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Ten Bits of Advice for Extras...Offered Humbly
Total posts: 3
Joined: 12 year(s) ago
Posted 9:45 AM Jul. 16, 2011

I've only been an extra in five films to date, but I have learned a few things that might be helpful for those of you who are considering background work. I offer this information humbly, knowing that I still have much to learn. The suggestions I'm offering apply to feature film work where you are getting paid, although much of it applies to non-paid work on small indie films, too. Anyway, here goes:

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1) Don't go into extra work to make lots of money or to be "discovered" by a director or producer, and if you really, really want lots of work as a background actor, move to New York City or Los Angeles. Do register with casting agencies in your area.

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2) Spend the money to get some great headshots and comp cards, and update them regularly.

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3) Don't lie on your resume about the work you've done or the skills you have. You can fib a little about your age (everyone does) but don't apply for a role that calls for 20-somethings if you're 56, or present yourself as a motorcycle rider if you've never ridden one.

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4) Before you report, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destination, and be certain you know where to park. Double check the casting agency's web site the night before your shoot to be sure that there haven't been any changes to the locations/reporting times. If your shoot is far from home and you have to report at 5 am, consider getting a motel room for the night before; it might cost you as much as you'll earn for a day's shooting, but at least you'll be rested and ready. When you report to a shoot for the first time, be sure to have either a valid driver's license and a Social Security card, or a passport, or at least a photocopy of either. You'll need these to prove you're a US citizen.

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5) Good things to take with you to a shoot: reading material, a pen, a notebook, business cards or comp cards, sun block, tissue wipes, a charger for your cell phone, Tylenol, breath mints, sun glasses, Visine, and a comb or brush. I don't recommend that you take your expensive laptop with you; it's not worth the worry. If you're asked to bring changes of clothing, have them in a labeled garmet bag.

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6) The working life of an extra is perhaps best summarized by the final line from John Milton's On His Blindness: They also serve who stand and wait. Much of the time you are on a shoot you will be required to stand or sit around while various scenes are set up.

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7) On the set, be quiet, polite, focused, patient, and disciplined. Do NOT try to call attention to yourself as a background actor. Do NOT approach/speak to the principals. Do NOT take out your cell phone, and DO set it to mute. Do NOT take photos on the set. DO be careful where you stand/move: there are cables, camera booms, and other pieces of equipment that could cause you an injury if you're not careful.

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8) Remember that SAG and other union folk get preferential treatment, as is their due. This means SAG actors, even if they are doing background, get to eat meals first, sign out first, etc. Be sure you understand the pecking order: if you're non-union, you're at the bottom.

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9) Use at least some of your off-set time to schmooze with your fellow extras. One of the best things about doing background work is meeting interesting people and networking with them.

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10) Be sure you get your voucher signed before you leave for the day. If you've been asked to do something more than background work (I was fortunate enough tapped to be a stand-in on one set) be sure the people who are signing you out are aware of that.