing--$2 a head. But Sony is not trying to price the Gonzo Bros. out of business, Dunn said.
"Our main focus is furniture and other big props, not cutouts," Dunn said. "So if I can help out the Gonzo Bros., I will. Their cutouts are in much better shape than ours, and that's their main business."
Hamilton and Platts are most worried about computer effects companies.
For example, Digital Domain, the Venice visual effects studio that helped make "Titanic," recently finished a General Motors commercial where computer artists filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with digital people. Using a relatively simple process called tiling, artists cloned video images of a small crowd and then superimposed the crowd onto a background of an empty Coliseum.
Stand-Ins will probably be obsolete one day, Hamilton and Platts acknowledged. But for two guys so bent on making it in Hollywood that they'll try anything, the cutout business is just part of a grander scheme.
"This business may last only another five to seven years. But by that point," Hamilton said, "we hope we'll be making our own movies."