#1960220, By Cuke How do you become an Extra?

  • Cuke 12 Jan 2007 10:14:17 79 posts
    Seen 2 years ago
    Registered 12 years ago
    Well I did 'extras' (or 'supporting artists' as they're called on set) work on and off a couple of years ago so I may be able to tell you a bit about it...

    Don't ever get into it as an actor looking to be 'discovered' its a million to one shot and you're more likely to put casting agents off if you've been doing a lot of extras work. I was doing it purely for the life experience and fun as well as a little extra pocket money.

    To get into it you should find a local(ish) extras agency, there are loads about just phone up Equity (actors union) and see if they can put you in touch with one. They often have waiting lists so don't expect to just walk onto their books. And never mess them around when you are signed up, if you cant make something tell them as early as possible as they have a hundred other people looking for work and don’t need to be bothered with you. Bare in mind if you start saying no to work they'll stop calling you all together too.

    Don't ever pay to join one, the ones asking for a fee tend to be the ones who don't bother getting you work. They take a cut of what you earn on a job but if they've already made some money out of you then they lack the motivation to push you for work.

    It IS a lot of sitting/standing around and the days can be long (12 hour, 6am – 6pm is normal plus inevitable overtime when the shoot over runs) and on a TV or film set the Extras are the lowest of the low so if you have a problem with being treated a bit like human cattle at times then don't bother either. Unlike the real actors the people in charge know there is a massive supply of extras waiting for work so being awkward, late, noisy at the wrong time or just unprofessional will see you sent home and your agency asked to not sent you again in the blink of an eye.

    On the plus side, you meet some really interesting people amongst the other extras and you have a lot of time to sit around chatting getting to know them.

    You will probably never get to 'meet' any of the stars, the cast of whatever you're working on rarely if ever mingle with extras unless you're a regular (soaps and long running dramas tend to use a regular core batch of extras to give continuity) and get to be familiar to them. Having said that sometimes you’ll end up in a position where you get to chat to them, and in my experience most of them are nice and down to earth. Oh and, its probably obvious, but don't ever autograph hunt, you’re both at work and its just unprofessional. Its remarkable how quickly they lose their ‘star’ attraction anyway, once you’ve seen them sitting around drinking coffee reading the Sun at 6am its hard to think of them as anything other than normal people.

    Your basic needs are normally well looked after, 2 decent meals (often more than decent to be honest as you normally share the same food as the cast) a day and drinks and snacks on offer all the time. If you're on an outside shoot then there will normally be a bus of some kind for extras to keep warm in otherwise a room will be provided in the building the filming is happening in for you all to hang out between shots.

    It's not as easy as it looks. While you may watch a shot of say Casualty and think all the extras do is walk from side to side and pick up bits of paper etc. What you need to remember is that that every movement is planned, you have a start point and you're told at what point to move to your next location (normally a word or phrase in the script) and any subtle bits of background work you may add like picking up a pile of paper etc needs to be remembered and repeated exactly the same on each and every take so that however it is edited you appear to move naturally through the scene. Again, it sounds simple enough but in a long take it can get quite hard to keep the timing the same each and every time and if you make a mistake it can ruin a shot, not something that an extra ever wants to be responsible for.

    Again on the plus side you do get to be on TV... I did a lot of work on Casualty when I was doing extras work and there was a kind of progression the more I got sent there. I was lucky enough to get a couple of what are called 'walk ons' (where you interact in some way with a cast member, handing them some paper or being examined by them etc) quite soon after I started and once I even got a line and my own couple of shots simply because I was in the right place at the right time. After that I started being called as a doctor a which meant I spent a lot more time on set and got called a lot more regularly (they try to keep 'staff' extras as regular as possible so it doesn’t look like the hospital has a massive turn over of staff) which I guess is the 'goal' of being an extra, to get to a point where you are part of the regular group on a show. If you get there then you'll get a decent amount of screen time, you'll get more walk ons and stuff. But I cant imagine you'll ever really make the leap to proper parts. It's just not the way the thing works, by the time they get to shooting everything is already cast.

    I used to get about £70 a day after agency fees etc and it wasn't really a reliable income (a couple of days a month I guess) although to be fair I never chased work and was only with one agency. You never knew when you'd be working often you’ll be lucky to get more than 24 hours notice. I met some people who did it as a 'job' but they would be with a load of agencies and would travel the country for work. They also seemed to spend a lot of time on their phones calling round their agencies asking about work which seems far too stressful a way of life to me....

    So to wrap up what’s become a very long rambling post... being an extra is a laugh, but its also not for everyone. If you get the chance to try it I'd say everyone should have a go, but its not glamorous in any way regardless of if your working on a low budget TV show or a big film, you're not going to get ‘spotted’ and it's often hard tiring work. But you do get a buzz from seeing yourself on TV or in a film and its not every day you get to see into that world :)
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