When you watch your favorite TV show you are usually focused on the main actors, but did you ever stop to think about all the other people walking through the scene? Those people who don’t have lines are considered background actors, or “extras”. Almost anyone can sign up to be an extra, and a gig might last a few hours or from start to finish of a movie’s filming. Naturally, it is easier to work as an extra if you live in an area like Los Angeles or New York with busy shooting schedules, but you can look up background casting in any town to potentially find work with a traveling production. The workday as an extra can require a bit of patience, but for those who have dreams of getting on set and behind the camera it can be a really fun experience.
1. Registering With a Background Casting Agency
Unlike an actor competing to find a talent agent, anyone with proper identification can sign up with a background casting agency. There are no requirements regarding experience, education, or even criminal record. You will take or provide a photo for the agency, and then usually you will be given a hotline to call and submit yourself for projects that you fit.
2. Know Your Type
To have the best chance of booking a gig you should have a pretty good idea about what you have to offer based on the way that you look and any special skills that you might have. There are a lot of background roles that call for “18 to look younger” types, so if you often hear that you look younger than you are you might find success with some of these roles. Looking ethnically ambiguous can be a plus as you can fit a variety of types. Having a special skill like gymnastics or playing guitar can also help you book background gigs and could even get you featured onscreen. Always use recent photos to accurately depict your look and be sure and alert the casting agency of any drastic changes to your appearance like a change in hair color.
3. What To Expect
When you book a background gig you will be given directions and times of when to show up on set. You will check in with a production assistant who will send you to hair and makeup and wardrobe to get you prepared for the shoot. You will be given a voucher that you turn in at the end of the day to ensure that you get paid for the project.
Once you are prepped and ready you should expect to do some waiting in holding, which is where all the extras hang out. Bringing a book or a deck of cards is always a good idea to keep busy during the down times. When you are called to set you will be given directions that usually involve some sort of walking or miming. Keep in mind that most of the sound in film and TV besides the main actor’s lines is put in post-production, so you have to be as quiet as possible. You should not disrupt the actors at any point of the day. As exciting as it is to be on a real set it’s important to remember that the job of a background extra is usually to remain in the background, so be sure and follow instructions exactly as they are given to you.
When you are released at the end of a shoot day, you may get asked back for another day of work or you might be totally wrapped. At that point, you would check the casting hotline again in attempt to book a new job. Showing up on time, staying patient, and remaining accountable during the day are a great way to build a reputation as a trustworthy extra. Many people enjoy the variety and surprises that go along with working as a background extra, and there is the potential to make a consistent paycheck.