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Getting Started. Getting Noticed. Tips for New Actors

 

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,

Marty

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Shelley March 3, 2013, 9:00 pm

    Are there certain types of pictures that will get you noticed over others? What do you recommend?

    • assistant March 3, 2013, 9:59 pm

      There are and it’s easier than you think. Stay tuned. A blog post is planned to discuss head shots in the coming days.
      MKC

    • Marty May 15, 2013, 9:30 pm

      I recommend setting up an appt. with an agent and asking them if you can look at their portfolio of headshots of their talent. Choose the top 10 headshots that resonate with you and ask who took that particular headshot. Then contact that photographer for his/her recommendations and samples of their work–specifically for headshots.

      MKC

  • Mallory Haller March 3, 2013, 9:01 pm

    Hi there!
    My questions is more of how to get to the point of being cast as an extra. I have sent my information in to several different companies on several different occasions. I never hear back from the company. I heard back one time and was directed to a website to fill out more information. After that I heard nothing else. What can I do when sending in my e-mails to stand out? How can I make myself more of the person they are looking for?
    Thanks,
    Mallory

  • April Rivera March 3, 2013, 9:15 pm

    I enjoyed this information Marty, thank-you! I just recently had the opportunity to be an extra and loved the experience! In trying to get more work as an extra, I wonder what tips you might give concerning good submissions to the casting companies. What types of photos and looks are more marketable and help to land more opportunities? Thanks so much!
    April Rivera

  • Katrina Henderson March 3, 2013, 9:25 pm

    Thank you so much for the tips I am an aspiring actress and I am starting as an extra and I love the more I am onset I learn the language and to me I think every part is important I am also looking into acting classes, do you know of any affordable places in the Atlanta area please let me know!! Thanks again!

  • Ashley March 3, 2013, 9:26 pm

    Marty,
    Thank you so much for this opportunity to ask you questions. I have been an extra only 3 times but I LOVE it!!!! The whole aspect of production and every little thing that goes into filming a tv show amazes me. I am a huge fan of TVD. I would love to know how to land a speaking role…or if there are any classes I could take to help with acting. It would be a dream. also thank you again for the inspiration.
    -Ashley Savage

  • Brandon T Watson March 3, 2013, 9:35 pm

    I had the pleasure of being an extra on Vampire Diaries a couple of weeks ago. I am only in high school, but I am looking forward to working with them again after graduation. It was the best time of my life. Everybody was so nice. I came home glowing, and I still can’t stop smiling! Keep up the great work on the show! Thank you again for the wonderful opportunity.

  • Laura March 3, 2013, 9:38 pm

    How do you get yourself into a victim role? My parents worked in a haunted house before I was born, so I grew up in that environment. As soon as I was old enough to follow directions and fellow actors realized how good I was, I was the most desired girl for any victim role they needed. I would love to be able to do that while I can, but I have no idea how. Do you?

  • Jeffrey Karantzaq March 3, 2013, 9:44 pm

    I am new to this business and wanted to thank you for the opportunity and casting me for an episode of tvd. It was the first time i have been on a tv set and loved the experience. I was wondering if there was any advise you could give to someone like me who has not been able to network extensively. Is there any secret to what should be put in a submission to get yourself noticed besides a great set of photo’s . Also the best place to look to find the opportunities to work and become noticed . Thank you again for opening my eyes to the world of film, it has already been a great experience and I look forward to so much more.

  • kaye March 3, 2013, 10:00 pm

    My problem is there are very few casting companies that want older people. I have lucked into a few but even being an extra is hard for us older people to find a part. I am only 68 and really don’t look it but seems Hwood only wants up to 55 and upscale, ultraly gorgeous.

  • David March 3, 2013, 10:12 pm

    I am fully prepared for any and all things available…i street perform as jack sparrow as I do this as any other job… I do this for tips only. So I do what I love and love what I do.

  • Brad March 3, 2013, 10:40 pm

    Hi Marty,
    I have been an extra on the show many times, and I love it! As much as I love being on set, my question is actually…How does one go about getting a job CASTING extras? I have always been very interested in that aspect of the whole process. I have some experience as a production assistant; do PAs ever take on the role of casting extras? I realize this question is off topic, but if you ever have a free moment, I would very much appreciate your advice. Thank you very much!

  • Alan White March 3, 2013, 11:12 pm

    Marty,
    Thanks for the opportunity to ask these questions. I would only echo some of these questions such as, is there more we can do once we submit for a job. I have some on- set experience and years of stage experience. Is there an age range that becomes more difficult to acquire these opportunities, or is it simply dependent on the casting directors. I see many calls for young talent but not as much for us “older” folks.
    I am currently doing “Dinner – Murder Myster Theatre” in the Douglasville,Villa Rica and Hiram areas.
    Thanks again for this opportunity.

