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Life As An Extra in Film, TV, Commercial, etc!
Remember some celebrities all started at the bottom. Most actors start off as movie extras or with roles so small you might even miss them on screen. So never give up on your dreams!!
Lights, camera, action. Welcome everybody to the wonderful world of Show Biz. Being an EXTRA on a television show, music video, commercial or film is exciting and just about anyone can work in this business. Whether you’re 8 or 80, large, thin, black, white, tall, or short you can do it. The only requirements necessary to make good money are flexibility, focus, and a great attitude.
An EXTRA is anyone who fills out the background scene of a movie, television show or commercial shot. It could be a concert crowd, working in an office scene or people on the street passing by the main actors or action. As an EXTRA, it is your job to make the scenes being filmed, look natural and as lifelike as possible. Extras are sometimes called Background Actors.
As an EXTRA every day will come with a totally different schedule and routine. Flexibility is key. Today you may have a call time of 6 am ; the time that you are required to be On Set for filming. To make your call time, you will have to wake up between 4:00 am and 4:30 am in order to be ready. If you are late, you could be sent home without pay and not be allowed to work again for this company. Promptness is ABSOLUTELY essential in getting consistent work as an EXTRA.
The payment voucher you will receive is a time card that has your name on it. This is what you need to guarantee you will get paid for your work. The voucher will be filled out by you, but wont be signed by the Casting Director or Assistant Director (AD) until the end of the day.
Once you have your voucher, you will report to the wardrobe department. Here your wardrobe will be looked at and hopefully approved. This is usually an outfit or two that you were required to bring. On occasion, you might receive a costume from the Production Company to wear for the shoot. In between paper work and wardrobe and sometimes hair/make-up you can often expect to enjoy a free breakfast or free lunch or dinner provided by craft services (catering).
Hopefully, about an hour after the call time, filming is set to begin. The EXTRAS are called to the set and instructed on what to do for the current scene. These things can range from sitting or standing in a specific location, to walking behind or near the stars. If you are lucky you may get to interact with the stars of the film. Every EXTRA has a purpose and while some are more seen than others, all are important. Your instructions will almost always come from the 2nd AD. It is rare for the Director or 1st AD to instruct the EXTRAS personally. Although it does happen, don’t expect to interact with them very much. Once all the directions have been give out to cast and crew, there will be a couple of practice run throughs of the scene. This is called Rehearsal, whether it is for the actors, extras or cameras.
Throughout this process, the Director checks that the actors have the right emotional intent, know their lines, and have their correct movements down, called Blocking. The Director of Photography, (called the DP), makes sure the lighting is right for the scene, and the cameras are set correctly. The Gaffer (electrician) makes sure that all the electrical gadgets are working, while the hair and make-up people attend to the look of the stars. The wardrobe and prop people are extremely busy, making sure the Actors and EXTRAS are perfect and have everything the scene requires.
When the Director is satisfied, the cameras will start rolling and actual filming will begin. One scene can take as long as three to four hours to complete, depending on how many angles the director wants to film from, and how all the aspects come together. Some film directors may take days with only one scene in order to get exactly what they want. It is a very long process, and as an EXTRA, patience is a must. This is because everything is repeated over and over again, until the Director decides its time to move on.
Not every EXTRA on the set will be used in all the scenes. Those not being used in the current scene must hang out in the Holding Area. This is the area away from the set, where the EXTRAS can read, play cards or try to line up work for the next day. It is your free time to do what ever you want until being needed in a scene. It is certainly a great time to Network with the other Extras. Get friendly with other folks who do what you do, find out who hires them, and how they go about getting consistent work. This is a wonderful opportunity to build a support system with other Extras.
Other extras are also a great source to provide insider information on where to get the best deals on photos, coaches, and what other projects are coming up in town. Film and TV jobs usually last for a short amount of time. Everyone on the present Production will move on to other jobs when the project is completed. It is important to build friendships with as many of these people as you can.
I cannot stress enough that Networking is an important thing to master in the entertainment industry. However, when you first start out you probably wont know very many people in the industry, don.t worry. Build relationships with as many working industry people as you go along. Learn people’s names, exchange phone numbers and keep in contact. Talk to everyone and everybody. You never really know just who knows whom, and what will lead where.
If you are in Holding always be prepared to keep occupied, because boredom can lead to trouble. It is also important to understand that you are there to do a job, even if that means hanging out for hours and hours and hours.
On the set, remember you are not there to talk to stars, get their autographs or take pictures with them. In some cases EXTRAS are asked not to approach or talk to the stars on the set. Stars are people too, and please understand that they are under a lot of stress trying to memorize lines and get their scenes just right. Don’t take it personally if they ignore you. They too are there to do a job, so just be honored that you get to work along with them, and are part of this exciting process.
Lunch is usually called within six hours of the Call time, because of Union rules. Lunch will last for about an hour and is typically provided by the Production Company. Sometimes you will be asked to provide your own lunch or told to go off lot and buy your own lunch on smaller projects. After lunch, if you are still needed on set, you may spend the rest of the day doing the same thing as before. This will last until the director calls a Wrap (end of filming), or you are no longer needed in the scene.
There are no normal days in Show Biz, so your day could last anywhere from 2 to 12 hours. The longer days with overtime, brings more money and free meals, whereas the shorter days mean good money for less work. In either case, when your day is done you will return any wardrobe and prop items that were borrowed. Then it is time to have the 2nd AD sign you out. He or she will verify that all the information on the voucher is correct and then you sign your Time out. Once signed, you will be given a copy and are free to go home and prepare for the next day.