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In the Band Of Brothers (HBO TV series) episode "Why We Fight" there is a plotline about the liberation of a concentration camp. There are many (highly disturbing) scenes showing portrayals of individuals that are extremely emaciated due to the appalling conditions found in such a ghastly place.

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How does a TV series like this find "actors" in such physical condition? It does not seem to be any kind of special effects work, to me it looks like these people really are literally at the extremes of starvation.

Surely they cannot be asking lots of people to starve themselves for the sake of a TV show, that would be far too dangerous. What really happens in productions like this?

  • Welcome to the community. This is a great question where visuals would work nicely. I hope you enjoy this place as much as I have. – John Nov 3 '16 at 18:43
  • Ever seen The Machinist? Christian Bale dropped down to 120 lbs to do that movie, then had to gain 65 pounds in 6 months to play Batman. If you want the role, and are dedicated to your craft, you'll work for it. – Johnny Bones Nov 3 '16 at 18:44
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    60-70? Depends on their height. Bale almost died getting down to 120, he was basically skin and bones. I don't know if I believe an adult can get down to 60-70. – Johnny Bones Nov 3 '16 at 18:50
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    I seem to recall in a similar production they used cancer patients. Don't forget you can do quite a lot with oversized clothes, makeup and other special effects. – Paulie_D Nov 3 '16 at 19:13
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    Since the people playing these roles are extras, not billed actors, they can draw from a much wider pool. Some of them may actually have illnesses that make them that thin--I can't back that up, but extra work for TV and Film does pay well, and most of the job is waiting around on set. – DukeZhou Nov 3 '16 at 20:07
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If you examine the scenes closely you can see that, in fact, there are very few close up shots of truly emaciated people.

Now I'm not denying there are some very thin actors shown in some quick scenes.

enter image description here

But if you look from a critical viewpoint it appears that the vast majority of extras here are not emaciated but rather just thin. In addition, most, if not all are wearing the 'pyjama' style clothes which further hide their bodies.

The special effects and make-up won an Emmy award for Outstanding Make-up for a Miniseries or Movie (Non-Prosthetic) specifically for this episode. [Wikipedia]

There is one shot of a truly "skin & bones" nature which has to be a life size prop...I won't link a picture here but it's in the video I edited into the question.

As for getting hold of thin actors...these are extras....Casting Directors will put out a general casting call with a description of what they need (perhaps with an emphasis on height/weight) and they will get a pool of talent come to them.

'Extra' work isn't bad - As a guide...Chron.com

As of July 2013, the minimum daily rate for a general background actor who is part of the SAG union is $148.00. As SAG defines a regular workday as eight consecutive hours, this amounts to $18.50 per hour.

Plus there are "Bumps"

In addition to the hourly rate, SAG extras often receive payments casually known as “bumps.” You'll receive these payments under special circumstances, such as working in wet or smoky conditions or wearing body make-up or hairpieces. Extras also get bumps for providing their own props, wardrobe, or vehicles for use in the film. As of 2013, bumps range from about $14 to $50 per day. SAG background actors also receive additional pay for costume fittings, rehearsals, and interviews, where applicable.

Add in that most, if not all, of these actor would have been required to have their heads shaved / buzzcut and that would probably require additional payment.

Most of the filming took place in the UK I believe..and the current UK rates are not dissimilar


So you have a large pool of extras at your disposal, you can pick the ones that most closely fit your needs for up front and close shots and 'enhance' them with special effects and make-up.

Are the make-up and effects noticeable...not if they are doing their jobs right!

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Skinny people + airbrushed ribs + Contouring makeup on faces. I would hire extras from a drug recovery clinic/rehab type institution, too.

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    You might want to elaborate a little to flesh out this answer a little more. – Napoleon Wilson Jan 21 '17 at 2:58

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