If you’re looking to get a start in the film industry and want some tips on how to become an extra on film sets, we’ve got them for you. But know that becoming an extra is most certainly not the way to start a career as an actor. It didn’t work for Brad Pitt or most other aspiring performers who attempted this falsely advertised “discover me on set” strategy. Nevertheless, doing extra work can benefit you as an actor in a few ways, but more on this later.
There are aspiring background performers who’s sole focus is to do extra work, and that’s fine. Yes, you can make a living by making a name for yourself as a professional background performer. That being said, being an extra is not the easiest gig, and here’s why:
- You might often have to get up very early for work and leave very late
- There will be periods of time where you’ll be standing around for hours on the film set doing nothing
- The pay is not the best either, and there isn’t really much of a “career ladder”
Doing extra work is good if you’re an beginner actor trying to see how a film set works. By doing background work, you’ll get a chance to observe how professional actors, directors and the crew work on a film set.
The pros of becoming an extra are:
- You don’t have to audition for parts; you’re only hired based on your looks and sometimes experience.
- It can potentially be a good opportunity to network, but you must be a really good schmoozer
- If you’re into that, you can hang out around famous actors (but not bother them)
- You don’t need to be an actor to become an extra; anybody can decide to be an extra
- It pays the bills
Once you get a grasp of it, you should move onto bigger things as soon as possible. Why? Because if your goal is to become a professional actor, you don’t want to make a name for yourself as an actor. Believe it or not, reputation in this business carries a lot of weight. So, how to become an extra on film sets and where to start?
How to Become an Extra on Film Sets
The plan of how to become an extra on film sets is pretty simple and straightforward. Here’s a very quick and accurate list of how to become an extra on films sets in three steps.
1. Find where they hire extras
Regardless of your location, it’s likely that there will be at least some companies, whether brick-and-mortar or online, who serve your area where they film. Find a reputable extras agency and sign up with them. Most of these require membership payments.
In order to sign up, you’ll need to provide some kind of headshot (note: it doesn’t have to be as professional as the ones actors need) and a few details about yourself, such as age, height and so on. Before you register with an extra agency and pay them any kind of cash, ensure that they are a reputable place and won’t scam you. There’s a whole bunch of fake sites that will only take your money and never submit you for anything.
2. Get hired
Once you’ve registered with an extras agency, two things can happen, depending on their business model. Either this agency submits you for random local work where there’s filming going on, or you have to submit yourself for posted filming ads (the latter option is often used with ‘scam sites’).
At this point, it’s all about the waiting. Once your phone rings (or you get that email), you will need to confirm your availability. Do not hesitate, because casting will go through the list very quickly (which is why legit services will almost always call for your confirmation). Confirm that you’re available, and get the necessary details.
Usually this will be provided, but if not, write down:
- Location of the shoot
- Number of shooting days they expect you for
- Call times
- Pay (also how much they pay for overtime)
- On-set contact’s phone number and name
3. Work and get paid
After you’ve confirmed your availability, your next step is to show up on time and do what you’re told. Another reason why experienced actors often suggest to do background work no more than 3 times is because after the initial few tries, the magic of being on a film sets wears off. At that point, all you notice is you having to stand around doing nothing for 12 hours. Nevertheless, you can still chat with others and get paid for this.
When you get to the set, get in touch with the person who’s your contact and they will direct you where to change, where and when to come. There won’t be too much thinking going on throughout the day, so it’s a fairly relaxed (and somewhat boring) job. After the shoot is over, find your contact again and ask for instructions in case they need you back again.
If you’re signed with an agency, then you’ll get paid by that agency rather than the production itself. Every agency runs their ship differently so make sure to check with them on how you’re getting paid, and ask about taxes, related forms and such. Those who are planning to make a living by doing background work need to start taking this seriously from the get-go.