There are many people who might wonder, what does it take to be an extra in a movie
? I've heard all kinds of questions, like are there certain qualities, do you have to know how to act, how much do you get paid, etc. I have been on several films as an extra, so I thought I'd take the time to fill you in on what I've learned. There was a great article written on this in Take 2 Review magazine
, a site dedicated to reporting what is going on in LA film. If you are as interested in the business as I am, this site is a great source of information and I recommend checking it out.Where do you begin?
The article suggests that you first draw up a resume to let the production company know your previous work...but here in Louisiana, many extras have no "previous work." Besides, as an extra you don't speak-- you're basically expected to do what they tell you... so I will give you my real-life pointers from what I've done
To get the information about upcoming movies that need extras, I would go to louisianacasting.com, www.thehurdcastingnetwork.com, or lafilm.org
(the first two are currently under construction). These should let you know where to go to sign up-- usually places like the mall to gather the most people possible. You could also fill out a Motion Picture Extra Profile Sheet
, because any casting agency in the future could use the information.
Bring a photo
of yourself so that they can attach it to your sheet, so they will know to call you when they are looking for a certain type (I will do an article on what kinds of people they look for later). This simply means if they are doing a school scene and need kids, they won't call you on those days if you are a 60 year old white-haired man...get it?
After you sign up, you will wait to get a call
which will usually be a couple of weeks after you signed up. They will tell you the days that they need you, but you don't have to agree to do all of them, just whichever you can commit
to for a full day
. That's right, they film for 12 hours
, usually in a shifting schedule where one day they'll film from 8am-8pm, then the next day 9am-9pm etc etc... you get the picture. Get prepared for an early morning, because sometimes the call time can be at 5 or 6 in the morning. But if you commit to coming, you better be there
. I've been there when a number of people didn't come and it totally messes with the shot. Movies are a precise business, and they know the exact numbers of people they need in the background, so it's very important that you get there. If there is an emergency and you cannot make it, try to find a replacement and then call the agency and notify them of the change. This is not desired, but life can sometimes work out like that.What do I wear?
They will tell you to bring usually 3 outfits
or so. They will specify the genre of clothing they want: things like an office look, a city look, or school attire. When they specify, they don't mean your brightest fur coat or your tightest leather bar outfit... well, unless they say so for the scene. They just want you to dress simple and appropriate for the scene. Never wear black, white or red
. Oh, and don't wear stripes either
. These mess with the cameras and when you go for your fitting with the wardrobe lady, she will immediately say no. That is why they ask for a couple of outfits, because you will "go to wardrobe" and the costume designer will ask you to try on or show her what you brought. She will be the one who picks out what you have to wear. This usually takes place at the beginning of the day, if you haven't scheduled a fitting on a day prior (they'll tell you when to come for this if you have a fitting on a day before the day your working). If you don't bring anything that works, they'll put you in an outfit. And you have to return it. They'll usually ask for your license or something to hold while you have the outfit on. They like layers
. If you can throw a jacket or sweater on over what you have, barring any instructions not to (because of the movie's season or something), they like your outfit to have a dimension. If you ever notice the people on TV usually have layers to their outfits, just looks better I guess. Also, if the movie is set in another time period or something, they will give you the outfit to wear
. This is why putting your accurate measurements on your profile sheet is handy, because they will use this to appropriate who wears what. With your shoes, most ask that you wear a closed-toe shoe
. Wires, equipment and other things around the set pose dangers for the tons of people bustling around and having a closed-toe shoe is just safest.What do I do on the day of?
Someone will call and give you directions on where to show up and at what time. They will have you park in a reserved area, and then they get all of the extras together and have them fill out a CAPS
voucher. This is your general information, the information about the film, and the hours you work so that they can turn them in for your paycheck. You usually make about $75 for a day on the set
-- not bad considering what you get to experience. If you go overtime
, which is common, you get paid time and a half. I've been on sets where I've received checks for $125 even. For lower budgets, the price might be different, or you might not get paid at all. They will let you know this.
