You’ve gotten a role in a major motion picture, congratulations! Though it’s not the most prestigious of parts, being an extra is still something to be proud of. You went through the rigorous casting process: seeing an ad on Craigslist, responding to that ad with your measurements and a picture of your face, having those measurements and picture fit the specifications of the casting agent. This all took time and, clearly, it was time well spent.
So what now? Though it’s certainly thrilling, being an extra for the first time can be difficult and disorienting at times. Fortunately for you, this guide has been put together. It will walk you through the main aspects of this experience you’re about to embark on. In the interest of being prepared, read on.
This is going to be fun right?
There are a few reasons why people try to get extra roles. Perhaps you’re in it for the money? You will get about $100 for twelve hours of work. But hey, that’s $100 you didn’t have before, right? Or maybe it’s the experience. You get to see a real live movie set in action—crew and talent coming together to make magic. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that, if only once. And then there’s the opportunity. Actors sometimes get discovered in the extra pool, right? It happens, probably. Why not have it maybe happen to you?
Regardless of what your reason is, whether it’s one of those listed or a combination or even something entirely different, you’ll have to remind yourself of that throughout your time on set. It’s not going to play out how you think and a steady mantra of, “This is totally worth it because of the [money, experience, opportunity],” will get you through it.
Side note: if a fellow extra asks you why you’re there, keep an air of mystery, say: “Just something to do.” That is, unless you like mindless small talk laced with the undertone of competition. But we’ll get to that later.
How would you prepare for a long ride in a cramped car that makes very few stops? Go with that. Don’t bring a book, though. Sure, downtime on set seems like the perfect time to read that historical thriller you bought last year and haven’t gotten around to. It’s not. Chitchat reigns supreme in the extra community—we’re all in this together! A book will only weigh you down and make you feel bad because, once again, you failed to check something off your To Do List.
If you’re told in advance that you’ll be subjected to extreme weather, believe it. Other people will be surprised that a scene shot outside during the summer can result in sunburn and that standing under rain for fifteen takes makes their shoes soggy. Don’t let that be you. Bring the sunscreen. Stuff a Ziploc baggie filled with extra pairs of socks into your pocket.
You’re going to be in a crowd the whole time, often in a holding tent. The ground will be trampled. You’ll sit in folding chairs, surrounded by discarded plates piled with half eaten rolls and damp, wilty iceberg lettuce. Sure everyone was excited when craft services announced lunch, but apparently once they started eating the thrill was gone and they couldn’t even make it to the trash can.
So space-wise you’re in a cramped car. Feeling-wise, it’s the world’s least interesting carnival.
It’s likely you’ll have to provide your own costume. If so, the most important thing is a comfortable pair of shoes. You’re going to be waiting in a lot of lines: lines to get onto the set, lines to get off of the set, lines to get into the holding tent, lines to get food, lines to pee. When those ankles start to swell, you don’t want to be caught in a pair of stilettos or unbroken-in suede bucks. Otherwise, it doesn’t hurt to make an effort. Look nice—you’re might be on camera, in the background, kinda fuzzy. Make it count.
If the crew provides a costume, don’t embarrass yourself by not knowing how to put it on. Use some logic and own the look. When wardrobe comes by, they’ll make tweaks no matter what because everything has to be…. just… right, so it doesn’t matter.
You’ll mainly interact with Production Assistants, PAs for short. They’re going to run around and tell you what to do. They probably got the job off of Craigslist too, but they’re younger than you and they have walkie talkies. Despite the clout the walkie talkies lends them, they won’t be as informed as you need them to be. They’ll put you in line and bring you to a location earlier than necessary, forcing you to mill around. They’ll cause a stampede by suddenly offering a raffle—people love free things so much they won’t even care that all the hubbub is over a DVD of this movie’s prequel.
Here’s the thing, though. PAs also sometimes get to put extras in better background positions—positions that can offer some actual screen time. A smile goes a long way, but don’t be disappointed if they overlook you. There are a lot of people there to pick from so even though you are special because you’re an extra, you’re not that special.
Here we go. The reason why you don’t want to offer-up too much personal information, the reason why you can’t have a moment alone to read a book: your fellow extras. There will be people who are also doing this for the first time. There will be people who like being extras. There will be a guy who has been doing it for nine years in the hopes of finally getting a line to say—it doesn’t happen over night, you know. He had a credited role once but the show didn’t get picked up. Check out his comedy reel on YouTube. Seriously. All of these people want to size you up and see if you’re going to make it big before them, because even if you’re an extra for money and/or experience, you still want to make it big.
This is one of the only groups in which Jim Carrey impersonations are encouraged and might even win you favor. Take from that what you will.
Also, don’t give anyone your phone number. These are people who do not understand the meaning of “tempo friend,” they’re going to try to make it last. They will certainly not understand how you were just being polite when you nodded and agreed that their improvised fight during the last scene will definitely get them noticed.
Which brings us to acting. Extras are a film set’s Victorian-era children—to be seen and not heard. Don’t forget it.