Tips for being an extra

Moviemaking is everywhere. There are so many opportunities for the budding actor, or for those who are just interested in being a part of a movie and seeing one made.

If you’re interested, search out local acting communities. In Oklahoma, there is a great online presence called The Oklahoma Movie Makers, which can be found on yahoo groups. Many casting calls are posted there, and each will have its own rules and procedures.

So, if you want to be an extra, there are many types of situations. Some casting calls say “just show up”. For some, you have to submit your photo or resume and be approved. For some, the screening process is much more rigorous.

I’ve been on many sets, on both the production end and the performing end. Here are some tips I’ve learned.

#1 Stop and go to the bathroom somewhere, before you get to the set. I have been to many nice sets, where they provide amenities. But I’ve been to places without restrooms, running water or shade.

#2 Wear clothing without corporate logos. Do not wear pure white unless it is requested. Take three or four changes of clothes and have them in the car. If it is a period picture, you can still come up with interesting costumes from your own closet. Women can wear a plain scarf over their hair. You can wear a cotton button-down shirt. Men can wear overalls. Have fun with it, and be creative with costume choices. If you’re really serious about being an extra, start accumulating interesting clothing that you can take with you on acting jobs.

#3 It seems jarring to people, but plan to be ordered around. The producers will give orders in a quick manner. Obey everything. Show that you are professional and cooperative. If they tell you to move, then move. If they want you to adjust your clothing, do it. If you’re not sure what to do, do nothing. If someone needs you to change, they will come along and tell you. Movie producers will appreciate actors who pay attention, do what they are told and are cooperative. Remember, they can’t make their movie without you, so you are valuable to them.

#4 Be quiet and pay attention. You can learn a lot about the movie making process, by just watching those who are making the movie, and it’s fascinating. They make take four hours of moviemaking in order to get a four second shot. You can see cameras, actors, production assistants (PA’s), wardrobe personnel, lighting technicians, electricians, directors, etc. This is an amazing process, and enjoy yourself.

#5 On most sets, there are similar rules, and they will tell you: no cameras, no cell phones and don’t bother the actors. These are reasonable requests, and extras should honor them. The lead actors of the project will be busy trying to coordinate everything they are trying to do. So, if you were in that position, how would you like it if people kept bugging you for autographs while you were trying to work? Above all, be professional. You may end up sitting next to a famous actor, working across from them, or dancing with them at the after party. It’s all fun, and you’ll have great stories to tell your friends. Most sets are closed, and they don’t want pictures of a movie in process being submitted to the outside world. I was on one set, and they asked (politely) no pictures. Within five minutes, the lady in front of me, pulled out her cell phone, took a picture of the set and posted it online. So, have respect for the producers’ wishes. Set your cell phone to vibrate; turn it off; or leave it in your car.

#6 Build your resume. Make a list of the projects, on which you’ve worked, and keep it updated. The more experience you have, the better you’ll be.  Even if it’s an unpaid extra job, take it. I’ve been on unpaid jobs where they see that I’m professional and behaving, and they ask me to come back another day–to get paid! Have a headshot taken, professionally if you can afford it. Have the headshot and resume ready, to send out when you see that someone has called for submissions.

#7 Take snacks and water with you. I carry a purse, and on many of my acting jobs, it’s reasonable for a woman to have a purse. Men can evaluate the situation and see if they can carry a backpack. At the very least, put a granola bar in your pocket. In my purse I have emergency supplies: kleenex, money, bottle of water, apple, peanut butter crackers, granola bar, etc. What most civilians don’t realize is that acting jobs can run very long. This isn’t set in stone, but you can figure that if call time was 10:00 am, then break for crew meal will be six hours after that, at 4:00 pm. So, if you show up for work at 10:00 and you expect lunch at noon, you’ll be disappointed.  Each job is different, and I’ve had sets where they treat the extras well, and sets where they don’t. So, have food with you, cause you never know when you’ll need it. I got caught on a fourteen hour day, and was hungry all day long on that job. It was miserable. Call time was 7:30 am, and they had some snacks for extras, but did not provide enough for everyone. They did have lunch brought in: at 3:00 pm.  So, bottom line is, you never know when you’ll get to eat. Eat when you can and be prepared ahead of time.

#8 While the actual filming is not going on, feel free to look around and observe. But, when they give you instructions and when you hear “action”, do what you are told. It will be the most difficult thing in the world to not look at the camera. But if your job is to look straight ahead, then you look straight ahead. Don’t look directly at the camera, because they won’t be able to use that shot. If you are instructed to clap, clap below your face. Learn to mime: you may be asked to make it look as if you are talking, but you can’t talk. You may be asked to clap with enthusiasm, but you can’t make a sound. Practice it. It sounds easy, but it’s difficult. You are acting!

#9 Above everything else, have fun. Make it fun. Make it a wonderful day! When you are in the green room, talk to people. Network. Who knows who is sitting next to you? It may be a director, and that director might be seeking castmembers for an upcoming project. I’ve met so many interesting people while out on acting jobs. Have fun!

  1. #1 by janethilton on June 12, 2013 - 10:00 am

    One of the items on my “bucket” list! Thanks for the tips.

    ….and, thanks for stopping by my blog!

  2. #2 by Abbie R.Hale on December 8, 2014 - 8:09 am

    A great article, this article really helps those who want to be a movie extra like me. Thanks for the tips. Also try to check this article about proper etiquette of movie extras. I think this is also a big help.

  3. #3 by paulineheath on January 30, 2015 - 8:49 am

    Thanks, these are just the kind of tips/things I am curious about, a really helpful stuff to remember. I love reading article on How to Become a Movie Extra ’cause through those article I get many helpful information. I really want to be an actress and I think being an extra is just a first step.

  1. Tips for being an extra — II | livingforcreativity

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