The director's assistant and production assistant (called a "DA
" & a "PA,
" its part of the movie lingo) will be your guides from here. They will let you know the gist of what you will do that day, which scenes you'll be involved in, and a little background about the movie. You should follow whatever the PA says, because everything is orchestrated and they need all the cooperation possible. Slacking off, taking naps, wandering around the set is not allowed... you should see this as an opportunity to learn and not a time for doing what you feel like.
When it's time to shoot, the PA's will place you strategically around the set and tell you what to do. The director will call for "quiet on the set
" and then will announce "rolling,
" and finally "ACTION!
" These are the cues for you to be quiet and pay attention to go. You will do is things like walking by and pretending to talk to a friend (NEVER actually TALK
); reading a book on a bench; eating in a cafeteria; or throwing a frisbee. The scene will dictate this. If you are outside, the weather can be a factor but do not let it change how you act. Sometimes they film in the summer and its supposed to be winter in the movie, so walking around fanning yourself wouldn't make sense. Try not to make any rash movements to distract the scene. If you do something to try to get yourself noticed, chances are they will just totally cut you out of the scene. Its better to play it safe, and just blend in
. The director will yell "Cut
!" to announce that they are done filming, but that's not all. Each scene will probably be redone
like 10 times. Get prepared to do the same thing many times
over. You will have to repeat what you are doing until they have gotten what they want out of the scene, and will yell "checking the gate
." This is when you know that the scene is done and you can take a break until they are ready for you in the next scene. Movies are precise and every inch of what goes on is scrutinized by many people. Know that even though you may not feel
like walking by in a silent conversation for the 17th time, you have to do your job
because everyone on the set is working to get the scene just perfect. A good attitude for this is key. Etiquette.
There are several things about movie etiquette that I am going to share with you. This will save you from a certain level of embarrassment, because if you are caught doing one of these... its a huge faux pas that will not go unnoticed or without an embarrassing and public lesson learned (trust me, from experience...):*Never bring a camera-->
if you think you can just snap away at the set or the famous faces you have it all wrong. Not only is it aggravating to all the people working there, its unprofessional. Picture taking is not allowed on the set. Period.*Leave the stars alone-->
asking for autographs, telling them about your shrine at home, or asking them to take a look at your headshots are so inappropriate and ridiculous. This is their job and they have to keep up with a lot while on the set, so please avoid them as much as you can. Some stars even have policies on their contracts to be completely avoided by all on set in order to make sure of this. Don't go up to them-- don't stare, don't confront and please don't grovel either. They just want to get their work done, so leave them alone.*Do not talk on the set--> No cell phones at all
! No one appreciates a loud phone call anyway, but especially on a movie set. You might be Mr. Important outside of this movie, but at that moment you are an extra and you cannot "take this call
" when you feel. When you are in the waiting room, feel free to chat or read a magazine to pass the time. But when the director calls for quiet on the set, you better listen. They will call you out on it because their sensitive microphones will pick up on every little thing you say
... I was on a set once when a girl was talking about the night before to her friend as she "walked by." After they called cut, a PA approached her and said that everyone wearing earphones (which is a considerable amount of people) could hear everything she said. Not only did she ruin the take, but everyone knew about her late night adventure. Talk about embarrassing
There is a lot of down time when you are an extra. They put you in this holding room to wait until the scene is ready, as setting up for a scene takes a long time. Bring reading material or something, but stay in the holding room. If you wander out, you might miss the opportunity to go onto the set. Talk to the other extras, talk to the PAs, you will obtain a wealth of knowledge. Every movie has an extra or two who basically make a living off of being an extra-- these people have stories for days. Its also a good way to learn about the movie process. If you have any questions, feel free to ask around. You would be surprised how much actually goes into making a movie. And trust me, you'll never watch movies the same
. So, its a good idea to stay with the group and be ready to go.Food Etiquette.
