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Did You Know You Can Get Paid To Sit In A TV Audience?
A little secret is that many TV shows filmed in Los Angeles pay their studio audience. Not all but many especially if it’s a newer unknown show. Throughout the years I’ve done a lot of audience work and numerous people have asked me about getting into paid audience work usually having read well meaning but overly ambitious articles about making extra money on the side which makes everything sound so easy and amazing. Sitting in an audience can be exciting and fun especially if it’s a show you love but it can also be a hassle, and not really worth the money paid. You can use audience work as a way to make extra money but there are some things you should know.
What to Expect:
Audience work is usually advertised on Craigslist or you can go to the audience company’s site directly to find out how to submit. Basically a photograph is all one needs to apply. Once booked pay attention to all the instructions either from an email or calling a recorded line such as what to wear and not bring (food, drinks, reading material, etc) and show up early for the taping. Most of the time parking is a pain so another reason to show up early and be extra diligent about reading street sweeping signs.
Audience work can vary from show to show. I’ve experienced working on sitcoms, court shows, infomercials, food competition shows, game shows, sketch improve, talk shows, and variety specials. Some shows like a game show require you to be energetic and cheer and clap a lot while others such as court shows involve sitting there solemnly. The most important thing which applies to any show really is just to follow directions and do exactly what you are told and not be a pain in the ass to the production team. People who need to get up and go to the bathroom every hour, fall asleep, or talk when they aren’t supposed to are some of the many examples that would fall into this category.
Taping times varies depending on the show but usually it is between 2-6 hours and I’ve always had an idea based on the information given on the recorded line or email. It’s advisable to prepare to stay longer just in case because nothing is definite in TV production so don’t plan anything important later on in the day because it’s possible the production might run over the estimated time.
There is a lot of waiting around as well. You have to wait in line to get in, wait around before the taping usually an hour or more and then wait again to be paid in the end which depending on the audience company you use can take awhile. At the end of the taping, again follow directions on how to exit and wait in line for payment. Payment is in cash.
Cell phones and other rules
Cell phones are almost always not allowed which I think would have made more sense in the early 2000s but for 2015 it’s a totally archaic and stupid rule. The cell phone restriction comes from the production company of the show, not the audience company. I think the production company is paranoid that people will take pictures of the stars of the show and post them to social media or give spoiler information but I think if anything a higher social media presence helps not hurts the show but that is just my opinion.
Most people bitch and moan about not being able to have their cell phone and how inconvenient is for them. I think it’s especially hard for people who take the bus and cannot just leave their cell phone somewhere like others do with their car. This can be a reasonable deal breaker but it is what it is and production is not concerned with inconveniencing paid audience members. Everyone is forewarned beforehand in the directions so there is no really getting out of that one. Some people try to sneak one in and surprisingly it works many times getting through security but I would not recommend this.
Standing Room Only (SRO) the most popular audience company has a recorded line where they recite the rules of clothing in a comically long monologue. No jeans, leggings, jeggings, tights, uggs, logos, open toed shoes, denim, tennis shoes, whites, patterned clothing, etc, etc, the list goes on. I think they’ve must have had serious problems in the past of people not understanding information or being kind of trashy or sloppy in their appearance. Some shows want light colors while others want dark colors, it just depends so again it’s just a lot of direction following.
Some rules can be bent like no food which really means don’t bring a whole meal or fast food. I’ve seen countless people bringing granola bars or other light snacks. No reading material- that really just means don’t bring an Encyclopedia Britannica. I always bring magazines that fit in my purse and have read the whole Hunger Games trilogy on paperback while doing audience work. There can be a lot of downtime so reading something is almost a necessity to really alleviate boredom.
Sometimes you can get free gifts however is so rare it’s almost worth not mentioning. The Queen Latifah Show is very generous and always gives the audience something like DVDs. Infomercials usually give out some sort of gift bag so that’s really the best bet. Other perks are to see celebrities up close and personal, watching interesting shows, being on a studio lot, and being paid cash at the end of the day.
Overbooking and Specking
All tickets to shows are overbooked, this way in case a bunch of people don’t show up there still are enough people sitting in the audience to make it look full. This means get there EARLY. I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve been to tapings where I was 5 minutes early and still bumped off because it was overbooked and enough people showed up before me. You just never know, it sucks especially when you got bumped off one day when you were early and the next day they are admitting people who are 15 minutes late but it really just depends on who shows up so always be early to be on the safe side. I find the more popular the show the more likely it is to be overbooked and harder to get on.
