Model/actress, hooker/waitress, extra: How being an extra could kickstart your Hollywood career
“I want to move to Hollywood so I can be an extra in film and TV shows”, said exactly no one ever. A career or side gig as an extra is often overlooked by serious starving actor/writer/director types as being beneath their lofty talents.
We’re here to debunk that myth. If you’re just starting out in the creative arts, signing up with an extra agency could be your step to a long and accomplished Hollywood career. Here’s why.
It’s all about the benjamins.
If you’re a newbie in Tinseltown (New York, London, Sydney, Tokyo, Mexico City, etc.) without a contact base, it could take a second for you to find your creative contacts. Most extra agencies sign up talent with a five-day turnaround. This means you could be on set within a week earning cash money while you look for your dream job.
Most extra agencies pay at least $100 a day plus overtime in major cities. If you’re lucky enough to become a SAG-AFTRA-represented extra (more on that later) you’ll get around $350 for eight hours’ work – which goes into time-and-a-half after 8 hours and double-time after 10. In the bigger cities, you’ll need to sign up with multiple agencies to turn an extra gig into a full time job – but it’s totally doable.
You’ll be fed & watered.
If money is tight or you’re just frugal, an extra gig is a great way to supplement your grocery costs. You’ll be well fed & watered on set, and all that time you’re sitting around waiting for something to happen is time when you won’t be spending your own money.
You’re literally getting paid to do nothing.
If you’re on set for eight hours, it’s highly likely you’ll only be on camera for less than an hour during of your shift. The rest of the time, you’ll be eating, shooting the breeze with your other crew members, and doing whatever the hell you can do while sitting.
Thanks to wifi and mobile data, there are all manner of things we can do while waiting for your moment on camera. You could learn the script for your next audition, put the finishing touches on your soon-to-be-Oscar-winning screenplay, do freelance work for clients, or even build your own website.
If you view your dead time as an extra as a way to get double pay for being productive, you’ll always come out on top.
Being an extra’s a great way to make connections on the business side of Hollywood.
Extras are a notoriously flaky bunch, so it’s really not that hard to impress your agent or the PA charged with handling you. Turn up early, be polite, clean and dress as requested, follow instructions, treat your fellow players with respect, and be prepared to go into overtime if needed.
Your agent might deal with other bookings besides extras; your PA might go on to become a bigtime producer; your fellow extras might land a dream role and be looking to take some friends with her for moral support.
If you treat the extra work professionally, then you’ll be treated as a professional. If you get on the radar of jobbing TV directors and please them with your ability to show up and do what’s asked of you, you’ll have no issue getting regular, lucrative side work.
Being professional means no bothering the star talent. If you’re excited to see Timothee Chalamet or Quentin Tarantino on set, hold that excitement internally. Pestering the talent is the fastest way to get blacklisted from that lucrative side gig currently keeping the lights on.
If you concentrate, you can learn a ton about the biz.
As an extra, you’ll be on set all day every day you work. If you don’t have much experience on location, this is the perfect time to learn. Keep your ears pricked and your eyes peeled, and soon you’ll be an expert on set etiquette, industry terms, and production techniques. You’ll also learn how to tell a lean production from a flabby one.
Play your cards right and you might just get an “upgrade”.
There tons of ways for extras to get a little extra out of their time on set. You can bring multiple outfits for a variety of scenes (and get more screen time); you can bring your car for street scenes; or you could hit the extra’s jackpot and be “upgraded”.
This win involves being given a line to speak or asked to stand in the foreground of a shot – occasionally multiple shots. For an extra, such an upgrade is a hallowed pot of gold, possibly entailing a six-figure salary boost for that shoot plus an IMDb credit.
Three is the magic number.
To become a member of SAG-AFTRA and make those dreamy higher rates, an extra will need to get three vouchers from union productions. This means you’ll need to have been an extra on a union production three times.
Union productions are the holy grail of extra work and incredibly competitive, but if you sign with a good agency, make the right connections, and comport yourself in the right manner, it’s totally possible. Many working extras/actors get their union card within eighteen months of working seriously.
Good luck on your Hollywood journey!