As an actor, you likely at some point will look to do extra work on a film or tv series. This can be a fun introduction to the world of on screen acting, can be a way to make some extra money, and maybe even a foot in the door to more work in the industry. It's important to note though the specific needs from an extra on a shoot, and what is correct behavior and professionalism expected of you in this type of work.
What is an extra?
First of all, an extra is a background actor on the shoot. They are typically not credited on the film or series (no mention of your name in the end credits), do not have any character name or reference, and have no lines. In fact you cannot be recorded speaking anything understandable in the final cut, or the producers would need to handle your role differently.
Your goal as an extra
Extras can be considered living scenery. It's your job to create a visual context in the background for the scene that is happening in the foreground of the shot. Maybe it's a wedding and the shot is about the bride and groom speaking. In the background extras provide the context of the wedding as guests, caterers, planners, family members and more. Or maybe it's a school setting in the cafeteria where the scene is at a table with characters talking. In the background extras provide the other students, teachers, janitors, lunch workers and more.
As an extra it is your job to provide this visual context, without pulling focus or drawing attention. You should be present, engaged, alive, but not especially interesting or memorable. You are part of the overall scenic elements that support the scene being shot in the foreground. You should not attract the viewer's eye away from the primary scene.
How do you find extra work?
If you know of a film or series being shot in your area, look to casting agency websites, even social media for the title of the film or series being worked on. Often a casting agency is contracted to find and hire the extras for the shoot days. You can usually submit photos and resume online or via email.
Extras are often hired very regularly for these projects and in a very short term timeline. You might apply today and be called a few days later for the shoot. In between you might need to go in for a fitting of wardrobe. If you want to do this type of work you need to be readily available for these fast calls. I've been notified in email in the morning that I should come in that afternoon during a specific 3 hour window to get fitted and then the shoot will happen over a few days the next week, of which I might be called for one, two or all days. Having a job that you cannot be flexible with, or heavy family commitments or other things that demand your time is not very compatible with extra work.
It's good to note here too, that when applying for extra work, follow all instructions, no matter how detailed, EXACTLY. Remember that the casting team is dealing with an enormous amount of details. They need you to provide what they ask and be efficient in your communications with them. If you go outside the bounds of what they need and how they need it, you likely won't be hired. As a general rule, work to make their jobs easier! The more you can do that, the more valuable you are to them and the more likely to get hired, and hired back.
What to expect?
First, understand that you are likely one of MANY extras the production team is working with, costuming, scheduling, booking, filming, paying. You need to be easy to communicate with, responding in a very timely fashion, and with no complications to their work. Be prepared, arrive early, behave professionally, follow instructions completely, don't ask for special treatment or allowances. They don't have time to deal with variations.
On the day of the shoot, expect to be there for 12+ hours. If you're released early, great. But often they will keep you in a holding area sometimes for long periods until they know you're needed, or are sure they won't need you any longer.
What NOT to do
Some things that are absolute no no's for an extra:
What you should do
While it may seem obvious, these can't be stated enough:
Spike, as his friends call him, has 30 years in the performing arts world as an actor, director, administrator, marketer, fundraiser. He has consulted with numerous theatres and other performing arts organizations and loves to help such groups and individual artists to achieve their success!