As a film extra, you’ll make some easy money, get a chance to see movie making up close, and perhaps become immortalized on screen. Here’s how to get a gig.
Get a theatrical headshot made. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on photos just for extra work. Like the name implies, a headshot is a photo that focuses on your face. Head and shoulders are fine or you can send a photo that is from the waist up.
• It doesn’t have to be a professional photo; you can have a friend to take a picture of your face with a digital camera and blow it up to 8” x 10″ if the agency requests a hard copy.
• Contact local photographers and get quotes. Don’t just rely on the rates posted on the web-site. Because your needs are fairly straight forward, you may be able to get a great theatrical headshot done affordably.
• Have them printed up as needed. You’ll probably change your headshot every few months.
Try to look appropriate in your headshot. Don’t send anything overly suggestive, or too casual. Make sure your hair is styled and your makeup appropriately applied.
• Consider having your makeup professionally done. You don’t have to spend a lot but a makeup artist will know how to give you a natural look that won’t look underdone in photos with flash.
• Ask them to show you how it was done so you can recreate the look.
• If your home collection of makeup is more natural, ask the makeup artist to use colors that you are comfortable applying and normally wear.
Use a photo that looks like you. This is not a time to send an over glamorized photo or a picture of yourself in your Halloween costume. A headshot should be a good photo of you and not just a candid photo. Some movies may want a photo of you dressed like a zombie, they’ll let you know.
Get an email friendly headshot. Many casting companies use the internet so have a photo ready to email. You don’t want to clog their email, or require them to minimize the photo in order to view it. Use a size appropriate for emails, such as a 3″x5″.
Use a current headshot. You may need to update your headshot so it is current and represents your current look. Have a new headshot made whenever you change your look (weight-loss, weight gain, change from long hair to short, change your hair color, etc.)
• Don’t send a photo that isn’t a good representation. Casting agencies anticipate that you will look like your headshot. Arriving and looking totally different may end your relationship with that casting agency before it ever gets going.
Check the trades. Check the help-wanted section of trade journals under “auditions.” There are also websites that list extra opportunities. And if you live in an area where films often are shot, like L.A., New York City, Toronto, and Vancouver, there may be listings in the local papers.
Send the information requested in the most professional way possible. You may be asked to send your age, height and weight, hair color and eye color. Don’t lie, if you arrive and are a minor, are really 5″ shorter or 20lbs heavier, they will assume you are being deceptive. They need people of all sizes, shapes and ages, but various projects need various people at different times. Your really shape and age may be what they’re really looking for. It’s better to be honest.
• This is NOT the time to tell them what a big fan you are. They aren’t looking for weirdo fans, they are looking for people who can act professionally.
Go to a talent agency. Consider signing with an agency. Find a list online, or try www.centralcasting.org, which is the industry’s largest casting agency. Send a headshot and resume and then follow up with a phone call.
Never pay! Extras are hired employees and are paid by the production. No legitimate casting agency or talent agency will ask you to pay a fee in order to get work. Any agency that asks you is a sham. Also avoid agencies that want you to pay for photo packages, lessons on being an extra, or booking fees.
Be prepared. When you get your first role, ask what you need to bring. Most productions require that you bring your own clothes and arrive with your hair and makeup done. Read the information carefully! It is best not to submit for the sake of submitting, especially if you don’t have the wardrobe required for the particular scene. For example, if you don’t have a large selection of medical scrubs you shouldn’t submit for an extra job on a project that requires everyone wear scrubs or medical attire.
• A wardrobe person will approve your selection, choose an alternate selection from what you pack, or they may ask you to change into something from the wardrobe department, if one is available. It is always more professional to come prepared than risk being excused because you didn’t bring the necessary wardrobe options. Not all productions have a wardrobe selection for extras.
• They may ask you to dress for a certain season so be prepared to go digging in the attic for shorts and tank tops to wear during a winter film schedule.
• They may ask you to bring 3-4 different outfits. Read the information carefully and pack a garment bag with your alternate options. Make sure you pack the appropriate shoes, jewelry and handbags for each outfit. Ladies should remember to pack a strapless bra in a neutral color.
