Have you ever wanted to try your hand at being a movie or TV extra? If so, just know that being an extra is not as easy as it looks. But what even is a movie or TV extra? Well, it’s people who are “supporting actors”. They usually don’t speak at all and their scenes last only a few seconds.
Their jobs are not easy – they are usually called onto a set early in the morning and they don’t leave until late at night. They do a lot of waiting around and they don’t usually get to talk to the stars. So why do people do it? Why do they become movie or TV extras? Some of them believe that being an extra is the best way of breaking into the movie industry. Surely, if you just keep working and keep showing up in various films as an extra, someone is bound to notice you. And then you will become a huge star. And indeed, sometimes that does happen. Some of our best actors, such as Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone, were once extras. But in most cases, extras never get their five minutes of fame.
In fact, most people become extras just for the additional cash that the job brings in. And being an extra can indeed be a fun part-time job. But it can also be awful.
15. They Do A Lot Of Waiting
Movie and TV extras do a lot of waiting around. Since they are not the main stars of the movie or TV show, they have no idea when they will be needed on a scene. In fact, sometimes extras come in and spend the whole day on set only to be told twelve hours later that their services will not be needed that particular day after all.
Amy Rogers, an extra that has quite a lot of experience under her belt and who has “starred” in TV shows such as Homeland and Banshee, says that “there are days you get to set and you wait and wait and you never get used. Or you work all day and the footage never gets used.”
14. They Bring Their Own Clothes
Believe it or not, most of the time movie and TV extras bring their own clothes to the set. That doesn’t sound very glamorous, does it? That’s because a lot of movies and TV shows don’t have a budget large enough to be buying clothes and costumes for extras, so it only makes sense to get extras to bring their own.
So what kind of clothes are extras supposed to bring? Well, the less flashy, the better. Muted colors such as blue and grey are preferred as they allow extras to blend in. Extras are absolutely not allowed to outshine the main actors so most of the time they’re even discouraged from wearing white because apparently white shines like a beacon on camera!
13. Sometimes The Leading Actors Get Really Nervous Around Extras
Movie and TV extras must get nervous around movie and TV stars on set all the time. After all, extras are just amateurs playing alongside professionals, so it makes sense that they would feel anxious. However, it turns out that sometimes the leading actors get nervous around extras too. And that is also understandable. Imagine acting in front of hundreds and hundreds of extras!
For example, one extra recalls how he was in the film Don Jon starring Scarlett Johanson and Julianne Moore. Supposedly, “one scene was a club scene where Scarlett was very unsure of her dancing” and so she kept making “self-deprecating jokes about it to the extras around her.”
12. One Extra Got Blacklisted For Taking A Photo On Set
Naturally, movie and TV extras get to find out exclusive information about an upcoming film or TV show. But while that is a nice perk, they can’t disclose this exclusive information to anybody. And if they do, they risk being fired.
In fact, extras are not allowed to bring their phones onto a set. And of course, you can absolutely forget about bringing a camera. It is forbidden to take pictures on set. One extra revealed how there was an extra on the set of Insurgent who took a picture of the set and shared it online. Then the next thing you know, “Lionsgate security came from California to Atlanta and they took her away.” The extra is now blacklisted!
11. They Can’t Talk To The Stars Unless The Stars Speak To Them First
A lot of people choose to become extras because they want to make a career out of acting. That usually never works out although there are a few exceptions. Then there are those who become extras because they want to make some extra cash. And then finally, there are those who want to meet the stars.
However, the latter are usually almost always disappointed. The casting director, Tona B. Dahlquist says that as a general rule you really shouldn’t talk to the stars unless they speak to you first. Sometimes extras are even told not to look a movie star in the eyes. And in a lot of cases, if extras go near a star or touch him or her they are risking to get fired. Sounds kind of mean, doesn’t it?
10. Someone Got Fired For Not Being Able To Read A Newspaper
Extras are not professional actors. Sure, some of them have hopes of one day becoming a star. But more often than not, extras are just people looking for a way to earn some extra cash. One movie extra recalled the people she was working alongside – “There were only a few actors on there. There was, however, a lawyer, a banker and a music producer.”
So, as you can imagine, sometimes extras really overdo their scenes. For example, the casting director for Hollywood films Lucinda Syson recalls the filming of Spy Game – “There was one simple scene: Dale Dye was talking to Robert Redford. There was a chap in the background, an extra, who was meant to be reading a newspaper. But the director had to ask him to come out of the shot because he was so awful. When it came to acting natural while reading a document, he couldn’t do it. He turned the pages funnily and looked about too much.”
9. They Have To Be Good At Miming
You know those bustling party scenes that you see in movies and TV shows? You have to thank extras for that. In fact, a big part of extras’ job is to make the scene they are in appear really lively and vibrant. But at the same time, extras must not make a sound!
How does that work, you may wonder? Well, extras can’t interfere with the main actors’ dialogue so they have to pretend that they are engaging in a conversation or laughing. So extras mime their conversations and their laughter. Oh, and you know dance scenes? Well, it turns out that they are filmed in complete silence and the music is added later. How awkward does that sound?