    Alan

    • Cella Cee April 4, 2013, 1:11 am

      Age/weight is def becoming an issue with casting even as BG actors.

  • Corey March 3, 2013, 11:34 pm

    Hi Marty, so I was just curious as to the age limit for casting. I know that Vampire Diaries usually only allows ages 18 and up.. do you ever have projects for teenagers? I am 15 and would really like to work on something.. it would be amazing to have that opportunity, thanks!

  • Anthony Smith March 4, 2013, 1:36 am

    Thank you so much for those amazing tips, you gave me the opportunity to better myself and chances of being a star. Thank you so much, Marty. P.S. don’t stop giving tips, advice. Look forward in hearing more. Sincerely, Anthony Smith

  • Tina Turner March 4, 2013, 7:25 am

    Thank you so much for the tips! Ready to get out there.

  • Pam Kupfner March 4, 2013, 4:15 pm

    Thank you for the great tips!

  • Candace Mcclung March 4, 2013, 4:23 pm

    Hi Marty, I enjoyed reading your blog. I really want to get into acting but havent had any motivation. But I know this is what I want to do with my life. At the age of 25 I feel like its to late to start. What do you think. Another thing is I really wanted to start as a extra on the vampire diaries its my dream and the acting they do on the show really inspires me. They are what inspired me to want to do acting. Do you have anything that can help. Please and thank you

  • Christian March 4, 2013, 5:48 pm

    Hi Marty,

    If one has taken acting classes and has lots of “on set”experience go about getting an audition with you or any other casting departments? I have been a BG artist for almost 2 years now (even on TVD 🙂 ) & I started with BG so that I could get the on set experience & now I am ready to take it to the next level! Any help you can give would be much appreciated.

    Thanks!!

  • Jana March 7, 2013, 7:44 am

    Hey, I realy want to do extra work. I have submitted all my info amd a recent picture. could it be that I am to tall or my hair is to red. I am 5’9? is there such a thing as standing out to much?

  • Carolina March 7, 2013, 10:52 pm

    Hi Marty,
    I am a Brazilian actress, I travel to US all the time, in fact I will in Covington next week.
    And I want to know, because I am not American, can I play an extra at the show?
    Thank you

  • naaya March 14, 2013, 3:07 pm

    Thank you so much! This really did help!

  • Bryan Mcintosh March 20, 2013, 7:52 pm

    Do you usual offer teens who are aspiring actors/actresses the chance to be featured as extras?

  • Cella Cee April 4, 2013, 1:07 am

    Hey !! This is a great way to meet and mingle and find out about casting. I have been working as a background actor for about 20 years. So that means I am no spring chick. I am 51. That seems to be an issue with casting now and weight seems to be an issue. I am not a size 10 which most are looking for.
    So what is with the movie star look demands ???. We are BG, rarely seen and never heard. I would love to be on TVD but the age limit is an issue.

  • jerrie whitfield April 28, 2013, 11:33 pm

    Hello Marty,
    I did my first job as an extra for Vampire Diaries a few weeks ago in Monroe. It was definately a new experience for this 64 yr.old gal. I did enjoy it even though it was a very long day and was in the sun much of the time. Ah, the price you pay for fame! I met many people who had been an extra on quite a few movies or tv shows. I’ll be retiring soon and this may be a new direction for me as far as occupying my time. I don’t look or feel old enough to be retired so why not? My question is; are extras put on a permanent list once they have worked for you? Will I be notified if anything else becomes available? Luckily, I live in Monroe and it seems as though a good many shoots have taken place here.
    Thank you,
    Jerrie

  • Jessica May 8, 2013, 12:28 am

    How in the world, and where in the world can I find all of these castings?

  • Valerie May 13, 2013, 9:02 pm

    Hello! I have been trying to be an extra on a show, any show and have been unsuccessful. What could I be doing wrong? Any help would be great! Thank you!

  • Jennifer F. June 5, 2013, 3:21 pm

    Hi Marty,
    I graduated last May and like most found it difficult to find work, then a friend told me about background extraing. My first was in the Hunger Games Catching Fire. I’m afriad now I’m hooked but I’m 24 is it to late to get in the business and become an actor. My dream would to be a voice over actress. However I have no idea how to go about this entire enterprise. I’d love to take acting classes, but lets be honest without steady work can’t afford it, and don’t want to be taken by a con artist. If there is any advice or direction you could give me, it would be much appreciated. Would it help if I played dress up one day and just take picture after picture, so I would have shots ready in character to what they are looking for?

    Sincerly,
    Jennifer

    P.S. I love you blog and site very helpful already.