How to be a film and TV extra

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Unusual jobs: Are you a student, or individual with spare time on your hands? Desirous of extra cash? Have you considered becoming a film and TV extra?

Film and TV extras can earn some good money just for standing around for a few hours (okay, so the job DOES have its downsides…but we’ll get to those in a bit.) However, if you’re partial to the idea of getting paid for appearing on the box as a film / TV extra, albeit only for a short while, then read on…

Becoming a film and TV extra – Getting started

Extras, or ‘background artistes’ as they’re otherwise known, are mainly employed via agencies. That way, when there’s a project being filmed nearby, the agency can hire a bunch of extras at once. If there’s something in particular that the producers or casting directors are looking for, you might be in luck. So the best way to start as a film or TV extra would be to join an agency. Googling for agencies in your area is easy, and signing up can only take you a matter of hours, so why not?

Applying to a film / TV extras agency:

1. Take some photographs.

The most important thing you’ll need to become a film and TV extra is a decent set of photographs. Your photos are the main factor of promoting yourself and getting work – even if you ARE signing up simply to be in the background.

You will need three different shots: a headshot, a 3/4 shot, and a full-length photo.

If you already have professional photos, perfect! If not, don’t fret – your pictures do not need to be taken by a professional. Not at all. A friend with a decent camera will do just fine. However, your photos DO need to be:

CLEAR – Blurry photos just won’t do. Avoid submitting blurry or grainy photos, or those taken via a webcam, as these are deemed unprofessional.

MODEST – Of course. Photos in which you’re donning a barely-there outfit on a night out, or sporting a Christmas party hat are fine for your Facebook albums, but not for when you’re trying to get work. Avoid submitting pics with OTT poses, Facebook-style pictures taken by yourself as you outstretch your arm, or groups of people. The agent won’t have the time to try and work out just which of the smiling six people in the picture is you.

REALLY YOU! – Avoid sending in pictures of yourself wearing too much makeup, or overstyled hair. You’ve probably seen photographs taken as part of a professional photo package that also come complete with hair and makeup – if you’re wearing more on your face than Lady Gaga, avoid it. (Of course, that’s if you don’t wear it on a daily basis.) The agent wants to see what you normally look like, so try and take pictures of how you would look on a normal day. It won’t do you any justice to look completely different from your photograph. Remember that your photos have to be a realistic representation of YOU.

Dress as you usually would, but avoid stripes and bright colours that might take the attention away from you. The same goes for the background. Ensure your photos are taken away from vivid backgrounds and objects. It’s best to stand outside, or against a plain wall.

Now that you’ve got your pictures, it’s time to find an agent.

2. How to find a film/TV agent who specialises in extras work

There are many theatrical agencies across the country, many specialising in extras and walk-ons. Do a bit of research to see if there are any agencies in your local area. Search online for agencies (www.universalextras.co.uk are a well-known UK agency for film/TV extras) or if you can, get hold of Spotlight Contacts, the actors’ directory. It lists everything from modelling and extras agencies to photographers and casting directors, all across the UK. Other countries will have similar directories to hunt out.

Remember: you should NEVER pay a large fee to be on the books of an agency. There have been many scams in the past in which ‘agents’ have held open days at hotels after advertising in local newspapers only. Hopeful wannabe extras are made to pay a hefty fee but will never see any work. Some agencies may charge a small fee (e.g. £10-30) to join. You should never pay anything more. The agency gets paid when THEY get YOU work – that’s the incentive!

Once you’ve found an agency, fill out their application form. If they don’t have one, create a short CV. Include your measurements (most agencies require these), and any other skills or abilities that may be helpful (can you sing? Dance? Do you ride horses? Do you partake in any sports?). Film and TV producers sometimes look for extras with a particular skill, so give as much detail as possible.

Submit your application, and you’re ready to go.

3. Wait.

Unfortunately, waiting is a big factor in the role of being a film / TV extra. Depending on the amount of projects that your agency gains, and of course the number of people signed up to their books, it might be a while before you get your first paying gig. It might be even longer before you get your second – it all depends. Some people might get work every few weeks, others every few months. This is to be expected. It all depends on where you are, and what they’re looking for.

A day in the life of a film and TV extra

Before your first job, you’ll have been given a call by your agent, letting you know all about what’s filming, and instructing you where to go. By now you should have been told what to wear, or anything you need to bring with you.

When you arrive on the set, you’ll probably be waiting for a long time – like an hour or more. As the crew gets everything ready, you’ll be waiting with the other extras until you are called in.

Once you ARE called in and placed on the set, you’ll be instructed by a member of staff (usually a production assistant) on where to stand and what to do. You could be dancing, bowling, drinking… It all depends! Once everyone is settled and the crew is ready, it’s time to begin. All you have to do is be extremely quiet and do as instructed. Just one mistake could mean that the entire scene needs to be shot again.

Expect to do a series of takes. This means you’ll be doing the same actions, over and over again. When you agree to a job, remember that you could be on your feet for a very long time!

Once filming is over, you’ll be sent away. The fun is over until your next call.

Getting paid for film and TV extra work

You’ll usually be paid by your agency within two weeks. Agents usually take 10-15% of your earnings. Pay is, yet again, dependent on the production company. You’d usually expect to get around 80 pounds or more for a day’s work.

Things to remember

Becoming a film or TV extra takes lots of patience! If for whatever reasons you’re not up for waiting around for hours, then this line of work is NOT for you. Being a TV extra usually means waiting around on set for hours on end, and repeating numerous takes.

Be professional. Being an extra won’t land you a date with the lead actor or get you snapped up as the next superstar (well, it’s highly unlikely). Many believe that extra and walk-on work is the key to being noticed – but don’t think of it that way. If you’re a budding actor, being an extra can help you experience what it’s like on set, and that experience of the fun, boredom and level of professionalism involved will come in handy.

Work may be scarce. Don’t rely on being an extra to pay your rent. It just won’t happen.

Despite the waiting, being an extra can be a fun way to earn some extra money during spare hours. It’s also a great way to meet new people, and of course, there’s the variety – you could be an injured civilian in Casualty one week, and a corset-clad zombie in a (very) loose Jane Austen adaptation the next!

Extra tip: If you yearn to be a TV extra on a particular show, join their community forums. You never know your luck. Nearly all the extras in pub scenes in Spaced were online fans who’d been invited.


write for Mookychick