by Courtney Prather
Whether you are looking for a place to start your acting career or simply want to spend a little time on set to catch a glimpse behind the scenes, background extra work is where it’s at. Keep reading for Do’s and Don’ts of being an extra on set and learn how to succeed as a background extra so you can walk onto set confident and ready to make a good impression.
DO arrive early. If you are on time, you are late. You have not arrived until you check in with the person in charge and they know you are there. Give yourself some extra time to park and find this person. Double check your call time. Triple check the driving directions. Also, make sure you know what you are supposed to bring to set-wardrobe is a common one, and always have a few options in your car even if they don’t tell you to.
DON’T try to stand out. Extras are also known as background actors. You are meant to be in the background. Think of an extra as furniture, moveable furniture helping to set the scene. Also, if you stand out as an extra, the chances of booking a speaking role on the same show later on will be zero. Just try to blend in, and never ever look at camera.
DO bring snacks and something to pass the time. There is almost always food on set but you never know how much and how often you will eat so it’s a good idea to have a snack just in case. Being an extra means most of your day will involve waiting. Bringing a book, or phone/tablet is totally acceptable. Just make sure you are aware of what’s going on- you could be called to set at any minute and should always be ready. And plan bathroom breaks accordingly! Time is money, and an idle production costs money. Don’t be the reason they can’t yell ‘Action!’ Always be ready and use the bathroom in between scenes instead of in between takes. Check in with the PA or AD that is in charge of the extras. It’s their job to know where you are at all times so be the one that helps make their life easier.
DON’T talk to crew or cast. Most actors are very focused when on set and asking them a question or making small talk (even if it seems like a good moment) could break their concentration. Follow this rule of thumb- speak only when spoken to. If a crew member is bored and strikes up conversation, feel free to speak to them. But be mindful that at any moment production could be ready to roll camera again and that is your main priority. Also, part of the fun of being an extra is getting to work on sets of movies, and TV shows and you may even work with your favorite actor. But remember, while working on set, you are a professional and not a fan. Don’t take pictures or ask for an autograph. Be professional and maybe one day you will be acting along side them.
DO be positive. Days can be long, breaks can be many and food can be… not so good. But even in extreme working conditions it is better to stay positive and have an upbeat mood. Never complain or talk bad about anyone on set. People will remember if you are ungrateful or negative and you won’t be hired again. It’s a small industry so be positive and remember why you are there- to gain experience on set and make a good impression with people who may be able to give you future opportunities.
DON’T be inconsiderate. Taking photos on set is frowned upon. Unless your AD or PA specifically says its okay, refrain from taking behind the scenes photos while on set. Also, turn your phone off or on silent (a vibrating phone can be picked up by sensitive microphones so silence that bad boy). Also, take note of what food you are supposed to eat. Sometimes extras will have separate tables of food set up so make sure you know what’s up for grabs. When you are done eating the tasty free food, make sure to throw your trash away. No one likes a messy person, and it is someone’s job to pick up trash at the end of the day so do your part to help them out.
DO be grateful if you get a lucky break while on set. It happens! Background talent can get a bump on set or be given a line to deliver in a scene. Congrats, you scored! Take it seriously and do a good job, but don’t be rude to other extras after you get a little special treatment. It’s a good idea to use the line to get an agent, but don’t get too carried away on set. And if you don’t get a lucky break, try not to be pushy for screen time. Follow direction and don’t improvise-throwing yourself towards the camera or making gestures to stick out in a scene is just a good way to get kicked off a set. It won’t help you become famous. A good actor does what is required in a given scene- and as an extra, your job is to blend in. Do it well and you will impress people a lot faster than trying to show off.
DON’T have unrealistic expectations. Extras are the lowest on the totem pole and are often treated like it. The pay is not great and you can expect to work later than estimated on the call sheet. But your perspective is everything! If you can be gracious and positive while being an extra, imagine how many people will want to work with you as you move up the ladder! The pay for extras may be close to minimum wage, but you get to hang out on a working set and learn more about this industry you are so passionate about- all while having plenty of time to read and relax. Sounds fun to me! And while you occasionally will be asked to work long hours, just think of all the overtime you will make- yay time and a half!
And last but not least…
DO have fun. You have the opportunity to work on a movie or television set, something that thousands of people would LOVE to do.
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