Specking is done when you aren’t booked but you show up anyway in case some people don’t show up. I don’t really like this because it’s a waste of time if you don’t get in since you don’t get paid anything thought I see a lot of people do this; it’s usually the most desperate for money. Specking in bad weather is a good idea because there’s a more likely chance people won’t show up.
The companies who book:
For most TV shows, tickets are obtained through different ticket agencies such as Audiences Unlimited (who pretty much do all the sitcoms), 1iota (Jimmy Kimmel, The Voice), or On Camera Audiences (Celebrity Name Game, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars). Some other shows just do tickets through their own website such as The Doctors, Conan, or The Ellen DeGeneres show. When any of these companies or shows has low audience numbers they call on an audience seat filler companies to fill the extra spots. Some audience seat filler companies have specific contracts with certain shows (Standing Room Only does all of the improv court shows) so the general public could not be a spectator unless they came as a paid audience member.
The 3 most popular (if only) companies in Los Angeles that exclusively book audiences are:
Standing Room Only (SRO)
On Set Productions
Standing Room Only
How To Book
Standing Room Only used to only advertise on Craigslist until they got with the decade and built an interactive website where you could just sign up and build a profile. Their shows come out weekly and you can submit to whichever show you want. If you are accepted you will be emailed and then have to confirm in a timely manner or they will give your spot to someone else. For some reason many times their confirmations go to spam so you should always double check that if you haven’t heard back. SRO has a recorded line that you must call the night before the show which gives you all the details that you need to know including where the taping is being held, clothing you are allowed to wear, and any other special instructions.
(Direct from their website)
Details: COURT SHOW AUDIENCE call time 2:15PM in Culver City for 5-7 hours at $9 cash per hour. Seeking nice looking attentive audience. Wardrobe: Dark colored Upscale Business Attire. No red, No purple, No jewelry, No bright colors. No extreme hair color or cuts.
Standing Room Only by far has the most work available. Many people complain about them on Yelp for a laundry list of reasons but you have to admit that they corner the market for audience work and you could work with them almost every day. They even book shows on the weekends which works great for people with normal jobs that want extra cash on the side.
Examples of shows they book:
- The Doctors
- America’s Court
- Dr. Phil
- At Midnight
- Celebrity Name Game
- Queen Latifah Show
- Let’s Make a Deal
- Justice with Judge Mablean
- Maya Rudolph Show
- America’s Court with Judge Ross
- The Talk
- Dr. Phil
People you will meet
SRO audience members are a mixed bunch. I’d say they are a combination of new LA transplants who erroneously think this might be a way to break into acting (I never see those types of people again because after 1 taping it’s enough for them to realize that this can’t help them whatsoever) Russian girls (I have no idea why it’s popular with them but there are sure a lot of them), and down on their luck people mostly on unemployment insurance ranging from currently laid off to about to be homeless.
At the end of the taping you have to line up and wait for payment. I don’t know why but it always seems to take this company a long time and you can’t help but feel a little despondent like you are waiting in a long line for a soup kitchen or for a shoe line in Communist Russia. Seasoned audience members start sprinting to be the first in the payment line because they know that the faster they’ll get there the faster they’ll get out. I’ve seen people trip and fall trying to get to the front, it seems petty but being #1 in line of 100 people is quite a difference than being #100 where you will most likely wait an extra half hour to hour. SRO is notoriously bad for not paying people while they are standing in line which sucks especially if it’s a really long line. The worst is when I waited a half an hour for them to get their shit together with the money and another hour that it took them to check everyone out. That’s an hour and a half not paid and they don’t care. They will always round down instead of up as well. So if the show ends at let’s say 2:55pm they’ll pay you till 2:45pm or even 2:30pm instead of 3:00pm.
Parking is always tricky at SRO shows. Sunset Bronson Studios where they have Celebrity Name Game and Let’s Make a Deal has street cleaning 2 days a week and Hayden Studios in Culver City where all of the court shows are filmed is almost impossible to find parking after 9am so I don’t know what people who book the afternoon shows do there. The most obvious thing to say is get there early because it always takes longer to find parking then you’d think. Also religiously look at the street signs. There is nothing worse to coming out to a ticket and having the whole day’s pay go to waste.
Since SRO heavily books audiences for shows that have unpaid ticket holders as well they overbook more than the other companies and the chance is higher you won’t get in especially if it’s a popular show. They have a 2 hour minimum so even if you don’t get in you still get paid for 2 hours.
On Set Productions
How To Book
Onset has a website with a monthly calendar and books more in advance. They also are pretty good about emailing you on upcoming jobs as well so you aren’t constantly having to look at their website to see what’s new. On Set Productions are a little different in that once booked you have to verbally confirm on the phone with one of their coordinators the day before the taping.
