What should a background extra do if they feel unsafe or unwanted on a set?
The worst part of being an extra is the feeling that you are not wanted. I have worked on several feature films and TV shows as a background extra and there were plenty of times where movie sets failed to look out for myself and other background actors. There was one particular movie which stands out to me in particular. It was a summer outdoor scene with temperatures in the nineties. All of the crew were given bottles of water. But, when a background extra asked for water, production assistants told us to stand in line and be quiet. It would be hours later before we ever got a break or a glass of water for that matter.
I spoke with other aspiring actors that worked as an extra and they told me horror stories. One individual, who wanted to remain anonymous, explained to me that he was asked by a crew member if he is willing perform a sex act on camera for him, which is pretty horrifying.
It then begs the question – what should a background extra do if they feel unsafe, overlooked, or ignored on set?
In part three of ‘The Background Extra’ we asked Jamie Lynn Catrett and Heather Taylor, two top Atlanta casting directors, what should a background extra do if they have a problem on set. Here is what they had to say:
Some extras feel that they are on the bottom of the “totem pole” and their feelings, situations and circumstances are often times overlooked or ignored. What do you believe a background extra should do if they have a problem on or off set?
Jamie Lynn Catrett: For an emergency situation on set, they should immediately tell the background PA (production assistant) or an AD (assistant director). They should also contact the casting company that hired them. If it is serious enough, they should request a medic right away. However, if it is a matter of hurt feelings – something that isn’t an emergency, but still relevant, they should contact the casting company via text or phone. Emails are usually a bad idea considering we get thousands of emails a day. I think it’s important to remember that most casting directors care about the people they hire and WANT to help, but are sometimes left out of the loop. We are here to help!
Heather Taylor: –Background Performers are not on the bottom, at all, and they should never feel that way. Everyone on a set has a specific role, which helps to create the larger picture. Everyone has to start somewhere (we all did), and being a background performer is an excellent starting position – it is also a great full time job in Atlanta with so many projects in our area we are blessed!…. Not to mention BG, gets free delicious healthy meals and many other benefits that a regular 9-5 minimal wage job never sees. Plus mostly everyone I have met on a set is there because this is their dream job – how many people in America can say they are working in an industry that they love.
If background performers are every feeling that they are being treated unjust or unfairly and they are on set -they should first tell / bring it to the attention of the Background Set PA, if there is no resolution to the problem they should let that same PA know at that time that they would like to be excused for a moment to be able to contact the Extras Casting Director of the Company that hired them (in order to let the CD know about the current situation at hand). It is everyones job on a set to make sure every single person is safe and respected – just because background performers don’t have to sit through a respect in the work place meeting, doesn’t mean they don’t apply to what is said at those meetings – I have sat through several of them, everything brought up 150% applies to them and everyone else on set and that works in the production offices.
I put my personal cell phone number on every booking email that I send out to every background performer that works on any production I am hired on for this exact reason – communication is the key, and I want to be easily reachable. It is also important, I feel, that Extras Casting Directors don’t take too many overlapping projects at the same time. It is possible that when a company has more than they can handle, many times I feel that can be why background performers can feel neglected.