I have been working as a movie extra off and on since the 90's. If you have any interest in learning more about movie magic then it's a great experience. Movie extras are those people in the background that are in restaurants, on streets, in parties etc. They don't have interaction with the stars of the scene, but they make things more believable. I mean, how real would it seem if restaurant scenes were empty, no one was ever on city streets and the only people in a movie were the principal actors?
Movie extras are sometimes referred to as atmosphere, background or background actors whereas the main actors are usually referred to as 'the talent'. Don't let that get to ya though, we know how important background actors are!
My first movie was Dogma and my most recent one was a Seth Rogen film that I'm not allowed to talk about yet (update, it's called An American Pickle and I'm the one sitting next to them in the airplane). In between those, I worked on Concussion, Love The Coopers, the One Dollar series, a Budweiser commercial, a few other Hollywood movies and a bunch of small projects.
Is being a movie extra difficult?
Extra work is nothing more than miming the same action for hours on end. It doesn't take strong acting skills but you do need to be able to follow direction. Since the microphones need to pick up the actors speaking, you're required to be utterly silent. So if the scene is a restaurant, even though you're in the background talking to someone, you're just mouthing the words. They'll add in background noise later.
You'll do the same thing again and again and again, then they'll reset the cameras from a different direction and you'll do it all over again. One 5 minute scene can take all day to film! Sometimes you'll get to the call, go through wardrobe and sit in holding all day never being called on set.
Sometimes you'll get placed in the first scene and it will be completed in 2 hours and they'll send you home since they can only use you once. It can go either way. Don't worry, you still get paid but this is why you should bring a book or extra phone battery. Waiting can be boring!
Related reading: 5 side hustles (I actually did!) to make extra money
How much do movie extras get paid?
The good thing is that it usually pays at an 8 hour minimum plus time and a half after that. $10 a hour seems to be a common rate around here. Of course different movies and different locations could have different pay rates. If the movie is paying the SAG rate it can pay upwards of $170 a day for extras. It's basically the difference between union and non union, but depends on the project.
There are different roles available on movie sets outside of your typical background work. I once got paid for a full days work to go to the set and have a "family photo" taken with 2 other extras. It took less than 2 hours and the photo was placed in a trophy case on the set of the movie. Isn't it fascinating that every picture on the wall in a movie was taken just for the movie? No wonder these things cost millions to make!
Sometimes when on set you can get bumped up to a speaking role which means you get paid more money and have more of a chance of being seen in the movie. You can even end up being credited on the film, though that's more rare.
What is a stand in?
I was once moved to a stand-in position when someone didn't show on set. A stand-in is someone that looks similar to the actor in the scene. Usually height, body type, age range, skin & hair color seem to be the deciding factor. The stand-in is the person who stands on the set where the talent will be, while they reset the lights and cameras.
Once everything is set, the stand-in exits the set and the lead actor comes back to film. You can get hired as a stand in and end up being asked to work every day the actor is on set. If you have lots of free time it could be a lucrative job for the few months a movie is filming.Being a movie extra is usually a 1 day gig, though sometimes they will need you for a few days to film a longer scene. If you happen to work on a series they may ask you back over the course of filming or put you in a recurring extra role. For instance if there a scene in a restaurant, they will have extras play the restaurant employees. They may have these same people come back for each scene at the restaurant.
Usually they do not want you to work on the same movie more than once. Unless the movie takes place in a small town, it would be weird for the same person to be in multiple scenes! The one exception for this is crowd scenes. If they're shooting a concert, packed sporting event etc. then they will often allow the same people since they need lots of extras and can shove you in the back of the crowd if need be.
You will have to sign a contract that you absolutely cannot leak any info before the movie is released. No pictures on social media of the sets, actors, scripts etc. You have no idea how hard it was to not post a video of Will Smith rapping in the DJ booth during the concussion shoot till after the movie came out! Ugh!
Many times they ask you not to even have your phone on set. It's a good idea not to bring valuables with you to set as you usually are working in a place away from holding/base where you started at.
You'll only want to bring whatever ID the agent designates for the paperwork and any wardrobe option they ask you to bring. Many times background brings their own wardrobe unless the movie is set in the past. In that case you may be asked to come in on a different day for an appointment with wardrobe. I've always received a separate check for wardrobe fittings.
How to find extra roles in movies?
I find these casting on local Facebook groups and by following the agencies that book actors in my area. The entertainment section of the newspaper will sometimes have casting calls. I've even seen them advertised on the local news. Don't be discouraged if you show up and see 500 people at a casting call. They can easily go through that many people in any movie since every scene needs different background actors!
Many time the local agency will hold a screening when the movie comes out and these can be a lot of fun to attend. This is a great place to network...which you'll want to do to get inside information about other projects. Many times other local actors/extras/stand-ins will find out about projects first and by knowing them you can get into the project early. This is great for small projects as they usually don't use social media to advertise.
Once you're signed up with the local agents, they will sometimes call you in for commercials or print ads. There is no 'typical' extra look, although they will have specific castings sometimes. I work out of Pittsburgh and they recently did several movies set in the past and the calls were all for natural hair colors on women and non modern facial hair styles in men. I have highlights, so I didn't fit.
They cast for biker types when they were filming Outsiders and Escape At Dannemora and it seems like they are always casting young professional types for commercials. Sometimes the castings call for families, siblings or a parent & child so the family is more believable.
My kids do some acting also. My daughter worked on Concussion with me and she was one of the school kids in Me, Earl and The Dying Girl. She worked for 2 weeks straight on that one. The rules are a little different for kids, but as long as they're over 16 they don't need an adult on set with them.
Now if you're out in LA or some other area that has a lot of movie action then you might be thinking my numbers are off or even that procedures are different there. That could be true. Trying to discuss a job that happens by different companies in different locations is kind of hard, but I tried to give a basis of what to expect. Of course YMMV but give it a try. I think you'll find extra work is fun and an easy way to make a few extra $$.
Want more information on creating your own side hustle? Check out 7 things I sold on Ebay (Instead of throwing them away)!
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