• Avoid wearing or packing anything with a large logo. This isn’t the time to promote your favorite band, or show up looking like a billboard for your favorite designer. If they have a deal to have certain logos allowed they will include it in the information sheet. If you arrive in a logo-ed shirt or hat, they will almost certainly require you to change clothes. If you don’t have something, they will excuse you.
• They will probably tell you to avoid wearing wild prints, bright colors, red, white and sometimes black. Films using green screens for CGI may ask you to avoid the color green.
• Don’t pack clothes of all one color. If the star is wearing purple, they will want you to wear another color. If you only pack a purple dress, purple shirt and a purple sweater, you’ll be without options. They probably won’t know what the star is wearing and that may not make it into the information they give you ahead of time.
• Iron and lint roll your clothes and pack them carefully. Using a garment bag is best but you can also pack it in a rolling suitcase. It’s better to pack things carefully in a large suitcase than have your clothes wrinkled from being crammed in a small bag.
• Ladies should pack their makeup, hairbrush, or anything needed to touch up. You may be sitting around for 10 hours before you are needed.
Don’t submit for extra work if your schedule isn’t flexible. The agency will give you the date you are needed. You should completely free your day. Extra work requires long hours and you are expected to stay until the scene is wrapped. You may only be there for 6 hours or you may be there for 15 hours and leaving at 4am. Leaving early will be very unprofessional and you may forfeit your pay.
Be professional and be punctual! Being late is unprofessional. Wandering around, being weird, talking too much and trying to be seen in the scene is very unprofessional. You are there to provide background and ambiance, not to be discovered.
Behave yourself. Act professionally at all times. Remember, you have been contracted to work and you are an employee. Never take photos, bother the crew, or approach the stars. Breaking the rules will get you kicked off the set and you may burn a bridge with a casting agency that books for many projects. The nice, reliable and normal acting people will have more opportunities to work.
• Bring a book, iPod, or playing cards—you’ll be waiting around a lot! Listen carefully to instructions. Being an extra is interesting work but can be excruciatingly boring. There will be many hours of sitting in a holding area and perhaps many hours of standing around on set, not allowed to talk or move around.
Have fun and enjoy the process. You may just be a blurry dot on screen or end up on the cutting room floor. You may just see a celebrity, and have a good story to tell your friends.
• Use your time in staging to network and chat with other extras. You may find new ways of getting work, new agency contacts, etc.
• The food served the extras (sandwiches, pizza, spaghetti) is usually good but of a lower quality than what is served the crew and cast (quality meats, fish, vegetables, dessert bar). If you are in a line that’s serving steak, you are probably in the wrong line. If in doubt, ask where the extra food will be.
• Don’t submit unless you know you can be there and stay for the duration.
• Be wary of non-paying extra work. Many productions will attempt to book extras with no pay when they have the budget to pay them. This encourages bad practices among all productions coming to your town. Unless it’s a student film or a local production, all studio productions can afford to pay you. It also protects you should you become injured while working there.
• Don’t forget to include your phone number and email address on your resume.
• Check thrift stores, yard sales and clearance sales for medical scrubs, business suits, cocktail dresses, tuxedos, etc. These are commonly requested wardrobe options for extra work. A stethoscope is also helpful. Also consider buying period pieces (disco wear from the 70’s, 80’s styles, etc.) if you can find affordable items.
• Most extra jobs will usually include meals while you are there. These are required of all filming done with union workers (this includes the actors, crew, even if the extras aren’t union). You may be there for several hours before a meal is served, so it’s best to pack some snacks or make sure you eat a meal before you go. You won’t be permitted to leave for lunch and then come back. The staging area may have a snack table with chips, sodas, etc.
• Know your rights: you may be eligible for pay increases if the conditions you’re working in are uncomfortable.
• If you plan to do lots of extra work you should build up a diverse wardrobe of clothes to have available. When you buy clothes, try to buy clothes that could be used in your extra jobs.
• Don’t be weird. You’ll get more attention being professional and doing what your told than by stalking people around.
• Never speak unless spoken too. There will probably be a lower-mid level crew member in charge of extras or an employee of the casting agency there. You should direct your questions to them and not ask someone who looks important. This crew member will probably be the one that addresses the extra prior to the scene being filmed. They will instruct you on your tasks, tell you about the film, etc.
• Don’t expect to get discovered and become famous. It almost never happens.