Maybe you’ve always dreamed of being in a movie but you took a boring day job instead. Maybe you just want to make a little extra money while getting to see the inside workings of movies and TV. If this is you, you might want to become an extra.
Extras are in almost every production. They are all of the people you see in the background of a movie or TV show. They make up the crowds and other people who fill up a realistic looking set. They’re walking on the street while the main characters fight the villains. They’re the other people riding the subway while the main characters are having a meaningful conversation. They’re the other diners in a restaurant scene. Extras are seen but never heard.
You don’t have to have movie star good looks for this type of work. Attractiveness doesn’t hurt, but since most extras are supposed to represent the diversity of a crowd, not everyone in the crowd is going to be drop dead gorgeous. You also don’t have to be a trained actor, but you do have to be able to take direction and do what you’re told. A basic knowledge of film terminology can’t hurt, but it’s not necessary.
Pay varies widely, depending on whether the film must abide by union agreements or if the production is free to pay its own rate. Generally you can expect hourly rates in the $7 – $9 range with daily rates ranging from $50 and up. It’s not a way to get rich, but if you can land on a recurring project like a TV series you can make more consistent money. However, even a production that’s filming in your area for two weeks can net you a nice side income if they need you every day. If you’re interested, here are a few things to help you along.
Never pay money: There are tons of scam artists out there offering to hook you up with an audition, listings of places that are hiring, or guaranteed work if you’ll only pay them a fee. Legitimate agencies and auditions don’t charge fees.
Find work: Some productions will advertise auditions in local media or on Craigslist if they are recruiting in your area. Others may set up walk-in auditions at the film site. Some may not even require an audition per se, they may just have people show up on set in the morning and place them accordingly. Most major metro areas have agencies that recruit extras. There are websites that list upcoming auditions (but remember, never pay a fee). If you want to look further afield or make a career out of being an extra, you should look in trade journals or join the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG).
Know what you’re responsible for when you show up on set: Do you have to bring your own clothes, or will wardrobe be handling that? Do you need to bring your own lunch/snacks? Can you bring electronics or bags, or is that a security risk? Are you allowed to bring a camera, or will it be confiscated? What time do you have to be on set and how long can you expect to stay? Know as much in advance about what you can and cannot bring and do so that you are prepared.
Don’t make a nuisance of yourself: This film is not about you. Your job is to be seen and not heard. Do only what you’re told to do. Don’t embellish or try to get more screen time. This behavior will not help you “break in.” It will only annoy the director and ensure that he or she never hires you again. Stay out of the way of the “real” actors and don’t try to get autographs or photos. If the actors offer, fine, but don’t be pesky. Don’t get in the way of the cameramen, electricians, or stunt performers, either. You don’t want to be responsible for broken equipment or causing an injury.
Be aware of the legal side of things: Many productions will make you sign a confidentiality agreement, as well as waivers against injuries or accidents. Make sure you read anything you have to sign and that you are okay with it.
Being an extra isn’t terribly hard work and it’s pretty fun if you’re into movies. It is tiring, though, and it’s a lot of work for very little screen time. However, if you’re looking to get your foot in the door as an actor or if you just want to see how a film is made, it can be your best way in. If nothing else, one day you can show your kids that you were in a movie.