After about halfway through the day (sometimes earlier/sometimes later) they will serve lunch. The food is usually really good. They will have a line set up for the extras to go through, buffet style usually. There are a couple of things I have learned, because the food situation can quickly turn into a nightmare if you are not prepared...*Eat with the extras-->
There are specific tables for each group of people on the set, and extras are kinda at the bottom end of the totem pole. Do not wander off onto the other side of the tables that seem more open, those are usually reserved for the big guys on the set. Do not sit with these people. It is a HUGE faux pas. If you feel that you are at the wrong table, you should ask someone who the table is for, and if they say director/producer/something in that range, jet the scene. You should just find a spot where the extras are and squeeze in. Blending in, again, is key.*Eat the extras' food-->
Sometimes there are separate buffets for the stars and the big wigs, and that food could be a nicer selection. Do not, by any means, try to get into that line with them. You will be put back into your place. Just eat what they give you and if you don't like it, pack something in advance.*Eat Last-->
If there is one big line for everyone to eat from, wait and let the cast and crew eat before you. For example, if a camera guy sees an extra eating before him, it usually pisses them off. Try to wait and let them get in before you because they need to be the first out. Besides, they have been doing all the hard work all day and deserve to go ahead. If a PA instructs you to go first, then do so. But never without specific instruction.
I know this all sounds soo severe, but its really not. Just some general pointers to keep you from the center of embarrassment. I've done some of the above, and would never want anyone to share the feeling. Movie people aren't mean
, they just have a lot of pressure and stress, and knowing what to do helps ease this. If you find yourself in one of these situations, just excuse yourself and go on with your day. They'll never hold it against you, they have too much on their plate... no pun intended.Types of Extras.
Sometimes if you luck out, you might be asked to have a special job as an extra. These jobs usually come from knowing someone, having prior experience with a certain company, or just being the right guy at the right moment. There are several kinds but I'll talk about a few:Featured extra--
these are people who are specifically chosen to be seen on camera. If they are panning a movie crowd, for example, they will zero in on your face as you laugh or something of that nature. By sending in your headshot before, you can be chosen or simply on the day of they might ask you. If your face is on the camera, sometimes they will send you to "hair and makeup
" to get touched up. Very fun.Stand In--
This is a very precise job. Before the actor or actress comes on the set, people like the camera people, set people and/or director have to get the scene just perfect. So that they don't have to waste the actor's time, they will have an extra or "stand in" come and stand in the place where the actor will be. You might have to stand in a spot or go through the actual motions, so that the camera/lighting/props people can get the measurements to complete the scene. Its important if you are chosen for this to do exactly what they say. Every inch of movement is recorded, and they need you to cooperate fully.Body Double--
This is exactly what it says. If you have the same look or measurements of the actor, they will ask you to be their body double. These are used for scenes when you can't really see the actor, but they are supposed to be there. This is another way that they don't have to waste the actor's time on something unnecessary...it can be taken care of. You might have to ride in a car, on a bus, be filmed from the back, etc. They will let you know what you must do, and you should make every effort to do it to your best. These, along with stand-ins, are usually paid more... around $125 a day or something. If you are picked to be a body double, you will go to hair and make up so that you look the most like the character; you will also go to wardrobe to get their exact outfit. Also very cool.In the end...
You will receive your check in the mail a couple of weeks after you shoot. This will reflect the days and hours you worked. If you have given all of your information to the casting company, they can use it to contact you for future job opportunities. Make sure if you want to continue to do this, that you let the company know.
I know this all must sound overwhelming, but being an extra is a lot of fun. Sure there are a lot of rules and its a very long day, but the reward of being a part of something like this is worth it
. You get to see how the film is made, all the work that has to be done-- the countless scenes to make one 2 minute part of a movie that you will know by heart. But you will appreciate movies so much more after this
. Never again will you sit in a movie and just watch as a fan, you will know just how much work they did for your enjoyment. It really makes you appreciate the film industry. I know after my first day on a set, I went home and watched everything from a different eye. I would find myself looking at very complicated scenes with several camera angles, going, "Oh my God that must have taken all day!" People might think that the movie business isn't "really work" and that they have it so easy. One day on a set will change that idea forever. And those who've never been just won't get it. But you will.
I encourage everybody in Louisiana to go be an extra for at least one day. It's a great experience and you'll enjoy yourself-- trust me. Movies are always looking for people, so keep your eyes open. I don't encourage people to go in with the outlook of "being discovered"
because that's not really what its all about, but there is always that possibility
. You never know, maybe one day you could be starring in a film of your own... a film hopefully made in "the other LA!"