A background actor an extra is a performer in a film, television show, stage musical, who appears in a nonspeaking, non-singing, or non dancing capacity. Typically, the performer is found in the background of a busy street scene, or in a busy hospital scene. Some films such as War films or epic films employ background actors in large numbers. For some shows it is typical for them to hire over a thousand background actors on a daily basis. It is interesting to note that in opera or ballet extras are called “supers” while on film or TV set, background actors are referred to as “background performers”
Casting for background actors depends on the production. Becoming a background actor typically requires no acting experience. But, reliability, punctuality, and ability to take direction from someone are key points that are a must for the job.
There are several casting agencies that only cast background actors. For example, Bill Marinella Casting is one of the most well respected, and talented casting directors. When casting background actors, casting directors usually look for people that have a certain “type” or “look” that will contribute to the ambiance of the film. For instance, a high school football game scene, background-casting directors will look for individuals that have a “teenage” look, etc.
The length of employment depends upon the director, and needs of the scene. Some background actors are only needed on set for a day or so, but others maybe needed for an extended period of time. For instance, in James Cameron’s mega-hit Titanic, over a 150 group of core background actors where employed to play the ship’s passengers, and they were used throughout the entire length of filming.
It is important to note that background actors do not receive any credit in the film’s titles – this is a common practice
In the US, most film productions fall under the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or AFTRA. The two unions have recently merged. According to the Sag-signatory producers are allowed to hire non-union background actors after a certain number of SAG performers have been cast. Non-union background actors are paid minimum wage.
Did you know?
The silent film The Extra Girl that was made in 1923 features a small town girl who comes to Hollywood and becomes a background actor in her attempt to become famous.
Everyone has to start somewhere, some of the most famous actors all started off as background artists. It gives you the chance to experience, and see what the professional actors do on a daily basis. Moreover, it allows you to make CONNECTIONS and network with unique individuals that can all help you take your career to the next level.
Good Luck, the road to stardom is a long and arduous journey but with dedication and Project Casting, YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN!