Ever wondered how to be a movie extra, or in TV shows, commercials, music videos, theater productions, and other cool productions?
If you love everything about the entertainment industry and want to try your luck with movie extra jobs, this post is for you.
Today, you’re going to learn how to be a movie extra, where to find jobs, and what to expect when you go down this path.
What’s a Movie Extra?
What is a restaurant scene without waiters walking by and diners eating at the other tables?
What is a street scene without other pedestrians?
What is a football scene without spectators cheering their team?
They’re simply unbelievable. If these scenes are unbelievable, audiences are distracted and cannot immerse themselves in the movie or show.
Known as “atmosphere,” or “background actor,” an extra is someone who adds life and authenticity to a scene in a movie, TV show, stage, or any other production. These extras often have non-speaking characters and just pass by main characters, stay in the background, or serve as one person in a crowd.
Extras are especially valuable in war and historical films that typically require crowds numbering in the thousands.
How to Be a Movie Extra
Do You Need Acting Skills or Experience?
The best thing about movie extra jobs is that you don’t really have to audition for a role.
As such, regular folk like you and me can become an extra in a movie, as long as the casting director thinks we have the right look, hair color, height, size, and other physical characteristics they might need.
Requirements: Things You Need before Hunting Movie Extra Jobs
Before you find movie extra jobs, here are several things you should prepare (and don’t need to prepare):
- Paperwork: Like most jobs, you’ll need to fill out an application to become a movie extra. You’ll need proof of citizenship, IDs, filled-up tax forms, union details (if you’re a member), and so on.
- Background check: In super-secret productions, background-checks may be part of the application process.
- Headshots: Most of the time, the photos you bring won’t be needed because agencies and productions use Polaroids to document movie extras. So if you’re thinking of investing in your headshots, you can skip it for now (do it when you decide to become a professional actor).
Get an Agent vs. DIY Job Hunt
In the past, the norm was to go to a casting agency, pay money upfront (about $20 to start), then wait for the agency to notify you about movie extra jobs.
As a rule, if you want to join a casting agency, go for those that do not charge a dime.
They may ask for a lot of requirements (ID, work permit, resume, etc.), but as long as no upfront fees are charged, then go for it!
With the internet and social media providing a venue for movie extra job hunters, it’s possible to find extra casting calls directly from casting directors and production companies looking to hire extras.
Most of the time, these production companies would email job details to casting agencies or post directly on online job boards.
11 Extra Casting Call Sites to Check Out
- Backstage – Costs $8/mo if you sign up for a year, but they have the largest selection of extra job postings on this list.
- Extras Access – Free to create an account with 2 profile photos and a resume. If you want to add more elements, you have to pay up.
- Playbill – Love the theater? Check if you can become an extra on any theater productions near you.
- Central Casting – Only available for New York, Los Angeles, Louisiana, and Georgia productions, so you might need to travel if you get a job from these locations)
- Casting Frontier – Free to join, but offers premium account (about $100/year) for those who want extra features.
- Sylvia Fay/Lee Genick & Associates Casting – Known for 30 years of experience casting background actors
- Casting Networks Inc. – There’s a $25 annual fee for movie extras who don’t have agency representation, but free to everyone else.
- Level Talent Group – Information is scarce on the website, but submit your resume and photos and they’ll contact you if they’re interested.
- NYCastings – If you’re based in New York, this is a good source of casting calls.
- iActor – If you decide to join SAG-AFTRA, this is the official casting directory for SAG-AFTRA members.
- Mandy.com – Probably has the most number of jobs posted daily (3000+/day) out of all free casting agency websites.
Depending on which casting site you joined, the application process may vary a bit. Most of these sites have a job board in place for you to check out current extra casting calls.
You’ll want to steer away from websites that charge you a monthly fee just to send you information on casting calls because it’s rarely worth it. You don’t get priority status anyway and you can find a lot of these casting calls on your own if you’re willing to do the work.
Sometimes, you can just follow their Facebook page, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media accounts and see extra casting calls posted there.
Apply and wait. If you receive a phone call, text message, or any communication from casting directors, then you’ve tackled the first phase.
What Extras Should Expect on Set
So let’s say you got the job.
What happens next?
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If you’re lucky to receive a booking notice, this would detail everything from wardrobe to call time, makeup requirements, hairstyle, etc.
You’re probably going to be responsible for your hair and makeup, unless you’re working on a set like The Walking Dead (where extras require plenty of makeup/prosthetic work done), or Game of Thrones (where extras have to do costume and makeup first).
