How To Be an Extra

Project Casting
What is an Extra?

Extras also known as background actors are people just like you that make the background scenes of your favorite movies and television shows come alive. Check out a clip from American Reunion, the American Pie sequel that was filmed in Atlanta last year. All those bar patrons in the background? They’re extras! So are the students at Mystic Falls High School on The Vampire Diaries, every zombie on The Walking Dead, the lacrosse team on Teen Wolf and the football players on Necessary Roughness (all of which are — you guessed it! — filmed in Atlanta).

How Much Do Extras Get Paid?

Extras who work in Atlanta typically get paid either $58/8, $60/8 or $64/8, depending on the production. What’s that boil down to? About $7.25, $7.50 or $8 per hour. Yes, it’s minimum wage BUT most filming days last 12 – 14 hours, which means you’ll earn time-and-a-half for every hour you work after the first eight hours.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you work 12 hours on the set of The Vampire Diaries, which pays the standard rate of $58/8. You’ll earn $7.25/hr for the first eight hours and then $10.88/hr for the final four hours, which would add up to about $101.50. Not too bad for spending the day on the set of a hit TV show, huh?

But, in certain locations such as New York City, and Los Angeles the going rate for a background actor is $150+ to $300+.
If you’re interested in making MORE MONEY on set (who isn’t?), keep an eye out for “featured extra” and “specialty” requests. Featured extras typically get more time in front of the camera, while specialty extras are cast because they have a unique ability that’s being used in the scene, such as juggling, dancing or playing tennis. Both can be paid a higher rate, but it’s up to the production company to decide.

Your best bet for earning more than the usual rate is to become a stand in. Stand ins take the place of actors while the crew sets up lights and other important elements of a shot and are typically employed for the entire duration of a shoot, which can last anywhere from one to eight months. Stand ins usually have the same skin tone, hair color, height and weight of the actors they’re standing in for so if you look like an actor or actress that’s filming in Atlanta, you could have a shot at making between $110/12 ($9.16/hr) and $140/12 ($11.67/hr).

Who Gets Picked to be an Extra?
What Sort of People Get Hired to Work as Extras in Movies & TV Shows

Different scenes need different extras. When a scene is about to be filmed, the producers of the movie or television show ask the extras casting agency to find people with a specific look, age, sex or talent — whatever is needed to make the scene feel real.

Tips For Getting Booked
How to Get Chosen to Extra

The people who get picked to be extras most often are the ones who:

  • fit the look
  • respond quickly to a Facebook post or e-mail
  • have a reputation for being on time and professional on set
Tip #1: If a casting agency posts something like this on Facebook: “Seeking Upscale Males and Females ages 40 – 60+ ONLY. Washington/Banker/Politican’s Wife types. Men should have very nice dark business suits and women upscale cocktail dresses.” ONLY submit if you fit the description! Consider the ages and wardrobe requested. If you look much younger or older than the requested age or you don’t have the appropriate clothing, do NOT reply to the post. This just wastes the casting director’s time and may make it difficult for you to find work in the future.Tip #2: If a casting agency is looking for folks to work an all-day shoot on Thursday, ONLY submit if you are 100% positive you can work! If you have a dentist appointment or soccer game at 4 p.m. the night of a shoot, you probably shouldn’t apply to work. Filming days often last 12 – 14 hours and leaving early will only make it harder for you to get booked again (not to mention that you won’t get paid for the day!).

Tip #3: You don’t need a professional headshot to get booked as an extra but you DEFINITELY need a high-quality photo of yourself. This means no blurry Facebook photos, group shots or school pictures. The best photos are the ones that show casting agents what you ACTUALLY look like. You don’t have to be tall, thin and/or incredibly beautiful to work as an extra but casting agents will be less likely to use you if they think you don’t look anything like the photos you submit.

  Some rights reserved by Jonathan Kos-Read

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