The Do's & Don'ts of Being a Background Extra for Movies & Television
Helpful Tips for Working as an Extra
Melanie Patrick, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Jul 30, 2010 "Share your voice on Yahoo! websites. Start Here."More:Being LateRetweet0PrintFlagClose
Working in Los Angeles as an actor I packed my calendar with every industry related job I could take on. In between acting roles I worked behind the scenes in film production. And if I had any days off from that, I worked as a background extra for films and popular TV shows.
Whether you are a performer working to break into the business or you're simply looking to spend a little time on a movie or television set and catch a glimpse of how the process works, this guide will help you know ahead of time what to do and what not to do as a background extra.
Finding an Extras Agency or Casting Company:
-Do research for a licensed, reputable extras casting agency. For example, in Los Angeles the two main extras agencies are Central & Cenex Casting. Grant Wilfley is a well known agency for extras in New York City. In Cullen Chambers' book Back to One he not only outlines every aspect of being an extra but also gives the most reliable sources for extras casting all over the country.
-Do be prepared to pay a fee to sign up with one of these main extras agencies. This is the one and only time I will ever condone paying a fee to any kind of agency. Normally a fee is the red flag alerting you to run the other way. However, for major extras agencies, this is common. But research and make sure the agency is a reputable company and not a scam...as scams abound in every area of show business.
Getting Work as an Extra:
-Don't think you have to have professional headshots to get work as an extra. A good quality, recent snapshot is all you need. If you sign up with an extras casting company they will usually take a Polaroid of you in addition to the photos you bring.
-Do call your casting company regularly to find out about upcoming jobs. In my case if I was available to work I would call the casting line a couple days before and listen to a recording describing all the jobs. If I found a listing with a description I fit (age range, gender, etc.) I called the number provided. And if I was indeed right for the job I would get a call with all the pertinent details. Sometimes jobs come up at the last minute, so I would often check in the morning and evening, too.
-Don't expect to get rich as an extra. Non-union extras get paid around minimum wage. But hourly pay to basically hang out on a film set and work at a few points during the day isn't a bad deal.
After You Get the Job:
-Do double check your call time. Knowing your correct call time is one of the most critical parts of being an extra.
-Do take detailed notes about wardrobe instructions. Every once in a blue moon wardrobe was provided for me, such as American Dreams, a show set in the 1950's. But most jobs require extras to bring their own clothing. You may be asked to bring several outfit choices for the costume person to choose from. But this is a good idea even if you're not specifically told to do so.
-Don't wear something that makes you stand out from the crowd unless specifically instructed to. Most jobs want extras to blend in, not stand out.
-Do find out directions in advance. Sometimes movie locations are difficult to get to. So double check the address and then confirm directions with more than one source. Don't rely solely on one web site to give you directions.
-Do bring something to pass the time on set. Most of your day will involve waiting. So having a book, iPod, or a deck of playing cards is very helpful. If you have headphones, be sure to use them for only one ear so you can hear when break is over. You're first priority is to be ready to work. Also, be careful about theft on set if you have an iPod, phone or other electronic.
-Don't bring anyone along with you - no friends, pets, etc.
When You Get to the Set:
-Don't be on time. Always be early. The fastest way to get fired is to be late. And considering the possibility of traffic and the time it may take to find where you need to be, the best choice is to be early.
-Do check in as soon as you arrive. Getting to the location in time won't mean anything if the person in charge (usually the assistant director) doesn't know you're there. Usually there will be a check-in table set up for extras where you will receive your work voucher. Without it you will not get paid. Voucher theft is not uncommon, so put it away and out of sight immediately.
-Do turn your cell phone completely off or on silent - not vibrate. A vibrating cell phone might still be heard by those crazy sensitive microphones.
-Do be kind and respectful to the crew. If you think you had to get there early, try doing their job. The filming crew arrives hours before the actors and extras to set everything up. If you're call time was at 7 am, chances are they've been there since 6 or earlier.
Doing Your Job as an Extra:
-Do stay quiet while filming is going on unless otherwise instructed. Unnecessary noise between "action" and "cut" can require an entire scene to be redone, which costs a lot of money and time.
-Don't approach the actors; ask for an autograph, etc. Just like being late, this is another thing that can get you the boot in a hurry. The actors are there to work, not sign autographs.
-Don't take it personally if the star doesn't speak to you or acknowledge you. They have a lot of dialogue and direction to remember so they often try not to be distracted, or they just keep their interactions to the cast and crew they work with everyday.
-Don't try to make motions or sounds to stick out in the scene. This is another lightening-fast way to get fired. You'll be given simple instructions such as walking, standing or sitting. Just follow the directions and you'll do a great job.
-Do ignore the camera - Never look right at it. Have you ever watched a movie and noticed someone suddenly looked straight at the camera for a moment? It looks weird, right? So remind yourself to ignore that camera. Most directors will stop and do the scene over again because it just doesn't look right.
-Do take note of what food you are supposed to eat. Sometimes production sets up a table available to all the cast and crew, including you. Other times there will be a table just for the extras.
-Don't be seen or heard taking a photo. Technically I wouldn't recommend extras taking any pictures. But if you do decide to snap one with your cell phone, be sneaky. Bringing an actual camera onto a film set can get you in hot water fast.
-Do be prepared to work later than originally estimated. The crew makes an estimation, but unexpected problems and obstacles arise frequently. Personally, I never minded working later because we got time and a half and I liked the extra pay.
-Don't complain. Yes, the days are long. Yes, extras often get treated like the lowest on the totem pole (which we are). Yes, the job can involve standing or sitting for hours. And the pay isn't much to write home about. But you're behind the scenes on a real set watching a movie or television show being filmed up close! Isn't that why you took the job to begin with? Some people think that if they complain about the job that will make them look like a pro. Instead they become the arrogant whiner no one wants to be around or hire.
-Do have fun!