What exactly is an extra?
Extras are the random, non-speaking characters dotted around the sets of TV programmes and films. The surly lads who walk past Dot and Pauline whilst they’re downing tomato juice in the Vic; the hair-flicking girls who never finish their milkshakes in the Summer Bay Diner; the battle scene masses in boys films.
Can anyone be one?
Just about anyone. Extras are simply used to populate a scene so depending on what the story is just about anyone can be required be they young, old, fat, thin, whatever. The only criteria are that you have to be capable of following instructions and fade into the background. There’s no room for attention seekers and waxing your hair into a Mohawk and cart-wheeling across the set will probably get you escorted from the premises. Subtlety and adaptability are key.
Easy money then?
If you can be arsed with standing around for hours on end then this is the ideal slackers job. Obviously we’re not talking reliable nine-to-five style cash at the end of the month but minimum equity rates for a nine-hour day are 65 and the catering van on location shoots is a bonus. Lower budget productions may advertise locally and pay cash at less the equity rates. Oh and we have it on good authority that if you say more than ten words you get paid more. (Add a few extra ‘yes’s’ onto anything you get given to say). Be warned though, just like other jobs you may not get paid till 4-6 weeks after the shoot (so you’ll have to have money for travelling to locations before you start). Also, you’ll have to pay your own tax and work can dry up over certain periods, usually the start of the year, so you could be high and dry if this is your main source of income.
Is this my passport to fame and fortune?
In a word. No. But you’ll be amused to find your fellow extras do very much divide up into two camps. There are those who have got a few mates together and come down for the laugh and a bit of cash. Then there are the misguided thespian, luvvie types who reckon they’re stepping the stones to a glamorous career. They’re not. In fact the agents of proper actors make them avoid extra work as it undermines their professional staus.
Do I get to wear cool clothes?
More often than not you’ll have to supply your own clothes. Extras don’t get any special treatment being the lowest of the low and all that. You’ll also have to do your own make-up. Basically unless it’s a period film or something involving a definite costume you’ll just have to make sure you look right for the part. Storming into wardrobe and demanding to know where your personal dresser is ain’t going to go down well.
What are the chances I’ll score a date with the leading lady/man?
Umm, glamorous superstar gets it on with third tree on the right? I don’t think so. Extras are at the bottom of the acting food chain, below the catering team (who at least provide food) but you may well make friends with fellow plebs and make some good contacts if you play your cards right.
OK I’m still up for it, what do I need to do?
Firstly register with an agency that casting directors use to find extras. There are heaps of agencies but some respected ones can be found at www.hiddenextra.com or if you live in London try www.castingcollective.co.uk. Just call them up and ask if their books are open, i.e. are they taking on new faces at the moment. Alternatively check out the ads in the back of The Stage (you can get this at newsagents) or look out for local ads.
NB. Just like the modelling industry, you should be wary of paying large sums of money up front (most agencies will take a standard charge for photos/admin out of you first day’s work) and agencies that only have a P.O. Box number as an address.
Once you’ve found an agent who is happy to take you on (it can also be an idea to have more than one agent – the whole point of extras is that they are not recognisable – lots of TV shows that regularly use extras use a range of different agencies so they don’t end up with the same faces in the background) You may need to go in and meet your agent and you’ll also need some photos for use in their books (8” x 6” prints are standard) – usually the agency will take these for you and charge you a set administration fee to be taken from your first pay check. Once you’ve done this they’ll start to find you work. You just have to be ready to go when they find you a job.
Any more tips?
You need to be able to get up early in the morning as average set call time can be 7am and in London that can be at studios 45mins-1 hour out of the city, when the only public transport available are the night buses. Having a car, being extremely organised and being happy to be up before the milk man starts his day makes things a lot easier.
Quote from a girl who knows (not by choice but via the eighteen year trauma that is parents in the business) ‘Extra work is basically an ok way to earn a bit of cash. It doesn't even vaguely constitute a career choice and very few people can handle the boredom on a regular basis. Most work is in London but most large cities have production companies that use extras. My main tip would be do it for a laugh, just to see what it’s like, but don’t expect to want to come back for too much more. Being covered in mud, dressed as a Welsh valley-girl, re-shooting scenes involving torrential rain and inane shouting about strawberries at 9 o clock on a Friday night was the end of the line where my extra career was concerned.’
If you’re still up for it and want to learn some more about the business, Rob Martin’s ‘You Can Be A Movie Extra’ provides a step-by-step guide to getting your face on screen. Order it here.
Here are some key sites:
"FilmExtras is where production companies, TV producers and broadcasters come when looking for Extras, Contestants, Audience Members, Pets, Families, Models or Actors. Agencies contact you directly or through your agent.
Every year hundreds of film and TV productions are shot on location and in studios across the country and around the world. FilmExtras makes it easy for Talent Agents and Casting Directors to locate willing Extras and Actors for their production needs."
Ofvm actor database