How to Be an Extra
Want to know how to be an extra?
Acting and filmmaking schools are not the only way to end up on a movie set. You can be an extra on movies, television shows, soap operas, commercials and music videos. If you just want to feel what it's like to work on a film, try being an extra for a while and see how you like it.
1) How to Find Extra Work
Submit your picture to extra casting services and casting directors. You will need at least one full body shot that looks like you. You will also need all your sizes and measurements, so jot everything have the following information handy for when you need it:
The steps to how to be an extra are a little different whether you live in Los Angeles, New York, or elsewhere, so we'll look at each separately.
2) How to Be an Extra in Los Angeles
3) How to Be an Extra in New York
If you're interested in how to be a movie extra in New York, things are a little different. The two companies mentioned above also have castings to be in a movie in the Big Apple, but there's a lot of other casting directors in New York that find work for extras.
Below is a list of the most well-known New York background casting directors. Each have their own submission guidelines, so click on the links to find out how to submit online or by mail.
Some actors do not want to do background work, so casting directors need to know you are willing to be in a movie as a background performer.
When you send your picture and resume to casting directors to be an extra, write both on your headshot and the outside of the envelope "BACKGROUND WORK" or "EXTRA WORK".
DON'T Call casting directors to remind them you need work as an extra.
DO Send them actor postcards from time to time to thank them for a previous job and keep yourself in the forefront of their minds.
4) How to Be an Extra outside of New York and Los Angeles
If you live outside of New York and Los Angeles, contact the film commission for your state. They should be aware of any upcoming movies or commercials shooting in your area and how to be an extra on these shoots. The SAG AFTRA website has information on film offices state by state.
Also keep an eye on www.extrasaccess.com, especially if you have a unique skill or if you are a unique type (for example, if you're over 6'3", you can be can be cast as an elf in a Tolkien adaptation… how cool is that?). Often, they will search for specific types for a movie shooting outside of the city or even outside of the country. If you already live there, that's even better for the producer.
You can also subscribe to the The Hollywood Reporter online. Online subscribers have access to a list of TV and movie productions and films in pre-production, including where they will be shooting and who to contact for casting.
If you want to know how to be an extra, it also helps to understand what happens on a movie set and what is important during filming.
When you get to be an extra for the first time, you will get a call time and instructions on where to go and what to bring.
Most movie extra calls are early in the morning (as early as 6:00 AM). When you arrive on location, follow the signs that say BACKGROUND, EXTRAS or HOLDING. Holding is the place where extras wait to go on set.
Once you go on set, you will be told where to go and given directions. Then there will usually be an extra rehearsal before they start shooting. When the cast and crew are ready to shoot, you will hear 3 words in order:
You can just keep going from the moment you hear "Background" to the moment you hear "Cut". This will go on from take to take until you hear…
"Checking the Gate" - A good sign you may be done for that take, but you won't be sure until you hear that the shoot is moving on.
Below are a few other tips to help you be an extra that keeps getting called back to work:
Be an Extra
The last thing a director wants is to lose a take because an extra is looking into the camera. As much as you may want to be in a movie, being an extra means staying in the background. The principal actors are the ones the focus is on, and movie extras who look into the lens or try to stand out to be seen on screen usually end up being sent home or not hired again. Actually, the best way to be featured in a movie is to act professionally on set and without doing too much.
Act without a word
Another very important thing during filming is sound. A loud noise or too much background sound can ruin a take, so if you want to be an extra, it's good to learn how to act silently. For example, if you're in a restaurant scene, you may be asked to pretend to have a conversation but not actually speak. You will also be asked to eat your pretend food quietly by not clinking glasses or silverware. Understanding how important sound is will make you look more professional.
If you want to be an extra because you need extra money, you'll make much more as a union extra (ie. an extra belonging to either SAG or AFTRA. At the time of this writing, SAG Extras make $142 minimum a day and AFTRA Extras make $147 a day minimum.
That means that if you work 8 hours or less, you will make $142 - $147 dollars as a union background actor. Since most films shoot for more than 8 hours a day, you can expect to make more than the minimum quite often. After 8 hours of work, union actors are paid one and a half times their normal hourly rate. After 12 hours of work, they are paid double time. After 16 hours, they get a full day's pay every extra hour they work.
So if you work on a movie 13 hours, you'll be paid a minimum of $248.
Union actors also get additional pay for:
Owning a period dress or police uniform will be helpful if you need extra money and extra work. SAG actors get $36 extra dollars a day for bringing their police uniform. But check with both the union and police in your area, as a special permit may be necessary and strict regulations apply to when and where you can wear and even carry a police uniform.
What About Non-Union Actors?
There is no standard rate for non-union extras, so every job will be different, but rates run between $50 - $150 a day for films, music videos and commercials. Short films and low-budget films sometimes pay nothing but provide meals, copy and experience for beginners.
So How Do You Become a Union Extra?
Well, by starting as a non-union extra, being professional and on time, and fostering good relationships with crew members who will want to work with you again and again.
Since a lot of union work for extras comes from SAG projects, many background actors focus on getting SAG Membership first, which means getting 3 SAG vouchers (you can learn about how to get SAG vouchers here).
Can't join SAG?
If you plan to be an extra in Los Angeles, you may be surprised how much work is available for AFTRA members in the last few years. AFTRA is an open union, so you can join anytime, as long as you can afford the initiation fee of $1,600.
Doubles and Stand-Ins
If you want to be an extra, trying to get a job as a body double or stand-in is a good way to make extra money, work more often and get your SAG card if you're non-union.
A double is someone who replaces the actor in shots where the actor is not recognizable (you usually need to be the same height, body type and hair, at least). A stand-in is a movie extra who goes through the blocking of the real actor while the crew adjusts the lights and set.
The minimum union pay for a double is $152 a day and $157 for a stand-in. Many stand-ins and doubles work regularly throughout a film shoot and can even follow an recognizable actor around from shoot to shoot as their official stand-in.
How to Be an Extra that Works? Have something special.
Special skills (juggling, roller blading, tango, etc.) can help you be an extra, so always list those when looking for background work.
Unique looks also help, so get snapshots where you portray different looks (biker, hippie, surfer, doctor, nurse, etc.).
Also include pictures of things like piercings or tattoos and mention any special wardrobe you have (formal attire, period dress, police uniform, etc.).
Finally, provide extras casting directors with the make and model of vehicles you own (especially period cars, limos or luxury vehicles), and describe unique props and pets you can be in a movie with. Share pictures when you can.
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