The company is actually based in NYC and do the People’s Court regularly as well as other shows in NYC. They don’t have as much work in LA but usually something comes up every other month. Their LA shows aren’t regular shows, it’s usually some unknown pilot, infomercial, or a special. Onset is the only company that I’ve worked with that does food shows and infomercials.
Examples of shows they book
- Riot Slide Show
- Not Yet News
- Next Food Network Star
- Various Infomercials
People you will meet
On Set Productions is probably the pickiest of the 3 in their audience selection. I meet a lot of new LA transplants but also many out of work actors, models, and other creative professionals. Onset tends to book younger and more attractive audience members.
Onset always has a flat rate for their shows which just seems to make everything so much easier.
They also run the smoothest and most well thought out payment system. Upon check in you are given an index card. At the end of the taping you stand in a swift moving line where you hand the coordinator the index card and are then handed an envelope with cash. This makes the process about 4 times faster than the other companies where things are slowed down by the coordinator looking up your name on the clip board then having you initial to receive payment. It’s also safer because people aren’t trampling over each other to get out of there faster.
On Set is more legit where they actually pay you for the time waiting in line and will always round up rather than down. So if you are waiting in line for 5 minutes extra they’ll pay you for 15. They are so organized where if the line is 200 people and it’s taking awhile to pay they have a person hand out extra cash for the extra time spent in line.
This is by far the best company to work with. They are extremely professional, have great shows, and are simply just really cool people. With On Set productions I’ve never once paid to park and the owner always negotiates with the show to let audiences bring their cell phones. I get excited when they have shows to work on because the experience is always good.
How to Book
Elite is by referral only. I don’t know if they are ultra selective or just really small but they aren’t easy to find information about and don’t have a website. Usually if you do enough audience work you can find someone who has worked with them and get their contact email. I just emailed them and they asked for a photo and after that I was put into their database and started getting emails about shows they needed to book.
Elite Audiences seems to be the only company who regularly books audiences for sitcoms. A great thing about sitcoms is that the audience gets (at least at Warner Brothers where most sitcoms are filmed) pizza halfway through the taping.
Shows they book
- Judge Judy
- Hot Bench
- Many new sitcom pilots
People you will meet
Elite seems to use the same audience over and over so people here seem content to do audience work on a regular basis. Most people appeared to know each other and the coordinators well. I got a warm friendly communal feeling here.
They are a little different where you don’t really wait in line at the end, you just mull around and wait for them to call your name and are handed (gasp) a check instead of cash.
Elite seems to be very boutiquey and the owner comes a lot to the tapings. Their coordinators also sit in the audience.
Has the biggest selection of shows
Has work almost every day including weekends
Parking is never included
They will round down in payments and don’t pay you for time waiting in line
Crabby staff members
Cell phones are not allowed
Has a lot of strict rules to adhere to
More likely to get bumped off because their shows have many ticket holders
On Set productions
Awesome Staff members
Fast and efficient system for payment
Usually feed audience for long tapings
Cell phones allowed
Doesn’t have a lot of work available
Tends to be pickier in audience member selections so you better be hot
Only company that does sitcoms
They email you about shows
They tend to book the same audience over and over so easier to meet other people
A little more elite (no pun intended) in terms of their audience members so you need to know someone to get in
Not a lot of work available
Pays in checks
Is it worth it?
Audience work pays minimum wage which at the time of this writing is $9 an hour. Once in a blue moon a show will pay a dollar or two more per hour but that’s rare and it’s usually a show where they want a specific audience (usually ‘model looking’). Audience work works well for some but others are turned off by one experience. I think it really depends on personal preference as to how much someone would enjoy it and find it worthwhile. Some people hate game shows while others hate court shows. Pick what you like and stay away from what you don’t like. I think it can be great if you like the show and live close, especially walking distance. If not it can be a pain and make you wonder what the point is. It’s not good for people that are looking to make good money, get bored easily, and get uncomfortable easily. There is a lot of waiting around, standing outside in blazing heat then to be whisked into a freezing studio for hours, and waiting a long time to use the bathroom because there are only so many allocated breaks. I think audience work is good for students that have a few hours to kill, unemployed people without many other options, and people that are really into being on studios and seeing how shows are produced.
Ultimately it can be good or bad depending of what you make of it. It will never be completely awesome and you won’t make a lot of money or be discovered however if you walk in knowing that, have an open mind and good attitude, and have nothing to do that day, it can be fun and exciting. I think everyone living in Los Angeles should do it once!