Job Awesome: How to Be A Movie Extra

Once a month, we’re going to talk about awesome/weird/adventurous jobs that you (maybe) didn’t even know existed and talk to people who have done them. If you’re sick of your current gig, get to applying!
Have you ever wanted to be a movie extra? Find out how here.
You know those people who populate the bars, parks and parties of your favorite movies and TV shows? They had to come from somewhere – and that somewhere is probably Central Casting. Read more on how to be a movie extra.
Every day, studios pay people to wear costumes and make silent, fake small talk in the background of films, ads and television shows.
Even though this is Show Biz, extra work can be decidedly unglamorous. But unglamorous can frequently equal adventure!
Mike has been working as an extra and tells us all about the glories of craft service and casting calls.
Can you tell us about your extra experience?
I started doing extra work because I was laid off from a job I’d had for 28 years. I never thought of acting but close friends encouraged me because I’ve given public speeches for years and am very comfortable in front of a camera.
Why did you decide start doing extra work?
I needed something that would get me out of the house. I was laid off and was running into closed doors when looking for work because of my age. Being cast as an extra was the only work in which they preferred me at my age.
Can you tell us about the audition process?
The only auditions you do as an extra is to walk through a scene and follow what the director is asking for. It’s pretty straightforward; you’re there to let the scene have life.
How do you prepare for extra work?
It’s best to not do too much preparation or thinking before walking on to a set. You need to be able to follow directions, so if you “prepare,” you might be thinking of doing something other that what you’re asked to do. When you’re given instructions and what the scene entails, you usually think about the best way to deliver what the scene requires and your instructions are.
Can you tell us about an average day in the life of an extra?
Days usually start early and you need time to get to set, park and check in. You’re given wardrobe instructions and told to bring options to wear. You get through check-in, pass wardrobe and are issued a voucher. The voucher is very important since it’s your proof that you worked. No voucher = no paycheck.
The day on set can be very boring since there are long periods where you’re in the holding area waiting to go to set. Bring books to read and other things to keep you busy. When called to set, it’s time to get serious, follow instructions and perform. Days can last up to 12 hours and more. There’s never really a scheduled finish time. You’re finished when the director yells “wrap.”
How much money are you earning?
I’m really only earning basic minimum wage except in some cases where I have been upgraded.
What did you take away from your experience?
The one item I always take away is how much work goes into creating television and movie scenes. One of the best benefits is meeting all the great people on set. The food that’s provided is first rate. The experience of working on set is sometimes indescribable!
Who would be a good fit for extra work?
You need to be patient but most of all you need be able to put your ego aside and follow the instructions of the director. You need to be able to repeat actions over and over until the director is satisfied. Extra work requires a variety of different looks so you cannot be too concerned with rejection and not take things personally.
Resources!
Central Casting // Movie extra jobs // How to be an extra // Movie extra FAQs // Extra-casting.com (a frequently updated blog)

Have you ever worked as an extra?  What tips can you share? 

photo by florian klauer // cc

14 Comments

Becky Alyssa

I've been lucky enough to work as both an extra and stand-in for several months – best parts were meeting a diverse mix of incredibly interesting people, great opportunities for bigger, better roles in future & the fancy free food! And your friends refer to you as 'movie star', haha. You have more luck scoring a role as an extra if you have an 'unusual' or mixed ethnicity, or special skills, eg. musician, surfer, chef – all calls I see cropping up a lot. A friend of mine is close to a few employees at the casting company & gets lots of work due to his unusual mixed race & fun personality, so when they were looking for a particularly tall female with a slim build to fill in for a tall actress (many of them are) he encouraged me to go for it – & I'm so glad I did!

Definitely agree with 'leave your ego at home' – an extra on a very popular family film was cast as a female beggar wearing plain, 'ugly' makeup; she decided she wanted a more glamourous look so redid her makeup in the bathroom & inevitably got kicked off set minutes later (with no pay). Also, remember everyone's names, listen very carefully to instructions & do anything to help out ADs, they have a lot to handle (& might remember you for another project).

I'm so glad to have been involved in such a fun project as well & recommend it to anyone to try at least once!

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Eleanor Harte

I haven't been involved in any kind of movie production but this is such a cool job. I have a friend who lives in California and he was an extra on multiple television shows when he was little; once or twice he even got moved up to speak a line so then he got paid more!

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Vanessa, Take only Memories

I used to do extra work while living in NYC. I'm an actress and it was a fun way for me to earn some extra cash while being on big sets (movie addict).
It's hard work and long hours (as Mike said) but I usually enjoyed it and met some really cool people.

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Allie

A couple friends of mine were extras in The Hunger Games and that sounded too cool! Definitely something I'd like to get into. Thanks for sharing! xx

Allie @ callmesassafras.wordpress.com

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Amanda C

I was a volunteer extra for a local movie, being filmed by a friend. It was pretty cool to watch the process, but the movie was never released or anything.

An old boyfriend of mine was an extra as a kid. He was in a tv movie where the mother was dealing with the loss of her child; he played the child. He said they pulled him out of school one day, gave him a haircut, took a bunch of "family photos", and then had to play dead in a coffin during the funeral scene. He said it took 2 days, and he got paid really well.

~ Amanda @ mylifeiguess.com

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Ren M. Brocke

I think extra work would be so much fun. I've always said that before I die I want to be in at least one movie, even if it is as an extra. I mean, I live in suburban South Carolina, so being an extra is probably as far as I'd ever get, anyway, lol. Awesome interview!

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The Dame Intl

I was an extra and music video model in London in 2012. The extra's work I did was unpaid and the food was not fancy at all. I did however meet one of the Weasly twin brothers at the one job.

It is LONG hours, if you get bored easily, you will hate it, there is a lot of waiting around and repetitiveness. And you dont get paid much, if at all.

I did it because I wanted to flesh out my portfolio to get acting work but in the end, I didnt have the patience.

It's true, having a stand out look or skill gets you better work.

I used StarNow.com to find work here in the UK.

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Jamillah

I was talking to one of my neighbors in the elevator, she just celebrated her 75 birthday 🙂 and she was complaining about the cost of her hearing aid that she had to pay out of pocket. She said it was about 9 months of social security gone in a blink! And I was horrified like I gasped! But then she put her hand on my arm and said don't worry, I have a side job! I'm an old lady in the background!

Then she started getting into how she's a regular old lady in the background of Law and Order, you can see her in movies like The Devil Wears Prada and she's recruited other older women in my building to do extra work in this super niche category of extras! I thought it was the cutest thing ever! She even had an eye on this lady who lives on my floor! Cutest thing I've heard in a while…also brilliant!

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Pauline Heath

Perfect article, I'd add that extras should remember to always remain professional. A really helpful article for those who want to be an actress and thinks that being an extra is a first step to it. I love reading articles about How to Become an Extra 'cause I can get many helpful information through it.

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AbbeyMButler

I've had some work as a film and television extra in London and other areas of the UK which has been exciting and a lot of fun as well as a handy way of making some extra money! Doing this kind of stuff a few times a year is brilliant and I have had a lot of fun with it although there are downsides such as bad food, long hours, boredom, too hot or too cold, uncomfortable costumes. I did a mini blog of some of my experiences which you can take a look at here http://abbeybutler.webs.com/my-experiences

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