8. Hours Of Waiting And Shooting For Seconds On Screen
Another thing that extras find really annoying is the fact that after all the waiting around their scene usually lasts only a few seconds. So movie and TV extras may wait around on set for ten hours then spend the next five hours shooting the same scene over and over again.
But that scene that takes five hours to shoot may be only five seconds long on film. Can you imagine how annoyed you’d be to have to spend so long acting out the same meaningless scene over and over again only to see it on screen for five seconds or less? No one would even notice you and of course, no one would understand all the hard work that went into a five second scene.
7. If Extras Try To Talk To The Stars, The Response Is Usually Mean
In a lot of cases, if an extra decides to disregard the whole “do not go near the star” advice, he or she is in for a nasty surprise. It turns out that a lot of stars, while they seem incredibly pleasant on film and even at events in real life, are not so nice to extras.
For example, one extra recalls the unpleasant encounter he had with a movie star –“She sees me standing there and she freaks out, saying something about how she’s had a rash of stalkers lately and I’m within a 50-foot perimeter. She’s glaring at me from the tent and a PA runs over, moves me a few feet away and says ‘sorry’ and runs away again.”
6. But Some Stars Are Very Nice
However, not all stars are mean and rude to extras. Some are actually very nice and treat extras as their equals. For example, Lizzie Cahill, the 73-year-old extra said that when she was working on the Great Gatsby, she met some wonderful actors, including Tobey Maguire – “He talked to me when I was walking around Fox studios.” But Leonardo DiCaprio was a different story – “we were told, ‘Don’t look at him, don’t speak to him, don’t go near him.’”
But Cahill revealed that her favorite star was Gerard Butler. When she was working on Gods Of Egypt, she was taken aback with how nice Butler was – “Oh my goodness. If I had been forty years younger I would have made a play for him. He was the nicest guy, so natural, he talked to everybody and I can’t speak highly enough of him.”
5. They Get Paid Extra For Speaking, Shooting A Gun, Driving, And Riding A Horse
Most TV and film extras get paid a base rate for a day. The base rate obviously varies. For example, in England it’s said to be 84 pounds a day. But if you have to do more than just stand around, then you get paid extra. For example, it is said that firing a gun will get you £19 extra whereas if you have to ride a horse you will get £25 extra. Because you know, riding a horse is harder than shooting a gun.
Driving a car will earn an extra £25 more and driving an HGV will earn them £30.50 more. Swimming will result in an addition £25 and a shocked expression will earn an extra an additional £30.50. However, if an extra is required to speak, he or she will earn an additional £50.50!
4. The Hours Are Very long
Movie and TV extras spend hours upon hours on a movie or TV show set. The 73-year-old movie extra Lizzie Cahill revealed that the hours she spent on set were very long. She further added – “I think my earliest call was at about 3.45am and sometimes… we wouldn’t finish until one in the morning and then you’d be back again early the next morning. They tried to stagger it so that at least you could get five hours of sleep.”
Sounds tough, doesn’t it? And don’t forget that sometimes all of that waiting may feel absolutely pointless. As one extra explains – “Anyone in the film business will tell you about the ‘bus’. It’s where extras wait, breathing in the fumes from the Calor gas heater, until a member of the crew comes on board and starts to choose extras for particular scenes. For extras, that ‘getting picked last in gym’ feeling is a day-to-day reality.”
3. Very Few Extras End Up Becoming Stars
While it doesn’t happen very often, some extras do end up playing bigger roles. And then sometimes they go on to becoming celebrities. For example Sylvester Stallone was once an extra, as was Brad Pitt (pictured above in the background of the film No Way Out) and Clint Eastwood.
The casting director for Hollywood films Lucinda Syson says that extras can indeed become stars but it’s not a regular occurrence. And extras that do make it “don’t tend to be the bona fide, back-of-the-shot, extras. They tend to be those who work in the grey area between being an extra and being a named part. But big names have been tiny parts. That’s how everyone starts. I was flicking on a movie channel the other night and saw Samuel L. Jackson playing a cigarette seller in some awful film.”
2. They Get Fed Well
The good thing about being an extra is that you get fed well. Well, most of the time. Obviously, films and TV shows with extremely low budgets can’t afford to feed everyone so extras working on these films and TV shows must bring their own food or buy it somewhere near the set.
However, most of the time extras get to feast on delicious food prepared by professional caterers.One extra who worked on Iron Man 3 said that “The food on Iron Man 3 was the best food I’ve ever had. We ate with the cast and crew and we had anything you could think of: the best steak, shrimp, lobster, and crab. The buffet table, you couldn’t see the end of it.”
1. There’s Too Much Competition For It To Be A Full Time Job
If you ever wondered if it’s possible to live off being an extra just know that it isn’t. At least, not anymore. While forty or fifty years ago being an extra could definitely have been a person’s career, that is no longer the case.
Why is that, you might wonder? Well, because there is more competition. There’s more people who want to be extras and more agencies that hire extras out. One extra from a leading extra agency says, “It’s harder and harder to make a living as a full-time extra now. There are more agents out there now, and the work is split among them. We have a pool of 5,000, so there are lots of people wanting to do it.”
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