Here are some things that movie extras need to do and keep in mind:
- Be on time – Background actors are easily replaceable. If you’re not on the set by the call time indicated, expect to be replaced.
- Be ready to spend the whole day on the set – If you get hired as a movie extra on a certain day, make sure you free up the whole day. Production days ideally last for eight hours, but it could get longer for any number of reasons. Bring something to pass the time.
- No phones allowed – Don’t bring your phones anymore, since they’ll most likely be put in a locker on closed sets, or kept turned off for security reasons.
- Bring IDs and paperwork – Be sure to keep your IDs or other documentation ready to show when casting crews ask for them.
- Take direction – Either the Second Assistant Director or the Wrangler will give you very specific directions: when to come out, where to go, how fast you should be going, your expression, etc. They’ll also tell you who you can and cannot speak to on the set.
- Don’t lose your voucher – Every day that you work, you’re given a pay stub showing the number of hours you worked. If you have a costume on or holding props for the scene, the crew might get this voucher from you as collateral, then give back your income voucher after returning the props. If you worked in a SAG-AFTRA production, you get a SAG voucher. These are important for tax purposes, and the SAG vouchers are essential if you want to get a SAG-AFTRA card (more information below)
- Don’t disturb actors or crew – Even if you’re a huge fan of the actors, directors, or anyone on the crew of a movie you’re assigned to, don’t bother them unless they initiate the conversation. This is a job, so they’re there to work just as much as you are.
- Take the job seriously – If you’re lucky, the casting director may take notice of your work ethic and hire you there on the spot for future work.
Should I Join SAG-AFTRA?
SAG-AFTRA is a labor union representing film and TV actors, voice actors, radio professionals, artists, singers, broadcast journalists, and other media professionals.
As I mentioned above, when you work in a SAG-AFTRA production and the role you play is covered under a union contract, you get a SAG voucher. You can earn your SAG-AFTRA card when you get three SAG vouchers.
There are some pros and cons to consider before you decide to join SAG-AFTRA.
Having a SAG card means you get higher pay rates than nonunion movie extras and you’re eligible for bonuses or pay bumps for things like bringing your own props or having certain skills. Casting people also tend to hire SAG card-carrying extras.
But you can only maximize these benefits if you live in a city where plenty of SAG-AFTRA productions are made. Having a SAG card disqualifies you from working on nonunion productions and roles, which are more plentiful even if they do pay lower. SAG-AFTRA also requires a high initiation fee and annual dues.
How Much Do Movie Extras Make?
Half of the people who work as extras to do for fun and see how it feels like to be on “the big screen.” Half of the people who work as extras do it for extra cash. Regardless of which group you belong to, extras get paid an average of $100 to $150 per day as an extra on a movie.
However, there are things you should know about the income of movie extras:
- Earn $800 or more if you land a speaking part
- The first 2 overtime hours are usually paid 1.5x the hourly rate, while the next 6 hours after this are paid double time
- If you’re still working at the 16th hour, you’ll receive your daily rate per hour.
- Some productions offer bonuses for extras who don’t use their lunch breaks. (It’s illegal to not feed movie extras after working 6 hours straight since call time. Productions may pay penalties if they don’t follow this)
- You’ll get paid mileage (around 50 cents per mile) for driving your car to the set. Your car can be turned into an extra too! And you’ll be paid additional for it!
- Working as an extra in unfavorable environments (smoke-filled, water-filled, muddy, etc.) can give you additional take-home cash.
Can Working As A Movie Extra Lead to Other Acting Gigs Down the Road?
If you’re looking for information on how to be a movie extra because you’re planning to become a professional actor, being an extra shouldn’t be your first step. Instead, find agency representation, which would work in finding you real acting jobs, voice acting jobs, brand ambassadorship gigs, and other media and acting jobs you have in mind.
In fact, many casting companies specializing in background actors remind these extras to lower their expectations. You looked for movie extra jobs, you applied, and you got the job. As far as being seen, extras are literally the background for a movie, TV show, or any other production.
Forget about being discovered. Your chances of becoming a professional actor from your gig as an extra are slim to none.
Your next best bet is to land the job of a stand-in, or the person used as a substitute for the actor before the actual shoot.
Stand-ins are important since they help the production get the lighting, camera setup, and other technicalities perfect for filming without paying the main actors a premium and without wasting their time.
If you do love the industry and want to get more stable work as an extra, make sure to network in every production. Introduce yourself to the production assistants, crew, and other people involved in the production whenever there’s downtime.
Absorb everything you can about the production while you’re on set.
The bottom line is, be a good movie extra and it can open up more opportunities for you and make this a lucrative side gig.