"Okay everybody, SHUT UP! Now go stand over there for ten hours until we tell you to walk quickly in front of the camera for six seconds."

If that sounds good to you, then you need to get your masochistic butt in gear and get yourself a job as a film or TV extra. But there are other reasons to become an extra:

  • It will help you familiarize yourself with the film industry.

  • You might get noticed and get work as an actor (it has happened. . . once).

  • It's easy money for people who are especially lazy. Or mute. Or both.

  • It's cool to stand within one hundred feet of some famous folks.

These are all possible outcomes, and if they sound good to you, then you have every reason to read on and get the straight dope on being an extra.

What is an extra?

An extra is a person who fills up the background of a film or TV show when the cameras are rolling. It would look pretty weird for two actors to have a conversation on an empty sidewalk, so extras get hired to make everything look more natural. Extras are almost never given lines to say, but if they are, they technically become actors while they are saying the lines (examples of extras' lines: "Excuse me," "Over there!" and "Thank you"). Extras are the people who busily walk by on the sidewalk while the stars are being fabulous, or stand around behind the stars holding fake cocktails while the stars are being fabulous. It's not all that challenging, but it can be pretty exciting if you like being around the entertainment industry.


The usual way to get started as an extra is to find a casting company or calling service which handles extras (there are many which specialize in extras) and go and register with it. This means you will make an appointment to talk to someone at the casting company, go in and talk to someone briefly and then hand over some amount of money. This is unavoidable, and you shouldn't let the fact that the casting company is asking you for a registration fee lead you to assume that they are just a scam or a waste of time. You shouldn't pay more than about $25. They will actually provide you with services, which range from the simple posting of your picture in a directory to someone making phone calls on your behalf and trying to scare up work for you. You should try to determine what sort of services they will provide you and judge whether you want to pay the fee accordingly. In this regard, comparison shopping among agencies is probably a good idea, and to save time, try to get as much information as possible about each casting company's services and fees over the telephone before you go in.

When you go in to register, some companies will conduct an interview, while others will simply take a picture, collect your registration fee, and be done with you. If there is an interview the main thing that the casting company representative will wish to determine is: "Will this person give me a sum of money?" They see a lot of people and they need to collect those fees to make a living. However, the person will also determine how serious you are about being an extra, how much experience you have with acting, what special skills you have, and what sort of wardrobe you have. If they don't ask you any of these questions, be wary -- you might be getting scammed. If you make a good impression the casting company will be more likely to go to bat for you to get you work, so be prepared for the interview. Be ready to mention your good attitude and special skills, and your understanding that being an extra primarily involves showing up on time and staying quiet. (You'll know all this because you're going to read Sections 5 and 6 of this SYW.)

Sadly, some casting companies will pull little side-scams on their registrants, such as referring you to an expensive photographer to get a headshot done (from whom they receive a kickback), charging you an inordinate amount of money to have your résumé printed up on "industry standard" paper, or asking you for "front money" for some project in which you would get to work. These things don't necessarily mean the place is a total scam – it just means they're trying to get a little more money out of you. It can be a good idea to get a headshot done, and it's absolutely necessary if you're interested in getting work as an actor as well, but it's not really necessary for most extra work. Most extra companies will simply take a picture of you when you register and keep it on file. Similarly, there is an industry standard for the size of paper on which you print your résumé (8X10, so that it can be affixed to the back of your 8X10 headshot), but you don't need a résumé if you're just interested in working as an extra. The point is, if you do decide you want to have a headshot and a résumé, you can probably get these things done much more cheaply if you shop around than if you just do what the casting company tells you. (On the other hand, you should walk out if and when "front money" -- money that you have to chip in to help "fund" a film project -- is demanded. This is often a scam, and you're a beginning extra, so you want to work on big, well-funded projects anyway.)

Most major cities will have at least one company which handles extras, and if you don't live in a major city you will have to register in the closest city which has one. One last option is to register over the Internet. Sure, you don't get the personal attention, but it's a start. Try http://www.moviex.com/extras/ for $10, or http://www.centralcasting.org/ for $20. The whole process of registering with a casting company is not the same thing as getting yourself a talent agent. Getting an agent is much tougher.

Or just show up

If you don't want to start out by registering, or you've registered and you want to try to get more work, another way to start out and see if you like the work is to show up on film or TV sets and try to be an extra on "spec" (speculation). This means that you will go to the location, indicate your interest in being an extra to someone (if you can get near anyone who'd be interested, which can be difficult on sets), and/or stand around looking available while you "speculate" about whether or not you will get hired. This is not a surefire method of getting work as an extra. Extras are only hired on spec if someone doesn't show up or if they have a look which interests the assistant director. Don't count on it. But if you enjoy hanging around film sets anyway, why not give it a try? You can find out where to make a nuisance of yourself on film sets at the FilmL.A.com, inc's shoot sheet.