Working as a paid extra on a film, television show, or commercial can be a great proving ground for a beginning actor. But all too often, those new to the craft shy away from this invaluable opportunity because they think it will hurt their chances of being cast in a speaking role. These people naively believe that working as an extra hurts their credibility–that they won’t be taken seriously. If you’re in this camp I would encourage you to reconsider. After all, it’s not what you do. It’s how you do it. So here are a few tips on how to make working as an extra, work for you as a new actor.
Embrace a spirit of adventure and welcome the chance to network. You’ll be surprised what you can learn about opportunities in your own back yard. With a long workday ahead (12-18 house in some cases) there’s plenty of hurry up and wait that leaves ample time for chatting with fellow background actors. Ask questions of people who have done it before: who are the best acting coaches in the area? What future projects are on the horizon? Which local independent filmmakers are gearing up for a new project?
Be flexible. Creativity means chaos so many film set decisions are often made on the fly. You never know when you could be called upon to do something out of the ordinary. It could be as simple as a bike ride or as cool as standing shoulder to shoulder with the lead actress or actor. In twenty plus years of doing this job, I’ve seen more than one extra upgraded to a speaking role; people who never even considered acting, never had an acting class, and don’t have an agent. Sometimes it’s dumb luck, but usually, it’s about attitude. Whether or not these chances come your way or get offered to someone else has much to do with how you present yourself. Embrace the experience. Expect the unexpected. It’s Hollywood, right? Anything could happen…
So now you’re wondering: How do I better my chances at one of those special opportunities? It’s easy: Be a good employee. Do a good job. It really is that simple because from the moment you sign in to work as an extra, you are being evaluated by numerous people—most specifically crew members. Today’s beleaguered Production Assistant could be tomorrow’s hot young Producer. These people are charged with the impossible job of keeping things running smoothly off camera. Hardworking and underpaid, PA’s have tremendous power to help you. And, as luck would have it, you have tremendous power to help them, too. Be friendly, cordial, and above all else BE PREDICTABLE. Don’t disappear between camera set-ups. Show-up on time. If you’re early you are on time, and if you’re on time you are late. Let this be your mantra. Monitor traffic and weather. Give yourself time to find your parking spot and check-in location. Treat it like you would any job. Your attention to these things makes all the difference to the Set P.A. who is responsible for keeping track of you. Respect them and the Casting Director who hired you by being reliable and maybe they will return the favor if a juicy opportunity presents itself. Volunteer to help if someone asks. Anticipate. Stay out of the way. In short, exhibit a great attitude. At the end of the day, the film crew is exhausted, having battled impossible odds to accomplish the day’s work. If you made their job even the least bit easier, you won’t be soon forgotten.
I welcome your questions and comments below.
Yours in Art,