Ever wondered how to be an extra in a movie, TV show, commercials, music videos, theater production and other cool gigs that would put you in the limelight?
Want to be the next Andrew McClay, who most Game Of Thrones fans would call the “Best Stark Solider” or “best extra of all time”?
Will there be a movie crew filming in your town soon and is already calling for extras to sign up?
Or are you planning to move out of your city and brave Los Angeles as many big-named Hollywood have done in the past?
If you love everything about the entertainment industry and want to try your luck with movie extra jobs, you’ll definitely enjoy this post…
How to be an Extra in a Movie
Known as “atmosphere,” or “background actor,” an extra is someone who adds to a scene (whether in a movie, TV show, or any 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 (army scene, basketball game crowd, etc.).
Extras are hired because it wouldn’t look realistic for an NBA game to have just the players filmed. Extras make every scene a bit more lively and believable.
The best thing about movie extra jobs is that you wouldn’t really have to audition for a role.
As such, regular folk like you and I 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.
Heck, if you’re being hired as part of a crowd, these physical requirements may not even be needed.
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 up 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 on 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.
Note that this practice is now illegal, so you shouldn’t pay for registration fees to these agencies anymore, no matter how popular or distinguished the agencies are known to be.
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 requirement, 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 e-mail job details to casting agencies, or post directly on online job boards.
7 Extra Casting Calls Sites to Check out
- Actors Access – Free to create an account with 2 profile photos and resume. If you want to add more elements, you have to pay up. $10/photo, $22/minute of video, $11/minute of audio, or $5/seven-second video clip.
- 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 $25 annual fee for movie extras who don’t have agency representation, but free to everyone else.
- 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.
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?
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).
- Be ready to kill time – If you had a job as a movie extra today, make sure you’re free the whole day. Production usually takes several hours, but it could get longer for any number of reasons (wrong lines from the actor, the director says so, errors in the background, wardrobe malfunction, and so on).
- 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.
- Don’t disturb actors or other people – Even if you’re a huge fan of the main actor on a movie you’re assigned to, don’t disturb them (unless they start the conversation first). This is a job, so they’re there to work just 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.
How Much Do Extras Get Paid?
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, extras get paid an average $100 to $150 per day as an extra on a movie.
However, there are things you should know about income of movie extras:
- Earn $800 or more if you land a speaking part
- First 2 overtime hours are usually paid 1 1/2 x 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 not to feed movie extras after working 6 hours straight since call time. Productions may pay penalty if they won’t follow this)
- You’ll get paid mileage (around 50 centers 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 locations, submerged in water, muddy, etc.) can give you additional take-home cash
Most of the time, you’ll be given income vouchers (for you to collect once your scene is finished).
If you have 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.
Some productions give away SAG vouchers.
Collect three of these vouchers from the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and you’ll become a SAG-AFTRA union member and skip the annual membership fee. As a SAG-AFTRA union member, you are paid higher and earn better deals across-the-board.
Can a Movie Extra Job Lead to Other Acting Gigs Down the Road?
If you’re looking for information how to be an extra in a movie because you’re planning to become a professional actor, being an extra shouldn’t be your first step. Instead, go find agency representation, which would work in finding you real acting jobs, voice acting jobs, brand ambassadorship gigs, and other jobs you have in mind.
In fact, many casting companies specializing in background actors remind these extras to lower their expectations. You hunted for movie extra jobs, you applied and got the job. As far as being seen, extras are literally background for a movie, TV show, or any other production.
Forget about being discovered because the golden age of Hollywood has passed. Your chances of becoming a professional actor from your gig as an extra is super-slim.
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 lighting, camera set-up, and other technicalities of a typical production and make it perfect for filming.
If you do love the scene and want to do more stable work as an extra, make sure to network (meet the PAs, crew, and other people) with every job you take.
Be professional about it, don’t disturb then when they’re working.
Absorb everything you can about the production while you’re on set.