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How to become a movie extra or TV extra


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I. What does an extra in a movie, Film or TV do?

The best definition of what a movie extra does or better yet, does not do is, say lines. Jobs for tv or movie extras range across the board but they are usually in the background and occasionally they can be in the foreground. You see them all the time. They are the background crowds at a game, dance, shopping mall, or a restaurant. On shows like ER or NYPD Blue, where you see Doctors, Nurses, Police personnel or any workers in the backgrounds of the hospital or police station (Again they never talk) are extras. What is cool about ER, NYPD Blue, or any other gig is that they are re-occurring TV extras and this is a great job plus they are in the union. However, once they say a word, they become an "Actor".

Movie Extras can work union or non-union. Paid movie extra's salaries can range from $7 an hour for an Audience job to $50+ a day on a non-union film to what ever the employer wants to pay unless it is a union job. Then they must abide by the SAG agreement.

Movie extra work is not that hard to get but not a walk in the park either. Here are some helpful tips of finding a job and becoming a movie extra:

1) Many web sites will inform you of open auditions. [I talk about this in my book on How to Find a Job in Hollywood, but here are a few examples from my book with direct links to the sites:

Both are Entertainment career sites for finding a job as an extra or actor:

2) I would also suggest looking at Trade Journals. Hollywood Reporter and The Variety will have a section by the classified/Help Wanted area. They have a heading called Auditions.

At one time, Movie, Film and TV Extras had their own union called SEG which is no longer. Now SAG (Screen Actors Guide) has launched a new section called Background Performers.

If you are looking to join the union, SAG offers some helpful information as wells as forms to assist you in becoming a background performer or extra.

SAG just recently approved New Entrance Requirements for Background Performers. The National Background Actors committee approved replacing the three-voucher eligibility rule with a new points-earned system. The new system will provide two separate routes to Guild membership via background work: 1) Union (Covered) or 2) Non-union (Non-covered) work on SAG Signatory projects. A performer may also achieve points towards membership by participating in other designated activities that raise professional standards and support the basic aims of the Guild.

If you would like to read more about the above information or to download the forms, go to http://www.sag.org/sagWebApp/index.jsp and proceed to the Resources menu on the right side of the main page and click Background actors. Or you can call their hotline at 800.807.4188 for questions regarding the changes in Background Actors eligibility rules. SAG also has a weekly listing of casting agencies for background actors (movie extras) but you must be a member.

Now that you have an understanding on how to get into the Union and also where to go to become a movie extra, you need to know what to expect.

II. When you get the gig as a movie, film or TV extra, you need to ask the following questions:

  • Do I need to bring my own clothes? If so, are there certain colors, styles, and fabrics that I need to wear.
  • Do you need to bring more than one set? Remember that the average workday is 12 hours.
  • If the show is a period piece or has a specific look, they will ask you to come before the call time and meet with the wardrobe person to select what you will be wearing.
  • Call time is your call to the set. You will be called at least an hour before the assistant director thinks you will be needed. Be sure to show up at least a half hour before that. This will help you become accustomed to the set, the props, and the atmosphere. Never be late!
  • If you know that it is a period piece or something unique, then I would do some homework to make sure that I know the do's and don'ts of that era.
  • I would suggest bring reading materials or something to keep you occupied since you will be waiting more than doing.
  • As I mentioned above, the average workday is 12 hours but do not worry, they will be feeding you. If your call is all day, it is most likely that they will have breakfast, lunch, snacks, and possible dinner. But it is very rare that you will be eating or even in the same line as the actors.
  • If you want to pursue other avenues in film, this is a great opportunity to watch and soak everything up and in. Just make sure you do not get in the way or get anyone upset.

There are things I would not recommend:

  • Do not bring a camera or any expensive equipment on the set.
  • When you hear "ACTION" do not talk, or move until you hear the word "CUT." Unless you are told to on set.
  • Make sure your cell phone, beeper, or any other electronic device is off.
  • Do not bring any alcoholic beverages onto the set.
  • When they are filming, make sure you do not look straight into the camera.
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III. What phrases do I need to understand and know if I am a newcomer to the movie extra scene?

