Getting your dream role as the star of a movie can be a couple of auditions away, but you can become an extra in the next blockbuster film, quite easily. An extra, or background artist, is used to fill up space during the production of a film, television show, stage, musical, opera or ballet production.

Extras will appear in a nonspeaking or non-singing (silent) capacity and are placed in the background.

For example, an extra can be used to give a more lively vibe to a restaurant scene, while also allowing the directors to define what each of the background actors is doing.

An extra can go by man different names. Junior artists, background talent, background performer, or extra cast members, are all names the industry uses to describe “extras”. A shoot for a film and television series can have anywhere from zero to thousands of extras on set.

Extras have the ability to sign up for the productions that fit their schedule the best. However, the days you do decide to work can be pretty long and hectic. An average day on set can the anywhere from 10 to 12 hours of work. It is definitely not your usual eight-hour workday.

You can find jobs as an extra though casting calls or a general casting agency. The entertainment industry is always looking for people to work with during filming, so there are plenty of jobs available for actors, it is just a matter of finding the ones that work best for you.

Whether your gigs are on a film set, television show, or theatre production, you will be taking a step forward in your acting career. Being an extra can even help you get noticed at your next acting audition.

Where To Find Work as an Extra

If you live in NYC or LA you are going to find casting calls for background artists, left and right. This is because so many films and TV series are filmed in these cities. If you live outside of these two cities you might have to look a little harder to find work as a background artist, but it is not impossible.

work as an acting extra
Most work as an extra does not require experience or auditions, so it is a perfect first push into the world of acting. (Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash)

Getting in contact with a casting agency for opportunities working as an extra is only the first step of many to become the background actor. Here are a couple of steps to keep in mind on your journey to extra work.

  1. Join a Casting Company - You can easily find a casting company in your area by searching “casting company near me”.  If you can’t find an agency this way, you can use larger national companies like Backstage. Backstage is a site dedicated to pairing actors and actresses to acting jobs, but they also include posts for those who want to be an extra. Social media is also a great resource; smaller productions will use social media platforms to look for extras. You can like their pages or sign up for email lists. Talent agencies, production companies, and casting agencies are always posting online about openings for film and tv set extras, even for those with no experience.
  2. Apply for Jobs - once you have made a profile on Central Casting or with your local casting company, it is time to start applying. Extra job posts will have options for people of all ages and backgrounds. Carefully read through the job description and ask yourself if you fit the casting call. If you do, send in the required stats, these usually include a headshot, your age, height, and weight.
  3. Taking Responsibility - although it doesn’t take much experience to get hired as an extra it does take responsibility. You have to be a good employee and show up on time, respect the schedule, and follow directions in a timely manner.
  4. Preparation - with so many aspects coming into play during the production of a movie or TV show, there are a lot of parts of the schedule that take double time. The casting director that books you will be able to tell you the time frame you should expect but you should also be prepared for it to take longer. Lunch is usually provided, but make sure you have extra drinks and food on hand just in case. If you are going to be waiting a while, you might also want to bring a book or something to keep you entertained.
  5. Manage Your Expectations - the work of an extra can help you pay the bills but it is not something you can get rich from. It is one of those jobs that are considered a stepping-stone rather than a full career path. It can be a boost to your bank account in between auditions and acting classes. Another way to supplement your income is by becoming an acting teacher.

There are plenty of other places where you can find job postings for extras. You can submit your headshots to Central Casting or go through a talent agency. Central casting is "one of the leading background actor casting companies in the United States".

Extras are hired to help give the appearance of a convincing reality during filming. Although the work is geared to be part of the backdrop and the unseen, it is also very crucial to production. The acting experience and knowledge of the industry that you get from working on set, can serve you well in the future if you are looking for future acting jobs.

A Typical Day for an Extra Performer

Work as a background talent can be quite demanding. Workdays onset can range from 10 to 12 hours. You will most likely be doing to the same task for hours. Casting extras will be asked to stand, sit, and repeat a single motion multiple times.

Filming schedule for actors
Time is precious during filming, so make sure to always be on time for your work. (Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash)

If you are hired for the job you will most likely be given a call time. This is the time that you need to be ready and onset. So make sure that you budget enough time to make it to set by call time. As a general rule, productions are very tight on time and producers highly appreciate a timely extra.

When arriving on set, make sure that you check in with the Extras Casting Director. They will let you know a more detailed schedule of what you are going to be doing and can show you where you will be stationed. During check-in, you might also receive a voucher that indicates if you are a general extra or if you will be asked to do something specific.

After check-in make sure to go by the wardrobe department. You might be fine to act in the clothes you wore or you might be asked to use a costume.

You will then be directed to the “bullpen” this is usually the holding area where all the extras hang out while they wait to be called up onset. You will be on standby for whenever the directors need you, so make sure to bring items to keep you busy. Pack a book or the script for your next audition.

Once you are called on set, you will be told about the business you will be performing. Whatever action you are given you will be repeating multiple times.

Directors will ask for scenes to be filmed more than once, so it is very important that you pay close attention to your movements, you do not want to be called out for lack of continuity.

At the end of the day, when the television or film production gets finalized for the day, make sure to sign out. You will be able to do this at the same check-in desk.

Taking Advantage of Being on Set

Being onset of a major film or TV production can give you access to a lot of networking opportunities. When you are on set, make an effort to talk to as many people as you can. Onset you will find casting agents, acting coaches, other actors, and production assistants, these are all people that you can network with.

climbing the ladder in acting
Work as a background character can be a great first step into the industry.r. (Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash)

“Your network is your net worth"

By talking to the casting assistants, you can get on their radar and will be more likely to be called upon the next time they need your services.

Your reputation as a person in the showbiz is one of the most important things. Always pay close attention to building good relationships, being on time, and being professional at every audition.

By being an extra you have the opportunity to learn about on-set etiquette. You will be able to understand how the different parts of a production to make a movie or TV show come to life.

Being an extra can help boost your resume and help you get more audition for speaking roles in the future. If you want even more of a boost to your acting skills, you might want to consider hiring an acting coach.

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Maria