How to Be in a Movie

Want to know how to be in a movie?

There’s three ways to be in a movie:

  1. Become an actor and land real movie roles by getting an acting degree, an agent and going on auditions.
  2. You can be an extra on movie sets and be in the background of tons of different films.
  3. Or you can be in a film you make or produce.

Let’s look at each possibility.

1) Become an actor

There’s a lot of stories out there about movie stars who made it overnight, but the truth is that becoming a working actor usually takes a lot of hard work, time and dedication (and a little luck too). Go on IMDB and read the bios of your favorite actors. You’ll be surprised how many went to acting school or struggled for years before making it, regardless of their talent.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to become an actor if that’s your passion. Just keep in mind that as you try to be in a movie with a speaking role, you will be competing with many actors who have a lot of experience in both films and theater and strong acting training.

To give yourself the best chances of succeeding as an actor, follow these steps to become an actor. You’ll want to get an acting degree or at least go to acting class, get a headshot and resume, find an agent and go out on auditions. You don’t have to do any theater acting if you only want to be in a movie, but actors with theater training tend to have longer careers in both fields. You can also get started by watching these acting videos.

2) How to Be in a Film as An Extra

You don’t need an acting degree or any training to be an extra. All you need is time and flexibility. If you live in New York or Los Angeles, you could work on dozens of different movie sets over time. It’s a good way to learn how a movie is made, watch professional actors work, and it can be fun to be in a movie and then see it on the big screen.

Just know that in most cases, you won’t see yourself in the movie. Extras are background actors and as such, are unrecognizable most of the time.

Sometimes, directors choose an extra to say a line or have a little silent interaction with the leads. You can then become a featured player or a principal player, which means you may get a screen credit or at least a real acting credit, but this doesn’t happen all the time. Even when you get a line, the scene can be cut out of the film in post-production.

What is a Movie Extra?

Watch almost any film and you’ll see extras in all the scenes where the lead characters are not alone.

For example, in a movie, two actors are walking down the street having an argument. The pedestrians walking by them are extras. Often, the drivers of the cars driving by are extras. Now the two characters enter a restaurant. All the other patrons eating at the restaurant or waiting for a table are extras. The waiters are extras too, etc.

Movie extras make a scene real by acting like regular people in the background. That’s why they are also called background actors.

Imagine a restaurant scene with no one but the lead actors. It would feel surreal, not believable. Now imagine a film crew just went into any restaurant to film. Not only would it be too loud to pick up the dialogue of the lead actors, but most patrons would be looking at the stars perform, which wouldn’t make the movie very believable either.

So what do you need to be in a movie as an extra?

What You Need to Be an Extra

To be an extra, you don’t need to be any particular age or have any particular look. Just like in real life, producers need extras of all backgrounds, ages and types to be in a movie.

What you need is to be flexible with your time, so you can take work at a moment’s notice.

To be in a movie can also be pretty demanding physically. You have to be able to work long hours (often 12-16 hour days), sometimes standing for a long time, sometimes sitting waiting around.

You could be in a film shooting in the winter to portray summer and vice versa, which means you could be over dressed or under dressed for the weather conditions.

“As a background actress in New York, I had to walk in and out of an upscale restaurant at the beginning of a scene, wearing summer shoes and a spaghetti strap dress. That meant waiting outside in the freezing cold before the director called “Background” over and over.”

How to Be in a Movie as an Extra

You don’t need to go to acting school to be an extra, but you do need to be able to do a few simple things:

  • You need to be able to not look at the lead actors when the camera is rolling and just act as if you’re going about your business.
  • You have to be able to make believe a little bit and take some general directions from the 2nd A.D. (the second assistant director who is generally in charge of the movie extras). For example, if you’re walking down the street, you may be told that you’re in a hurry or that you’re just strolling enjoying the day. If something big is happening in a scene, you may be asked to react to it as you walk by.
  • If you want to be in a movie, you’ll quickly learn that every shot has several takes, and every scene has several shots, which means you will be asked to do the same thing over and over dozens of time.
  • To be an extra, you don’t just have to do something several times over, you have to do it the same way at the same time every time. That’s because when the director cuts the scene, they need to be able to match one take to the next as if it were all one moment. So if you’re walking down the street in a scene, you have to pass the lead actors approximately on the same line every time. Sometimes the 2nd A.D. will cue you, sometimes they will ask that you time yourself to a line or another actor. Either way, once you start your walk, you have to keep a consistent pace from take to take.
To keep your background acting performance consistent, give yourself a little back story as an actor would. For example, if you’re walking down the street, decide where you’re going and why you’re in a hurry. Or let’s say for example you’ve been asked to smile at a lead actor who is on his knees proposing in the street. Decide what kind of person you are and why that would make you smile.

If you’re ready to be in a movie as an extra, learn how to get extra work.

Try to be a stand-in

A stand-in is someone who takes the place of the lead actor while the crew adjusts the lights and prepare the set for shooting. This is a good gig to have, as you will work more regularly and get to know the crew with time. If you act professionally, a director may just keep you in mind to say a line when the opportunity arises.

Want to give background acting a try? Read more about being an extra.

3) How to Be in a Movie You Make

If you really want to be in a movie, the only sure thing is making your own film. It may not win an Academy Award or become a blockbuster, but you will have given yourself a chance to follow your passion and have something to show for it.

Your movie can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want it. You could go to filmmaking school to learn all the stops first and become an actor-director, or you could start with a small camcorder and mike.

Here are some tips to get you started on how to be in a movie you produce:

  • Write a Screenplay First.

    Even if you’re making an ultra-low-budget homemade movie, try to write your screenplay in astandard format. It helps the shooting and you may need it for film festivals. A lot of locations complicate shooting a lot. Limit your locations to start with and avoid noisy locations. Some great movies take place in just one or two locations.

  • Decide on your format.

    Decide if you want to shoot film or video. If you don’t have much money, choose video and save your budget for renting a good mike and sound equipment. Movie audiences are very forgiving of bad visuals, but not so much of bad sound.

  • Get a Crew and Cast

    If you want to act in your movie, you’ll need at least a camera operator/cinematographer and a sound operator. A script supervisor is great to help you with eye lines and matching if you can afford it. Look for filmmaking students who may be willing to work for copy. Once you have your crew, hold auditions for other actors to be in your film or hire friends from your acting class.

  • Scout Locations and Get a Shooting Script

    Now you have to prepare your shoot by making a list of locations where you scenes will be shot and preparing them, then breaking down your screenplay into all the different shots you want to film to tell your story.

Now you’re ready to shoot and you know how to be in a movie you made! This is a very quick introduction. You’ll need to do more research before you get started and have a plan for editing and releasing your movie.