Here are the most popular movies terms you will hear on the set:

  • 1st Assistant Director (AD) or the Unit Production Manager (UPM) is the key person who runs the set. What they say goes. They are the boss and you will find out very soon that they have no or little patience. The first thing that happens is that they will do a rehearsal and you will be hearing both the AD and the Director. The AD follows the cues from the Director. When the Director is happy with the performances, camera movements, angles, and lighting, he or she will tell the AD "Let\ís go for a take." This is very exciting for you new comers because this is the first time you will be filmed.
  • "Quite on the set we are going to start rolling" -- What this actually means is what it sounds like, everyone is now in position and get ready to start filming.
  • "Rolling" -- is what you will hear next. This is said by a member of the camera crew.
  • "Speed" -- This is said by the sound Mixer informing everyone that the sound and film are up to speed for recording.
  • "Marker" or "Mark" -- This is said by one of the camera assistants who is holding what they call a Clapper or Clap sticks. This piece of equipment is used for two purposes. 1) The sound of the sticks coming together will aid the editorial staff in syncing up the "picture" with the "sound." 2) It also identifies the scene.
  • Scene number and Take -- Example: SC39 tk1 -- What this means is that Sc 39 is what they are shooting and it's the first take. I have been on a set where they will do 10 takes, so you would hear Sc 39 Take 10. The camera assistant will say this.
  • "Background" -- This is your cue to start your action or movement as described to you by the AD.
  • "Action" -- This is the actually start of the scene and said by the Director.
  • "Cut" -- This is when the scene (action) is finished. Usually called out by the Director.
  • If the director is not happy with the scene he or she just shot, the next thing you will hear is "Lets do it one more time," or "Do it again," or "From the top."
  • "Circle that" or "Print that" -- is what the Director will say if he or she likes the take, but do not think just because he or she said circle that, that they will not do one more take. FYI: The Director is telling three people to circle that take. The camera person circles the film or camera report, the sound person is circling the sound report, and the Script supervisor is circling it on the script.
  • "Setup" -- The camera position or the composition of a shot. Each time one of these is changed, there is a new setup.
  • Matching -- One very important thing to remember when you are doing numerous takes is what you were doing and how you were doing it. You need to always match your action, unless the AD tells you otherwise. If you notice, the actors are doing the same action repeatedly in the same scene. Again, this is done for editorial reason. Since there are so many takes to choose, the editor might cut some pieces from the head of take 3 and the tail of take 7 but the Editor does not have to worry about matching problems because you were always in the same position every time as well as the actor's movements and actions are always in the same position.
  • "Cheating" -- When an actor takes on a physical position that would not be natural in real life, such as looking at something other than the person or object on which she is supposedly focused. This is often necessary to get the right effect or perspective on film.
  • "Pickup" -- is another word that you will hear the Director say. This means that he or she liked something in the beginning or end, but there was something wrong in between. Example: The actor has a long speech and is doing great and they forget their line or there is a plane that is flying overhead and it gets on the sound reel. Instead of doing the whole scene over again, the Director will just pick up where the actor forgot his or her line or when the sound of the airplane started.
  • "Hit your mark" -- The ability to find your predetermined location in the scene without looking at the marks that have been placed on the floor.
  • "Long shot" -- A camera angle used to stress the environment or setting; the camera is at a distance from the subject of the shot.
  • "Medium shot" -- A camera position that results in full- to half-figure shots of performers.
  • "Close-up" -- Positioning the camera close to an actor's face (or any object that is significant in the scene) so that the person or object fills the frame.
  • "Abby Singer" -- If you want to be cool, this is an inside term meaning that it is the second to the last shot of the day. A very well known AD named Abby Singer coined this phrase and it has stuck ever since.
  • "Martini shot" -- And yes this is the inside term for the last shot of the day.
  • "It's a wrap" -- Everyone can go home.

IV. What about Head Shots?

Everyone has a difference of opinion with it comes to head shots. My personal feeling is that if you are just starting out and want to pursue doing background, extra work, I would not speed the money. Most of the calls for extras are for groups of people. If however, some casting agent or Producer/Director asks, I would ask what they want. Sometimes they will require a 3X5 color photo. If they want an 8X10, my suggestion is, find a friend and shoot some headshots. If you can show different looks that would be great too. The more variety of looks the better off you will be finding a job. If they come out good make 8X10's or go to a professional studio. With the quality of Digital Cameras, it is becoming easier to shoot and see what your getting and print it out at home or at your near by drug store or Photo store. Please be careful who takes your picture or what agency you trust. I had mine done through the agency that was going to represent me and it turned out to be a fraud. You just never know. On this same note, be aware that there are no fees for projects or advertisements, or any fee for guarantee work. These things do not exist.

That's a wrap!!!

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