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Portable Jobs: Movie Extra

Think being part of a motion picture is a one-time experience only possible by being in the right place at the right time?


When you are stationed in locations that regularly serve as the backdrop for film crews, there are plenty of ways to not only be a one-day extra, but also to become part of a network of people who are selected time and time again for a variety of small film roles.

Chip Lane, actor, director and co-owner of Savannah production company, First City Films, said there are many roles on set.

Extras - Non-speaking roles to blend in with the background of the movie. They can make anywhere from $65 to $150 per day. If the movie is a Screen Actors’ Guild film, the rates can be found on the website and change quarterly.

Featured extra role – This person interacts with the star in a non-speaking part. This may pay more per day since it is a specific role.

Day Player - This character has a line or two of dialogue, is considered part of the cast, however, is only usually needed for one day.  

Stand-in – This person is precisely chosen for a role because he or she is required to bear a striking resemblance to the star. The stand in is used for lighting and positioning checks when the star is not on set, hence the need for resemblance. This person works every day the star works and gets to know the crew well but is never actually filmed.

“Normally films will announce extra roles as paid or unpaid, but always ask,” said Angelique Chase, actress, casting director and Lane’s partner at First City Films.

Chase and Lane have much advice for applicants as they head out for jobs as movie extras.

“Even if you do not have a professional headshot, you must submit a good, clear picture of yourself with good lighting. You want to be able to see your eyes and your face,” Chase said.

“No selfies,” Lane said. “They are unprofessional and will be deleted.”

Both encourage individuals to wear less makeup in the photo and avoid bright, printed clothing.

“Keep it natural looking so they can see how they can use you,” Chase said. “Don’t automatically stereotype yourself.”

Chase also recommends providing a full body shot of yourself, tasteful with properly fitting clothing and nothing distracting. She also said the digital size of the picture matters.

“You want it to be around 72 dpi (dots per inch) so that when it is received it just pops up automatically. No one has time to sit around and wait for a picture to download,” Lane said.

If you are chosen for an extra role, be prepared for a very long day, doing very little.

“There is normally an extras’ holding area, could be a tent or a gymnasium, somewhere away from the excitement. Always bring something to do, a book to read, crossword puzzles or video games with headphones,” he said.

In spite of the long hours of waiting, the holding area is a great place to meet people and lunch is usually provided.

Here is a list of tips on how to have the most successful extra experience:

  • Send everything the casting director needs the first time. Whatever information they ask for, from pictures to the dates you are available. No one has time to ask for additional information.  You have to be able to take direction from the very beginning. Also, provide all of your contact information. Don’t give just your work number where you can’t be reached at night, because calls often come at night. You could always be on call.
  • Be available all day. If you say you’re available on Tuesday, it really is all day long. Sometimes you could be asked to report at 6 a.m., even before the crew.
  • Don’t ever be late.
  • You may be asked to bring your own wardrobe. Generally you will be told what kinds of clothing to wear and bring. Remember though, no logos. You want to be a blank slate. Beforehand, you can even watch movies and commercials and you will see mostly solid, muted colors on people in the background. The idea is to be subdued and blend in.

Once you’ve arrived on set for your first day, you will meet an assistant director or production assistant who will be assigned to the extras.

“The first thing you do when you get there is introduce yourself as an extra and ask where you should go,” Lane said.

“Also make sure you bring the requested forms of identification with you, usually either a passport, or driver’s license and social security card. If you don’t have what they ask for, you will be sent home,” he said.

The first part of your day will be spent filling out paperwork and signing in. Usually you will receive a voucher. Chase advises you hang on to it and turn it in at the end of the day to ensure you get paid for your day’s work.

And then, the waiting begins. You will head to the extras’ holding area and you will be reminded to stay in the area at all times, except to go to the bathroom, in which case you will alert someone that you are going. It can be hours of waiting, followed by a few moments when you are needed, immediately.

 “Do not leave the area to autograph seek and sight see or you can kicked off set,” Lane said.

Although a movie set is a fascinating experience that is screaming to be posted to your Facebook page, cameras and social networking on set are a big no-no.

“Don’t even think of taking pictures on set and putting them on Facebook as you could get sued,” Chase said.

Once an extra is called to the set, the job will almost always be quite repetitive.

“Be prepared on set to do the same thing multiple times and then back to your beginning position, or ‘back to one,’ as directors call it,” Lane said.

When the day is done, you submit your voucher. Paychecks sometimes take 30 days to be received in the mail.

If you’ve had a great day and are hungry for more, Lane suggests you offer to be available for later dates.

“You should email all the days you are available during their filming,” Lane said. “And, in an area that is regularly shooting for television shows, you have a lot of opportunity to work if you are available.”

You can also network with other extras to find other filming opportunities. Many people you will encounter are regulars or semi-regulars in the business. You can learn from them about different Facebook pages and websites where casing calls are regularly posted for your area.

“Once you get out there a couple of times, your name and email will get passed around,” Lane said.  “You can also look at the different municipality websites who regularly host film makers. They often have a film office or a place you can sign up to receive newsletters and posted casting calls.”

The thrill of being an extra can definitely be grown into a larger experience if you have the right attitude and the extra time. Chase noted that if you are in three SAG projects as an extra, you become SAG eligible to be a member.

Extras, he said, are an essential part of making movies. They help create the authentic, believable stories that we love to get lost in.

“I call extras ‘reality makers,’” Chase said. You don’t have an empty restaurant … the people in the background are what make it look real.”

Chase said being a part of the magic can become a regular gig for extras who follow directions and stay in the know.

 “Be a repeat, not a delete,” he said.


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