This is one of the entry level methods into film and television work, but you have to be located near New York City, Toronto (Canada), Los Angeles, the outskirts of London (England), Auckland (New Zealand), Paris, Sydney (Australia) and similar urban areas including possibly Vancouver (Canada), Seattle, Orlando and Chicago.
You also generally have to be registered with one or more of the many Extra Casting services, the biggest of which is Central Casting in Los Angeles.
Almost all of these services charge a nominal fee of between $25 and $75 to defer administrative costs and they also require a picture. Your picture should be in several forms: 8 x 10 photo and wallet size photo, in both color and black and white. Different agencies have different photo requirements, but these types should cover most of the major services.
You don’t have to be in a union to get extra work on television or in movies. The union (the Screen Actors Guild now handles extra casting) requires that the first few extras be union members (who get paid in excess of $75 minimum) but the rest can be non-union (which get paid as little as $25 for 8 hours).
Extras don’t get lines. They don’t interact with the director or speaking actors. They serve as people in railway stations, restaurants, clubs, on the street or in a newsroom. They get their “directions” from the 2nd AD (Assistant Director) who tells them where to stand, which way to look and how far to walk in a given scene.
Some extras work as a regular part of a TV series and are called “normals.” Sometimes a “normal” gets promoted to minor character, with lines and a Taft-Hartley into the full union, at which point they become actors in the show and get paid $600 per day.
It is possible for some extras to make as much as $150 a day through overtime (movie sets can run up to a 14 hour day, of which overtime occurs after 8 hours and double time occurs after 12 hours) and getting what is called a “bump.”
A bump is as simple as being costumed or painted with studio blood for a death scene. It happens when you work around stage smoke. A bump can earn you another $25 or $50 on top of your salary.
Some extras may even work one or two weeks on the same movie. With bumps and overtime they can earn $1,500 in two weeks.
Extras are also used in television talk shows and game shows to fill-in the audience. These tapings are very short, generally 4 or 8 hours and you get only the minimum fee of $25 or $40.
You also must have good transportation, as extras may be required to drive up to 40 minutes in their own car, with no extra money for the trip to reach the set every day. You also must be on time for work and have to stay all day long. Those who show up late (set calls can be as early as 5 am and run as late at 5 in the morning) or leave early are generally not asked back to the same shoot. You are also sometimes required to come in for a look-over by the casting people. Occasionally having the right outfit or equipment can get you a gig! One extra we know got a good scene in “Born On The 4th of July” because she had a good 35mm SLR camera with flash and was put in as one of the press photographers. Another extra we know got gigs because he had a tuxedo.
If you are with several casting services and get a good reputation with the people at the service and the assistant directors at the shoot, it is easily possible for an extra to make $15,000 to $20,000 a year and work almost all the time. At the start, however, you’ll only get a few days work here and there, which barely pays for your registration fees and photos. It generally takes a few months of working with the agencies to build up a reputation. Also work in the holiday periods (the middle of November to the middle of January) and over the springtime (March to August) is leaner because television goes on what is called “hiatus” or vacation during these time periods.
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