You can make money being a film extra or TV extra if you have time to spare during the week and live in or near a major city. Doing walk-on work can be a great way to make easy money and meet celebs at the same time. It used to be a closed business, but nowadays you don’t need to be a union member to be a an extra and there are many agencies to choose from.
Film and TV extras exist to make productions look realistic, giving a setting behind the main actor’s dialogue. Parts for extras include: passengers at the train station, revellers at a concert and customers in a café. You don’t need any acting experience at all, but you do need to be punctual, reliable and able to take direction. The length of an extra’s employment on a production depends on the needs of the director and the scenes being filmed.
Step 1: Research
Contact your local film commission. They usually have an idea on what major projects are coming up and where extras will be needed.
Look in the phone book or search the internet for local casting offices, and ask them how you can sign up to be an extra. Note the results of a net search of your nearest major city with the words “casting office” and “extra”.
You can look in the local papers for information about independent films being done in your area, and watch out for film festivals to find out who the local contributors are. You can also try the local university’s film department. Student filmmakers are always looking for stand-ins.
Extras agencies work like temping agencies, you can join as many as you like. Find a list of agencies for the UK at UKScreen. ScreenBase lists all the films in production, and sometimes in pre-production. You can use these to help prompt your agent to try for a particular film.
Step 2: Get your face out there
Make sure you send whoever you contact – the commission, agencies, local councils etc – a headshot and full body shot with your resume so they will have your information on file.
You can have photos taken with a digital camera that can be blown up to 8 x 10, or you can spend a bit of money to have some professional shots taken.
Getting picked as an extra does depend on how you look, and most of the time they just want normal everyday people. You can look a bit scruffy, overweight, or unusual and still have a good chance of being chosen.
It is also an idea to have a few different ‘looks’ taken in different styles of clothes. Have one photo where you look like a professional in a suit, and then a casual street look, and an elegant black tie style. But don’t digitally airbrush the photo – if they call, they want to hire you.
Step 3: General casting information
Casting agents and producers have different requirements, but it’s good to have the following details on hand when needed:
And don’t forget your photos!
Step 4: Show your talents as a film extra
If you have certain talents you may be able to earn a little bit extra. Special ability background players are those required to perform skills showing sporting ability (being able to play tennis or golf), social dancing, rollerblading, skiing, singing or driving.
Stand-ins are used to substitute actors so the crew can focus shots and set lighting, but they’re not actually photographed.
Sometimes extras can be upgraded to day performers, who deliver a line of dialogue or are required to do more complex actions.
Step 5: Check with agencies and wait
Check and double check the agency you decide to go with, and the people you decide to build a repertoire with. There are many unscrupulous people out there. If they ask you for money straight away, move quickly to the door and keep running. Have a look at Clive Hurst’s page about dodgy agencies before signing up and, certainly, before handing any money over.
Ask the casting office for a list of shows they’ve worked on and cross reference that with the actual TV show credit; or contact the entertainment unions here. If the business looks dodgy, it probably is.
Once you find and sign up to the right agency, you need to be patient and wait. Calls can be rather sporadic, depending on the number of extras needed and whether filming is happening nearby.
Step 6: Being chosen as a film extra
Extras get very few details when called to take on a role from their agency, and full details are given the night before the actual shoot. They’re told what their part is, what time to arrive and where, as well as what to wear for their part.
Assistant Directors are usually in charge of extras, so make sure they know you’re there when you arrive. Listen to them carefully, even if they tell you to simply walk down a hallway. Extras should blend into the background and take their direction well.
Take a bag packed with things to keep you busy – a book, crossword puzzle, snacks to nibble on, even thermal underwear for when you’re working outside in the cold. There’s a lot of waiting around on set. Also try and network with some of the other background actors – a good tip or referral could lead to more work.
In most cases, especially on bigger film sets, you will have to sign a confidentiality clause. This means no photos, but even if there’s nothing to sign, ask permission. Don’t bother asking for autographs either, as actors are also there to do a job, and don’t need you hanging around like a bad smell.
Step 7: Earn and show off
Cash the cheque and invite all your friends over to watch you on TV.
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For TV you can expect £90 for a ten-hour day if you’re in the background of a commercial and £200 for a proper walk-on part with words.
The BBC pays a minimum of £69.50 per day, ITV £66.55. Walk-on artists who don’t have to give individual characterisation in a role but may be needed to pretend to be someone specific or even speak a few words could earn around £100 a day.
Most of the time you’ll get free meals (and film food is usually very good!).
Within the United Kingdom actor’s union Equity, and the entertainer’s Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU), extras are protected and guaranteed the same working conditions as actors with speaking roles.
Non-union extras are paid at a lower rate, but on productions outside of union jurisdiction, payment is at the discretion of producers. You can find out more rates from the Casting Collective website.
Don’t fancy being in front of the camera? See our article on using your home as a film set for more ways to make money from TV and film.