Becoming an Extra
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Extras or “background actors” are the people hired to fill out a set to make a scene more realistic, such as the audience at a basketball game, pedestrians on the street, or patrons at a restaurant. There are MANY opportunities to work as an extra. All you need is some free time and initiative!
- Have pictures of yourself ready. You will need a digital photo of yourself to send to casting directors. It’s natural to be a little self-conscious about the photos, but films truly need ALL kinds of folks: small, large, light, dark, male, female, old, young, beautiful, or average.
- It doesn’t need to be professional. In fact, a simple photograph taken of yourself by a friend or family member is generally better than a ‘glam’ photo. Again, your goal is a simple photo that honestly represents you.
- Take at least two photos. A close-up of your face and shoulders (Headshot) and a full-length shot of your entire body. Nothing fancy. Just a photo.
- Keep photos current. If you cut or dye your hair. If you gain or lose weight. If you age twenty years. All of these are reasons to take new photos. Your goal is to communicate exactly what you look like NOW.
- The photos need to be digital. If you don’t have a digital camera or a phone with a great camera, try to borrow a friend’s.
- The photos shouldn’t be too big or small. If you send a digital photo that is the size of a quarter, no one can see what you look like! If you send a photo that is too big, they will be side-scrolling and looking at your pores! Photos should be somewhere around 50k to 500k (k stands for kilobytes). The image size on an iPhone is perfect.
- Have your basic measurements ready. This includes your height, weight, shirt size, pant size, shoe size. Ladies, include your dress size. You can also include your hat size if you know it.
- You can contact films currently shooting and ask to be put in touch with their extras casting directors. When emailing a specific film for the first time, always put “Extras Casting” in the subject line. When calling, politely ask if you can speak with “Extras Casting.”
HOW TO CONDUCT YOURSELF ON SET
Anywhere from fifty to hundreds of people will be working simultaneously on a feature film set. It may seem like too many are just standing around, but each has a specific job to perform at a specific time, all with one goal in mind – make the movie as efficiently as possible. The following will help you avoid film set faux pas and to do your own job.
- Always remember that this is a job. It’s fun to be on set, but it is still a job that demands a professional atmosphere. Exhibiting a professional attitude at all times will get you hired again and again.
- Listen to the Assistant Directors. The Assistant Directors (the AD Dept) are responsible for making sure everything on set happens in a timely manner. Whether it’s one of the ADs, a Production Assistant (PA), or an Extras Wrangler, there will be someone on set guiding you from place to place, and giving you cues. Here are some common things you’ll need to listen for:
- “Background action!”
This is your cue to begin walking, jumping, or doing whatever activity you’ve been directed to do.
- “Cut!” is everyone’s cue to stop. Sometimes it isn’t always clearly said, so MAKE SURE cut has been called before you break character by stopping your assigned activity.
- “Back to one.” is your cue to return to your original position or “one.”
- “Quiet on the set!” or “Quiet all around!” means exactly what it says. Be as quiet as possible!
- “Watch your back” is a nice way of saying, “You are in the way!”
- “Background action!”
- Hurry up and wait. As soon as you show up, you’ll be shoved into Wardrobe. Then you’ll be shoved into make-up. And then you’ll sit around and wait for 2 hours. It seems like madness, and you’ll feel like the PAs and Casting representatives don’t really know what’s going on, but be respectful. Please understand that set is not organized to provide PAs and extras with answers. And just keep in mind: waiting is a big part of the job, too.
- Do not disturb the principle actors. It’s exciting to be standing next to stars, but if they are on set, they are at work. As a general rule, don’t speak to them unless they speak with you first.
- Show up early! In film, “early” is on time, “on time” is late, and “late” often means you’re fired.
- Avoid wandering on set. There will be a designated area for you to sit and wait called Extras Holding. Stay put! Yes, there will be long periods of waiting, but when the time comes, you need to be ready. If you must leave the designated area, whether it’s going to your car or going to the bathroom, tell the extras wrangler or PA.
- Do not leave the set. Once you arrive on set and check in, you cannot leave before an Assistant Director releases you. If you leave, the film does not have to pay you. When you check out with an AD, he/she will give you a copy of the signed voucher that will be your evidence of work if you are paid incorrectly.
- Be safe! Sometimes filming occurs in less than ideal conditions – the summer heat, old buildings, near busy streets at night. Even some film equipment may create dangers. Cables, dolly track, and hot lights are everywhere. Every film set will have a medic on site. If someone is feeling ill, ask a PA to radio for the set medic. If someone is already hurt, yell “MEDIC!”
- NEVER LOOK AT THE CAMERA. Looking at the camera is the #1 way to ensure that you will not be seen in the movie! The only exception to this rule is if the director tells you to do so.
- No friends or family on set. Do not bring friends or family to set. If you have children you will need to find a sitter. The only exception is when a minor is cast. In this case, only one parent or guardian may accompany them.
GENERAL ADVICE AND RULES OF THUMB
- Be prepared for long days. Be prepared to work 10-14 hour days.
- You are booked for the entire day. Even if Casting tells you it’s only going to be a few hours, you are booked for the entire day. Casting relies on the Assistant Directors for schedule details. Those details can change at any time in the middle of shooting! You are always booked for the entire day.
- Park in the right place. Make sure you are parking in the designated area. Be sure to ask Casting beforehand.
- Eat before you show up. Sometimes, snacks or a meal may be served upon arrival, but productions are only required to provide you with food about every six hours. (water should always be available)
- Bring a snack. Again, there may not be food available to you on set, so bring a snack, especially if you are diabetic or are similarly affected.
- Bring something to do quietly while you wait. A book or magazine is great.
- Bring a pillow. It’s ok to bring something small to keep you comfortable, just be considerate of others
- Leave valuables at home. A secure area may not be available. Leave jewelry, electronics, or other valuables at home or in your car. You may even need to take your wedding ring off for the camera.
- Do not bring a camera. Do not take pictures with your phone. Cameras are strictly forbidden on set. A film’s producers have a right to protect the images that are being created on set. If you are seen with a camera, it will be confiscated.