Entertainment NewsBackground Extras are Making Less Money Now than Ever Before

Background Extras are Making Less Money Now than Ever Before

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If being an extra was not hard enough, SAG-AFTRA union has squeezed out all health and pension plans for extras.

The union’s lowest-paid members are receiving the short end of the stick as film and TV contract negotiations started on May 5th.

According to Deadline, earnings for SAG’s films and TV extras have decreased over the past 10 years, leaving fewer people eligible for a health insurance plan. From 2003 to 2011 over 1800 were pushed out of health and pension plans offered by SAG.

It all started in 2004, when SAG increased the minimum amount of money needed to qualify for basic health coverage from $7,500 to 11,000. The earnings further decreased in 2011 when the earnings requirement was raised to $14,800. In 2004, the total number of extras that made the minimum of $14,800/year was only 905 people.

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According to SAG rules, TV producers have to pay extras union wages of $148/day to the first 21 extras and one stand-in on the West Coast, and to the first 25 extras plus all stand-ins on the East Coast. After that producers can hire as many non-union extras at minimum wage as they like. Furthermore, with the number of productions leaving Hollywood and New York City to “Right to Work” states, there has been an increase in the number of non union extras work for minimum wage averaging around $10 less per hour. 

Are you thinking of becoming joining the Union? Well this may not be the best time. Union extras are less likely to work on feature films in comparison to their nonunion counterparts.

Union extras also are seeing fewer job opportunities in feature films. From 2001-07, SAG members with background earnings held steady at about 14,000 a year. In 2008, those numbers too began a downturn, falling 22% from 14,145 that year to 10,997 in 2011.

On feature films, producers must pay union wages to the first 57 extras hired on the West Coast and to the first 85 hired on the East Coast, plus all stand-ins – but only if the project is being shot in one of the so-called Background Zones: within a radius of 75 miles of downtown LA; 25 miles from downtown San Francisco and Sacramento; 15 miles from downtown Las Vegas; the city limits of San Diego; the entire state of Hawaii; and a 300-mile radius from Columbus Circle in New York City, which includes Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Improving compensation for extras should be a main concern for producers and SAG/AFTRA Union leaders. Since, it is in the production’s best interest to have a group of professional, qualified and experienced extras who know what to do on set. Or they run the risk of a group of extras that take cell phone photos of the actors and sell them to tabloids and ruin a multimillion dollar production, or simply have no clue what they are doing.

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Besides, think about all of the amazing A-List actors that started out as extras including Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum, Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood. 

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Megan Dianehttps://www.projectcasting.com
Hi, I'm Megan Browne, the Head of Partnerships at Project Casting - a job board for the entertainment industry. As Head of Partnerships, I help businesses find the best talent for their influencer campaigns, photo shoots, and film productions. Creating these partnerships has enabled me to help businesses scale and reach their true potential. I'm excited to continue driving growth by connecting people with projects they're passionate about.

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