How to Get a Job as a Movie Extra
For some people, being in a movie is an item on their bucket list of things to do in their lifetime. For others, it’s a great way to get started in an acting career and gain experience working on a film set or even just as a fun way to make some extra cash.
Background artists, also called ‘extras’, are a huge part of what brings a movie to life and make it look real. Don’t think you have to live in Hollywood or New York or have ‘movie star’ looks to get a job as an extra. People of all types, all ages, of every size and ethnicity are needed as film extras.
Being an extra is truly a unique and memorable experience. Many people who try it once are anxious to find their next gig after their shoot is finished. An extra works on a film set and gets an up-close, behind-the-scenes glimpse at everything that goes into making a movie. You meet all sorts of interesting people. There’s usually free food. In some films, you’ll be given amazing costumes to wear and have your hair and makeup done by professionals. Sometimes there’s a little taste of glitz and glamour of Hollywood magic, other times it’s very long, tiring days (or nights) of ‘hurry up and wait’, but having been an extra in a few movies, I can say that it’s a fun, interesting and unforgettable experience.
Here is some advice about how to get a job as a movie extra and some tips of what to expect when you’re on set.
How To Find ‘Extra’ Jobs
While much of the film industry is still based in Los Angeles, feature films are being shot in many other areas of the country due to tax incentives some states are offering to lure productions to their area. Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Texas, Toronto, Vancouver have been just a few of the new ‘hot spots’ for film production in recent years.
- One of the best ways to find out if any films are coming to your area is to check out your state or nearest city’s film commission website. Most states and some cities have these commissions and they’re a great resource for news on what’s filming nearby and for finding listings for current casting calls.
- When a large production is gearing up to shoot in an area, you may hear about an open casting call for extras on your local news channel or on the radio. Keep your eyes and ears open.
- Call your local film commission or search their website for the names of some reputable local casting directors. Many of these casting professionals have websites, Facebook or Twitter pages where they regularly post casting calls.
- Search online to locate any film or actors organizations, groups or clubs in your area. They’re a good resource for networking as well as hearing about any upcoming opportunities for extras.
- Major films, in addition to smaller independent ones will sometimes post calls for extras on Craigslist in the Jobs section under the TV/Film/Video category or in the Gigs category under Talent. Just be cautious about e-mailing your personal information or photo unless you’re sure it’s a legitimate job or company because there tend to be a lot of scammers on there.
How to Increase Your Chances of Being Selected as an Extra
The extras casting director works closely with the film’s director and others involved with the project and will cast extras based on the requirements of the script. Sometimes casting directors will be very specific about what ages and types of people they’re looking for, other times they have more open parameters. Every single film is different so there is no one ‘right look’, but here are some basics that will increase your chances of being chosen.
1) Follow the directions given about a casting call precisely.
Extras that follow directions make filming go much more smoothly for everyone. For example, if they say they want people to show up at the casting wearing business casual, wear business casual. You won’t stand out in a good way if you decide to arrive in your best tux or sexiest black dress. It will only show you’re someone who can’t follow directions.
2) Have an open schedule or be willing to clear your schedule.
Films typically shoot for 12 to 14 hours a day. Sometimes even more. Shoots lasting all night or unexpected schedule changes due to weather or other factors are common. The dates you’re booked to work can change at the last minute or you might be asked to come back on additional days if re-shoots are being done for a particular scene. Many who apply to be an extra are students on break, retired people, the unemployed, self-employed or people with jobs that have flexible hours. If you have a full-time 9-5 job, make sure you can fit the time into your schedule before you bother applying.
3) Arrive on time or early to the casting call.
If you are applying to be in a big movie, there will probably be hundreds if not thousands of other aspiring extras at the casting. Unless you want to wait in a monster line or miss the cut off time, plan to arrive well before the start time if at all possible. With smaller or lesser-known movies the wait is usually more reasonable. If you do expect there to be a line, many extras bring foldable chairs, snacks, water, umbrellas and something to read to pass the time.
4) Fill out the application forms neatly.
The majority of extra jobs do not require applicants to have a resume or headshot. It’s helpful if you have those, but don’t worry if you don’t. Sometimes you may be asked to bring a recent snapshot of yourself. At the casting, you will fill out an application with your name and contact information, height, weight, age and any special skills or abilities you have. Write clearly so if you’re chosen, they’re able to get in touch with you. They may take a photo of you at the casting. They often ask what make and model of car you have because they may want your car in the movie as well. (You’ll get paid more for that!) If you have any prior acting, theater, TV or film experience, be sure to list it on your application. If you are someone with no acting experience, it definitely won’t disqualify you. Most of the time, all you need is the right look for the scene(s) they are casting for and to show that you’re available to work during the days and times they need you.
