Are you interested in acting? An excellent way to gain some on-camera experience is to become a movie extra. Note that it is a great way to earn a little extra cash, even if you do not want a career in the movie or entertainment industry. Do you know that all those individuals that you see wandering in the background of some of your favorite movies and TV shows are known as “extras?”Some actors have built their whole careers out of blending seamlessly into the background of movies and TV shows.
What is a Movie Extra?
A movie extra, also called a background actor, is a person who often works in front of the camera. It is worth mentioning that movie extras are not always professional actors. Actually, most movie extras are regular people who just wanted to be a part of the movie and TV industry. A movie extra usually performs in film production in a non-speaking role. Movie extras arrive early on the film set. Production assistants guide them and also give them the paperwork needed to fill out for a day’s work. Movie extras are often paid a decent wage for their participation.
As an extra, you will usually be expected to stay on the movie set from the start of production until wrap. As a movie extra, you play an important role in making movie scenes look as well as feel more authentic, which is crucial. After all, football games, restaurants, city streets, and clubs would just look like standard movie sets if movie extras are not there to give them life.
Also, it is worth mentioning that a movie extra may have to go to the wardrobe in case the scene requires specific props, clothing, or attire. Sometimes, movie extras are even featured up close with one or more speaking actors, such as a cab driver dropping off the lead character in the movie at the airport.
One of the best aspects of being a movie extra is that you may get the opportunity to share some screen time with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Isn’t that glamorous!
Steps to Get Cast as a Movie Extra
If you know where to look, it is easy to find roles.
- Find an Agency
Regardless of your specific location, it is likely that you will find at least a few companies or agencies, whether online or brick-and-mortar, who serves your region and where they find a majority of their movie extras or background talent.
You can also apply on various casting websites to be considered an extra. It is often free, and you will receive texts and emails about the upcoming movies that need background actors. When searching online for production companies and agency names, make sure they are legitimate. So, if a listing provides you with a phone number, you should call it and request more information. After confirming your availability, you will be able to speak to the casting directors.
- Find a Good Photo
You will have to provide some type of headshot in order to sign up. While you have to make sure that you put out an accurate image, there is no need to splurge on a professional portrait. However, make sure that the photos you attach to your profile are current.
Usually, just a clear and current snapshot will do. You can go for a waist-up candid photograph, and sometimes even a selfie will do the job. You will also have to provide the agency with some details about yourself, like your height, age, and eye and hair color, among others.
It is better to register with as many movie extra casting agencies as possible. Note that registration is usually free. You will find “Register” links on the websites of casting agencies. All you have to do is upload your photos and complete the registration form, mentioning details, including your contact information, height, age, and weight, etc.
You will have to line up a bunch of movie projects if you would like to support yourself working exclusively as a movie extra. This will ensure a steady stream of income. To maximize your odds of getting booked you should register with as many casting agencies as possible. How frequently you work as a movie extra depends mainly on the jobs you get as well as the lifestyle you lead. However, you are more likely to get a lot of work if you live in New York City or Los Angeles.
- Be Patient
You have to be patient, as you may not get a call right away. When you do, jot down the details, such as where and when to show up, how much they are paying and what to wear, etc. And you have to remain patient when you do get the part.
According to experts, waiting around is often one of the important parts of extra work. This is why you should bring something, like a book, to entertain yourself in the downtime unless you like staring into the abyss for several hours on end. If you tend to get bored during gaps in time, it is better to bring a book or your headphones in order to keep yourself entertained. It is also worth mentioning that shoot days may stretch more than 14 hours, and looking bored or complaining will only earn you some enemies.
How to Succeed on Set
- Show up on Time
People often show up fifteen to thirty minutes late, thinking there is nothing wrong with it because others probably will not be ready to shoot; however, that is not true. By arriving early, you can make a good first impression and also find your way around the location, which is very important. You should receive detailed instructions on checking in and parking when you are booked.
When you arrive on set, immediately check in with the designated crew member, like the assistant director, an “extras wrangler” or a production assistant. Arriving late to a movie set is considered unprofessional, and it will guarantee that you will not be called back in case a local production needs movie extras down the line.
- Bring the Right Makeup and Outfit
Keep in mind that before you arrive on set, you will likely be told how to style your hair, what to wear to the set, and how to do your makeup, especially if the company is not providing it for you. And do not make the mistake of agreeing to act in a movie or show that you do not have the adequate wardrobe for.
For background artists, period pieces will usually provide costumes. However, it is likely that you will be sent home if you promise to dress up like a criminal lawyer and show up in your jeans. You may have to bring more than one outfit for a longer shoot. If that is the case, pack them along with the right shoes and other accessories in a garment bag to keep them organized and clean.
If you are uncertain if the outfit you have in your mind is acceptable, then you should take a few extra shirts, and another pair of pants or skirt so that you have options.
- Don’t Take Photos
You will be tempted to take a few photos of the action on set, especially if you are personally a big fan of the movie you are working on. However, you should never do that. This is because you can get blacklisted and thrown off the movie set if they catch you. Also, note that you will probably need to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), promising that you will not share what you see on the movie set.
It is best to shut off your smartphone when those cameras are rolling, and don’t succumb to the temptation of posting whatever you see on social media. The same applies to leaking those juicy plot details to the media. If you are caught you will not only be dismissed but also deemed as paparazzi.
- Don’t Call Attention to Yourself
Note that your main concern must be to blend in the background. Hence, you should not make it your mission to call attention to yourself or flail around in hopes that it will land you that first big break. Do not attempt to steal the show as extras often make up the background of a movie scene.
Keep in mind that directors will be happier and more impressed with you if you follow all directions and play your part as best as you can. Do what you are instructed to do and do not improvise. And most importantly, do not try to divert attention away from the lead actors. According to experts, doing anything more to steal a scene is one of the sure ways to be thrown off of the movie set, and no one likes that.
Also, remember that you will have a better chance of succeeding and furthering your career in this industry if you be yourself and look as though you belong in the background.