what to know about working as an extra

It's a great way to earn industry experience. An extra’s, or background artist/actor’s workday can be very long, and there’s a lot of waiting around, too. And it’s a low paying job. To get started, you’ll need two color photos of yourself to submit to the casting director, a headshot (shoulders up), and a full body shot. No professional photographer required and no glamour shots either. Only make sure your photos are e-mail friendly, e.g., low file size, jpeg format, and roughly 8x10. Don’t send a thumbnail or a billboard sized photo of yourself. Lastly, make sure you know your actual body measurements for wardrobe, and don’t lie. More than likely, you’ll be asked to bring your own clothes, so be prepared.

Locating a Casting Director

Next, search online for a casting director that casts background actors. Most will allow you to register or apply as talent and submit your info, photos, measurements, etc. After you register, look for any openings and apply. If you’re chosen, you’ll receive info on where to show up, when, and how to look. It’s also important to keep your account up to date, i.e., new photos, etc. You can also contact a specific film’s production office, but if you do, ask for the “extras casting director.” Lastly, consider checking Craigslist for postings, only use your discretion when replying.

On Set Dos and Don'ts

  • DO show up 10-minutes early. Allow yourself to find reserved parking for extras, walk to location, and for checking in. Never be late else you’ll be fired. And don't forget to claim your voucher else no pay.
  • DO remember this is work. Being on a set is fun, but it’s still work, so act professionally.
  • DO work until released. Expect a workday of at least 10+ hours. Know that shoot schedules change unexpectedly, so beware.
  • DO listen to direction. You’ll receive instructions form a myriad of different players, ranging from the Director, their first or second AD, and maybe even a PA or the extra’s wrangler, telling you what to do, where to go, etc. Listen and do exactly as they ask. Some likely commands you’ll hear while on set will be things like:
    • Quite on the set or quiet all around: Your cue to stop excess movement, talking, etc. and be quiet.
    • Background action: Your cue to begin your activity as directed.  
    • Cut!: Your cue that it's the end of a take and okay to stop your assigned activity. Never stop until you are absolutely positive that it is okay to stop.
    • Back to one: Your cue that the shot is about to be done over and it?s time to return to your starting position.
  • DO be patient! Remember, you’ll spend a lot of time waiting, so bring a book, magazine, portable chair, etc., to keep yourself occupied and comfortable while you wait
  • DO park, wait, and eat where and when instructed. Film activity is broken up into sections, which includes where to park, where to wait, and where to eat, so listen up, and follow instructions.
  • DON'T arrive hungry! Eat before you arrive, or bring a snack. Water, too.
  • DON'T ever leave the set! Remain within the “extra’s holding” area at all times until dismissed. If you need to leave the area for a bathroom break, for example, clear it with the PA or AD. Wait to leave until you’ve been given a signed voucher, releasing you. You’ll need this voucher to get paid.
  • DON'T look into the camera’s lens, ever! Only look at the camera IF instructed to by the director.
  • DON'T forget that other actors are there to work, too. So, no small talk and no autographs.
  • DON'T bring a camera or valuables. Cameras will be confiscated. Leave all your valuables locked in your car. If you need your cell, put it on silent or vibrate, and keep it in your pocket!
  • DON'T bring a friend. Come alone unless you’re a minor and you need a parent or guardian.

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