5) Be neat and presentable.
It should go without saying, but make a good impression on the casting people by being clean, neat and well groomed.
6) Check Your Phone!
Once you apply and have an idea of when you will hear back, be sure to check your phone messages and e-mail regularly because it’s common for a casting associate to call extras from a list and whomever they can get in touch with first will get booked. Unless they really, really, really want you as an extra for some reason, casting people won’t bother leaving multiple messages or spend a lot of time trying to track you down. Answer your phone or reply to voice mail messages or e-mail promptly if you want to get booked.
A Few Things To Know Before You Apply
Because no two movie shoots are the same, it’s very difficult to generalize about what you will be doing as a background extra. You may be sitting in a restaurant, walking down a street, filling a seat in a stadium or a million other different things. If you have any health issues or physical limitations, be sure to find out what you’ll be expected to do before you agree to the job. If the shoot is outdoors, you could be outside in hot or cold weather conditions all day long. You could be standing for long periods time, need to run, etc. Make sure it’s something you are able to do.
Just because you’re an extra in a movie doesn’t automatically mean you will see yourself in the final film. Hours and hours of footage are shot from various angles every day for weeks or months. When all of that is whittled down into a 90 to 120 minute movie, you won’t know if you made the cut until you’re at the theater. That said, being an extra is such an enjoyable experience, getting to see yourself on screen is just the icing on the cake.
Sometimes extras are upgraded to “featured extra roles” or given small speaking parts. If this does happen, you will usually get a nice pay increase, not to mention more screen time.
Be flexible. Occasionally, more extras are booked than needed for a particular day and you will be sent home. Sometimes you will have to wait in “extras holding” for hours before you’re called to set. Other times, shoots will last much longer or shorter than originally scheduled. Have a good attitude and know whatever happens, it’s just another day in the ‘Hollywood’ life.
For longer shoots, free food is provided. Quality and quantity vary by film. The meals may be great or they may not. If not, don’t complain about it.
The typical pay these days for a regular extra is about $75 to $80 for the first eight hours and then time-and-a-half for overtime. As mentioned earlier, a typical shooting day is 12 to 14 hours, so it's common to make about $150 for a full day. If you’re working for more than a few days, it can add up to a nice amount of cash. Smaller and Independent movies usually don’t pay extras. If you want the experience of being in a movie and don’t care about the money, these are great options and usually easier jobs to get.
A Few Basic Do’s and Don’ts for Movie Extras
- Do follow the instructions from your casting coordinator carefully.
- Do show up about a half-hour before your call time. You’re much better off being a little earlier than even one minute late. Allow plenty of time for traffic, finding parking, getting to your destination and signing in. As the saying goes in film production: 'If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late.' Don't be the person who they turn away because you're late.
- Do be quiet at all times on set. Actors need to concentrate. The director and crew need to focus on their jobs. The microphones that will be around you can pick up even the slightest whisper. Even when the cameras aren’t rolling, a lot of work is being done to prepare for the shot and you don’t want to have someone to have to tell you to be quiet.
- Do pay attention to what’s going on at all times. The various assistant directors and production assistants will instruct the extras about what they need to do in a scene. Listen carefully so when the cameras start rolling you know exactly what you should be doing.
- Don’t wear any cologne, perfume or scented lotions. Film sets are fragrance-free. Since lots of people are spending many, many hours together in close quarters, no one wants to be distracted or annoyed by dozens of different perfume smells.
- Don’t ask the actors, directors or anyone else for an autograph.
- Don’t talk to the actors. If they happen to say “hello” or start a conversation be polite of course, but they are professionals there to do their job and so are you.
- Don’t bring your phone to set. Leave it in your car or in your bag in the extras holding area if possible. A phone going off, even on vibrate, in the middle of a shot won’t make you a popular extra. You may even be asked to leave.
- Don’t take photos with your camera or phone. Some films are stricter about this than others, but just don’t do it. If caught, you may be kicked off set or even face legal action if you post photos online.
- Don't talk about or post online about things you see while on set. Some films require you to sign a confidentiality agreement because they want to keep the plot, script and sometimes even casting choices under wraps. You can tell people you're an extra in a particular movie, but don't reveal any specifics.
- If you have a legitamate reason you can't show up to your extra job, call your casting contact person as soon as possible to let them know.
I hope these tips will help you land your first extra job and have an enjoyable time on set. See you on the big screen!
Some Places Online to Search for Extras Jobs
- Central Casting
- On Location Vacations
- craigslist: delaware jobs, apartments, personals, for sale, services, community, and events
craigslist provides local classifieds and forums for jobs, housing, for sale, personals, services, local community, and events
- Official Alan Baltes Casting Page - Facebook
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© 2012 carolynkaye