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Becoming an Extra!

July 11, 2018

Becoming an Extra

Being an Extra is an excellent way to gain on-set experience if you're just starting out in showbiz.

An Extra, also dubbed background player or atmosphere, is an actor who is part of the background in film, commercial and television scenes. Extras are hired to make scenes look more natural. Wouldn’t it look bizarre for two actors to have a conversation in a completely empty shopping mall, or to be sitting on a bus with no other passengers? Extras weave a fabric that helps viewers interpret a scene. It is very rare for extras to have lines of dialogue.

No job is too small:

While some people think it’s beneath them to do this type of work because they don’t want to be ‘known’ for it or they are afraid the commitment will cause them to miss an audition for a more substantial role, Extra work is a great way for beginners to get their feet wet before investing a lot of time/money and energy into coaches, classes and head shots. 

There is no audition involved in signing up for Extra work. It’s a pretty simple process. You just need to be ready to drop and run when the call comes in.  You also need to make sure your Extras Casting Director has a continually updated profile on file – because kids change so quickly.

Extras must follow all the same rules and laws as regular performers, meaning that in California they must have work permits and they must come prepared to do school on set with a Studio Teacher.

How does Extra Work pay?

Extra work pays between minimum wage and $130/day.  As of January 1, 2014, Extras are no longer required to pay 15% of their gross earnings into a California ‘Coogan’ blocked trust account.  See Source.

Here's how to get started with Extra work:

  1. Contact an Extras Casting Director. These companies exist specifically to represent Extras for background work. ChildrenInFilm.com provides a great list of Extras Casting Directors in our Member Directory covering California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, or, if there is not one yet listed for your state, consider contacting the Film Commission in your state.
  2. Sign up with the Extras Casting Director. Some companies will ask you to fill out an online form, while others will ask you to come in to register in person. Some will charge a very nominal fee to process your headshot and paperwork; it is generally around $25.00-$30.00. "Be very skeptical if someone is charging exorbitant amounts," warns Laura Loth of Kids Management, an LA-based Extras casting company. "Unfortunately we find that some parents have been scammed out of thousands because a company has told them they need additional guidance, headshots or even classes to become an Extra. Truthfully, anyone can sign up to be an Extra."
  3. Learn how the Extras casting process works for the company with which you sign up. Most work through a phone system; if a job is available for which your child qualifies, you will be phoned to be scheduled.
  4. Generally Extras in CA make a day rate of around $130.00. This is a SAG union rate. However, law only regulates minimum wage, so on a low-budget non-union film, you may be making $6.55/hr.
  5. Remember, work is work, so whether your child is an Extra or a principle actor, Child Labor Laws and Union Rules apply.

Working as an extra is a good way to gain exposure to what happens on set. Even well-known actors have had experience as a movie extra, including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Sylvester Stallone, Megan Fox, Keanu Reeves, Renee Zellweger, Jean Harlow, and Shirley Temple.