10 Steps Toward Becoming an Extra
You see them in every movie or TV show --
background actors or "extras"
who never speak but add atmosphere to the production. They play comatose
patients on "ER," Bedrock townsfolk in "The Flintstones," and students on
"Felicity." You name it, these people have done it, and you can, too.
Anybody can become a TV or a movie extra, but you probably won't get rich.
The standard pay for non-union actors starts at
$46 for eight
hours and increases when you work more hours and/or use your special abilities.
Rates are higher for union actors. Members of the
Screen Actors Guild (SAG) start at $100 for the first eight hours,
while rates for American Federation of Radio and Television (AFTRA)
Before you egg on Tom Cruise, bump into Julia Roberts or dance with Ricky
Martin, there are ten things you need to do. Then, you can register at all
the background casting agencies in your area.
1. HAVE YOUR PICTURE TAKEN. Unlike principal roles,
background parts do not require a professional
headshot or resume.
Usually, a 3x5 color snapshot set against a white backdrop, or a Polaroid,
is acceptable. Upscale business attire is preferred in these straightforward
Make sure your photo is current. If a casting director
looks at your picture and asks, "Who is this?" or "How long ago was this
taken?" -- get new photos. Persuade a friend, who is handy with a camera,
to take some shots. Then, pick the one that captures the real you - the
"you" the casting director will recognize when you walk on the set.
If you've got it, flaunt it. In addition to your standard shots, work whatever
special looks suit you. Are you over eighteen but look much younger? Take
the pictures to prove it. With shows such as "Popular" and "Sabrina," the
"eighteen-to-look-younger" category is in such demand, that it's
the easiest way for neophytes to break in. Own incredible
clothes from another era? Get a picture of yourself in your wardrobe, and
target the period shows or films that might be interested. If you're a hottie,
snap some bikini shots. There's always something shooting at the beach.
More of an alternative-type? Show off your tattoos,
piercings, or radical hair.
Be aware that when you register with a casting company, some of them may
also want to photograph you with a digital camera to put you in their computer.
2. GET YOUR STATS TOGETHER.
Before you can register with a background casting agent, you'll need to
know your statistics. Use a measuring tape. Women need to determine the
following sizes: waist, hips, bust, dress, shoe, hat, and glove. Men need
to know: waist, jacket, sleeve, inseam, neck, shoe, hat, and glove. In addition,
you must include your union affiliations, age, weight, hair and eye color.
Keep this information handy for future reference, and be sure to update it
when necessary. Be honest. While it's tempting to lie and say you're a size 3,
there's nothing more embarrassing then arriving on a set and discovering you
can't fit into the wardrobe because you're really a size 12.
3. GET A PHOTO TAKEN OF YOU WITH YOUR CAR.
People aren't the only thing that background casting directors cast. Many
times they need actors with particular automobiles as well. Luxury cars,
vintage automobiles, and junkers from the 70s were popular this season.
Red, white, or black cars are usually avoided because they don't blend into
4. INVEST IN A PAGER OR CELL PHONE.
Since many jobs are cast the day before the shoot, casting directors must
get in touch with you quickly. If they can't reach you, they'll call someone
else. Get a pager or cell phone so that you're easily accessible.
5. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE VOICEMAIL OR AN ANSWERING MACHINE.
Once you're booked on a job, casting directors need to know they can leave
directions, call time changes, wardrobe requirements, etc. on a reliable
machine. Don't waste their time with musical interludes or longwinded jokes
for the day; keep your outgoing messages brief.
6. PURCHASE A THOMAS GUIDE OR LOCAL MAP.
Every job is in a different location, and chances are, you haven't been
there. Buy a Thomas Guide or map to avoid getting lost.
7. BUY TWO ALARM CLOCKS AND USE THEM. Shooting days begin early.
Set both alarms to make sure you arrive on time. Tardiness is unacceptable.
8. LABEL YOUR PHOTOS.
You could look like Claudia Schiffer, but if you forgot to put your name
and phone number(s) on the back of your photo, there's no way for anyone
to contact you. Use your computer to design labels with all of your stats,
then stick them on the back of your photos.
9. HAVE CASH AND IDENTIFICATION INFORMATION.
Most background casting companies charge a nominal fee to register with
them. Cash is often the only acceptable form of payment. You will also
need to bring identification such as a driver's license and Social Security
card, or a passport. Be prepared.
10. DRESS FOR SUCCESS.
Arrive in the appropriate attire. If you see yourself as an college student,
look like one, etc. First impressions are crucial.
Now you're ready
to ask your local film commission for a list of background casting agencies
in your city. Then, call as many as you can and schedule an appointment.