Memories of the Silver Screen: How to Get Paid Jobs for TV and Movie Extras
Actors reveal important truths while playing fictional characters on the big and little screen. Their profession requires talent, determination, persistence, study and luck. Jobs are difficult to obtain, and few make a living at the profession, let alone achieve the money and adulation reserved for stars.
TV and movie extras, sometimes called background actors, appear behind actors to provide atmosphere. Their profession requires no effort or acting ability. It’s an easy way for you to get onto your favorite TV show or experience the magic of the movies first-hand. And you get paid for doing it.
© 2011 by Aurelio Locsin.
Starting Out with TV and Movie Extras
So-called extras agents may require you to buy expensive headshots, take acting lessons and pay a fee to enter the world of background acting. Their ads in newspapers and entertainment mags may promise glamour and high salaries. These are simply ways they transfer money from your pocket to theirs. In truth, all you need is to sign up with a casting agent.
- If you live in Los Angeles or New York, you can sign up with Central Casting, who supplies the bulk of the extras for productions in those cities. Registration is free but requires a visit to the office. You first make an appointment on their website for the office nearest you. You can then download the required forms and fill them out ahead of time.
- Those in other cities can use Google to search for “extras casting” with a specific city name. Those casting agencies will also have forms to fill out but may charge a small processing fee of about $25.
- All extras agencies, including Central Casting, need proof of ID and work authorization before they assign you tv and movie extras work. This typically means bringing a driver’s license or U.S. passport, and a Social Security Account Number card. Other documents can also be used as shown in this list.
At the Agency
Depending on the size of the agency, your personal appointment may take up to three hours. Wear clean clothing that is suitable for photography, but avoid black, white or red. A business suit is great, if you have it. A casting agent meets with you, checks your documents and enters information into a database. She also takes at least one photograph. This picture is how she decides if you are suitable for a particular background role. You also undergo an orientation that explains the basics of tv and movie extras work, what you can expect and the agency policies.
Once you’ve finished your initial visit, you can immediately call the agency’s extras job line to find out about available tv and movies extras work for the next few days.
- You’ll typically hear the name of the show, the physical description of the extra needed, the required clothes, the special abilities, and the name and phone number of the agent handling casting.
- If you meet the qualifications, you can call the agent who looks your picture up in the database and asks a few questions. If you meet the qualifications, she gives you the location of the shoot and what time to show up.
- Unless otherwise stated on the recording, non-union extras receive minimum wage and are paid for 8 hours, even if the shoot is shorter. Longer hours are common and provide overtime rates. You may also get bumps or extra pay if you need to bring special costume pieces such as golf clubs, or perform special abilities such as juggling.
- You're under no obligation to work everyday or at all. Some extras only work once just for the thrill of being on the set. Others see this as a source of income and look for work every day.
Be sure to allow for traffic and arrive at least 15 minutes before your call time. You’ll need to check in with the Assistant Director (AD) who gives you a voucher and directs you to a holding area with other extras. Much of your time is spent waiting around. You generally get breakfast, lunch and dinner for free, and snacks, depending on the length of the shoot. When you’re needed in front of the camera, the AD brings you from holding onto the set and tells you what to do, such as walk, sit or stand. When the Director yells “Action,” you perform your assigned movement.
When you’re done with the scene, the AD returns you to holding, where you may remain for the rest of the day, or be called in to do other scenes. At the end of the day, you check out with the AD, who signs your voucher. He takes a copy and gives you a copy. The voucher is used to track your hours and to send you your payment. Keep your copy so you can check the accuracy of any paychecks you receive.