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.
There are lots of films and TV programmes in production right now as you can see here and many of them need extras. You can be old, young, black, white, able-bodied or disabled and there will be work for you.
How to be a Film Extra
- How do you become a film extra?
- How much can you make doing walk-on work?
- What’s it like to be a film extra? A walk-on artiste spills the beans!
Film extras exist to make productions look realistic, giving a setting behind the main actor’s dialogue. Parts for film extras include:
- passengers at the train station,
- revellers at a concert
- customers in a café.
- soldiers in a battle scene
- ladies and gentlemen in a Victorian ball
…and lots more!
You don’t need any acting experience at all to be a film or TV extra, 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
Note the results of a net search of your nearest major city with the words “casting office” and “extra”.
Extras agencies work like temping agencies, you can join as many as you like, although you should only have one agent in the area you live (and then maybe other agents in other parts of the country).
Find a list of extras agencies for the UK at UKScreen. Be careful though, there are dodgy agencies out there that will charge you big money to do a photo and join the agency per year and then never do anything.
The ones we know are good include
The Casting Collective020 8962 0099,
Ray Knight Agency 020 7722 1551
2020 Casting, 020 8746 2020.
Step 2: Get your face out there
Make sure you send the extras agency 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 a film 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’s 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 as you so your photo needs to look like 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:
- Your full name, address and contact numbers
- Your date of birth and the age range you can convincingly play
- Your union status
- The ethnicity you appear to be
- Your availability
- Your car details: make, year, condition, colour and any tickets
- Height and weight
- Measurements (in feet and measurements) – Women: Waist, Hips, Bust, Dress Size, Shoe, Hat, Glove size. Men: Waist, Inside leg, Neck, Shoe, Hat, Glove
- Clothing you own: tuxedo, types of suits/uniforms/special wardrobe items, wigs
- Unusual physical traits – body piercings, tattoos, scars, missing limbs
- Will you work in water, or at night?
- Special props you own – musical instruments, sports equipment, etc
- Special abilities you have such as horse riding, singing , dancing etc.
- How far you are willing to travel
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.
Sometimes extras can be upgraded to day performers, who deliver a line of dialogue or are required to do more complex actions.
Be a stand-in
You could also work as a stand-in. Stand-ins are used to substitute actors so the crew can focus shots and set lighting, but they’re not actually photographed. They ‘stand’ where the main actors would stand while the lighting etc is set up and then once that is sorted the real stars come and do it.
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 at the moment.
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.
When you get work as a film extra take a bag packed with things to keep you busy – a book, crossword puzzle, snacks to nibble on, even thermal underwear if you’re working outside in the cold. There’s a lot of waiting around on set so be prepared.
Also try and network with some of the other background actors – a good tip or referral from them 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 to go and see you in the cinema.
For TV extra 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 £86.40 per day, ITV £73.16 for TV walk-on work.
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 £106.80 a day.
There are lots of ways you can have your pay bumped up too including working on a public holiday, having your hair cut, having your meal break cut into and having a costume fitting.
Most of the time you’ll get free food and drink (and film food is usually very good!).
Within the actor’s union Equity, and the entertainer’s Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU), film extras are protected and guaranteed the same working conditions as actors with speaking roles. If you’re going to do a lot of walk-on work it’s worth becoming a member of one of these.
Non-union film and TV extras are paid at a lower rate (although in practice that doesn’t always happen), and on productions that don’t recognise unions payment is at the discretion of producers.
You can find out more rates from the Casting Collective website.
John Random has been a film extra for over twenty years and the money he has made has helped him fund himself as a writer and pay for his family’s needs.
He has met all sorts of celebrities, kissed Kate Winslet and worn all kinds of costumes including a wild and colourful one as a photographer in a Harry Potter film. He says there are regularly humorous incidences that happen to him as a film extra. He says:
“You usually get notified about upcoming jobs with terse little text messages like August 23rd. Wolf Hall. Tudor Drama: Are you prepared to grow beard? I’m waiting for the day when I get a text that goes August 23rd, New Star Wars Movie: Are you prepared to grow extra head?
“Another plus is that you get to dress up, or rather you are dressed – and by very knowledgeable people; and even though you’re just a face in the crowd, the costume department will spend ages fretting over whether you’d have had a Sam Browne belt or a reticule or whatever it is. If I keep doing this long enough I’m sure I’ll hear the costume department arguing among themselves as to how much underpant you’d’ve seen in 2010. “No, no, his trousers would’ve been down here somewhere.” Or they’ll be going: “No, no when she bends over, you should be able to see her tramp stamp.”
“The Costume Department are the natural bedfellows of Hair and Make-Up and they always come round after lunch to make sure your tash is still on straight, or whether your goatee’s come unstuck. I once overheard a middle-aged lady from Hair and Make Up going: Has anyone had seen my facial hair? What she meant was the sheets of greaseproof to which the various samples are pinned when not in use.
“When you sign up for an agency, you fill out a long form and they usually ask how you feel about the full gamut of exposure from Topless, rising to Nude from the back, Nude from the front and even Simulated Sex. In other words, how far are you prepared to go? To which the best answer is: anywhere within the M25.”