7 Things to Know About Becoming, and Being, a Movie Extra
When people watch movies, their eyes are often locked onto the stars, who play the main characters, after all. But in San Diego, movies are filmed all the time: Top Gun, Traffic, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy—the list goes on.
So perhaps you’re more curious about those background characters: the people in the coffee shop, the crowds running in the streets when the battle starts, those dudes lying on the ground spelling out San Diego Movie Theaters with their bodies. How did they get that role? Are they getting paid? Can I do that? WILL I GET FAMOUS?
Here are seven things to know about becoming—and being—a movie extra.
1. Even the background roles of a movie undergo the careful process of casting. Extras-only casting agencies date back to 1925, when The Central Casting Corporation was born. Before that, actors had to deal with the grind of driving around town to visit individual studios to find work. The company was so popular that it coined a phrase, still used when someone's perfect for a role: “They're right out of Central Casting.” Today, agencies focusing on extras can be found in cities all over the country.
2. The Internet has made the casting process much easier. Those agencies are literally a few clicks away. Actors can find websites, even Facebook groups, created for extras looking for work for projects shooting in their area. They can send photos and read audition notices, all without leaving their homes—a huge shift from the days when actors sold themselves door-to-door just to have their role given to a case of knives.
3. Extras (usually) get paid. But it’s not even close to as much as say, Jessica Alba. If you’re doing extra work for a smaller production (indie or otherwise), you might not get much more than meals on set and a DVD of the film. But the experience can be invaluable.
4. You’ll meet great people. You know that phrase, “Hurry up and wait?” Rumor has it that it was coined in the entertainment industry. Extras spend a lot of time waiting—for the crew to set up, for costumes to be just so, for the director to call them on set. So they’ll also have time to chat—quietly and as long as the cameras aren’t running, of course.
5. But you won’t get to meet the stars. Extras may get to see them, even work with them, but many big-studio movies restrict actors from talking to the director or stars unless they’re spoken to first. This is to keep the filming on time and under control. If an extra breaks this rule, they risk being asked to leave the set and the agency.
6. Some actors are famous for being extras. One extra actor compiled his appearances in dozens of productions for the 2011 YouTube video “World’s Greatest Extra”—and garnered more than three million views.
7. Some even go on to become Oscar winners. Just follow in the footsteps of stars such as Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt, and Renée Zellweger—who all began their careers as background actors.
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