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 film extra 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 do you become a film extra?
- How do you get work as 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
- people sitting on a park bench or walking by the river
…and lots more!
You don’t need any formal acting experience at all to be a film or TV extra (also more politely called a ‘supporting artist’ or SA), but you do need to be punctual, reliable. You will also need to be able to take direction as even if you are just sitting or standing in one position, it will be as directed. It will also partly be your responsibility to remember your starting and ending positions if you are moving, miming or performing specific actions.
The length of an extra’s employment on a production depends on the needs of the director and the scenes being filmed. You tend to be booked for a day at a time but it could be a night, a weekend or even several weeks depending upon the production. Bookings which last more than a day are usually due to continuity of the filming. For example, if you are seen or occupying a position, you will need to be there in later takes so that things look right.
How do you get work as a film extra?
Step 1: Research opportunities and agencies
Ask around and search the internet for local casting offices, and ask them how you can sign up to be an extra.
Note the results of an internet search of your nearest major city with the words “casting office” and “film extra”.
Extras agencies work like temping agencies: you can join as many as you like,
Be careful which ones you sign up to, though. As with modelling – particularly child modelling – there are some rogues out there.
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.
Go with ones that are recognised by Equity, recommended by friends or especially those endorsed by other extras. If you see an agency online that you haven’t heard of, put their name plus ‘review’ into the search bar and see what others say about them.
A lot of the better agencies will not charge a joining fee but will take their fee from your first job, so, if you don’t work, you won’t need to pay anything.
- The Casting Collective – 020 8962 0099,
- Ray Knight Agency – 020 7722 1551
- 2020 Casting, – 020 8746 2020.
- Mad Dog Casting – 0207 269 7910 (London), 02921 980089 (Cardiff), 0161 960 0035 (Manchester)
- Guys and Dolls – 020 8906 4144
- Uni-versal Extras – 0845 0090 3544.
There are also specialist agencies for particular types of extra such as uniformed, military and unusual people (piercings , tattoos, stature etc.).
Step 2: Get your face out there
The next step is to get yourself seen by the agents and film directors.
- 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 must 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. On the whole it’s not necessary for supporting artists to get professional shots done but it can’t harm!
- Getting picked as a film extra does depend on how you look, and most of the time they just want normal everyday people who will not draw attention away from the main cast. 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.
- 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,
- singing or
Sometimes extras can be upgraded to day performers (walk-on/featured), who deliver a line of dialogue or are required to do more complex actions. This is handy as you get extra money for anything you do that is more than the usual for an extra.
Be a stand-in
You could also work as a stand-in.
Stand-ins are used to substitute for actors so the crew can focus shots and set lighting, but they’re not actually filmed. This is largely a time-saving exercise leaving the real actors free to do other things until the crew are ready for them. Stand-in work can be better paid than extra work and can also be for longer time periods depending on the production.
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.
Step 6: Being chosen as a film extra
Film extras get very few details from their agency when called to take on a role and full information is 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 (usually 3rd AD) 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..Avoid using your mobile phone in general and especially not on set. Some of the larger productions will ban mobile devices to prevent information being leaked. Never post any pictures of yourself or the set as this can lead to dismissal from the set.
- In most cases, especially on bigger film sets, you will have to sign a confidentiality clause. This means no photos or discussion about the production, but even if there’s nothing to sign, if in doubt, ask permission.
- Also try and network with some of the other background actors – a good tip or referral from them could lead to more work.
- Don’t bother asking for autographs either, as actors are also there to do a job. Most are friendly but busy on set and don’t need you hanging around like a bad smell.
- For TV jobs like BBC and ITV you must now have a DBS check, likely ‘Disclosure Scotland’ as all DBS checks are run through Disclosure Scotland. You also need it for movies or productions that involve children on set.
You might get bumped up to the role of a ‘walk-on’ which is a step up from extra work. As a ‘walk on’ you’ll be featured in some way such as having simple dialogue or interaction with the main cast. This will normally earn you better money though it is rare but can happen on the fly.
Step 7: Earn and show off
Cash the cheque and invite all your friends to go and see you in the cinema.
How much can you make as a film extra?
- The basic for film extras is £84 per day plus travel money. For overtime (payable after nine hours) you can expect £7.88 per half an hour. For doing an overnight (nine hours) you should get £105.00.
- 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. Also overtime can dramatically increase your earnings.
- 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 extra work it’s worth becoming a member of one of these.
- Non-union film and TV extras are supposed to be 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.
What’s it like to be a film extra?
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.”
Nigel Ryan has been working as an extra for the past few years. Though he works full time as an IT Professional, he uses the extra work as an excuse to get away from the usual daily grind.
“Supporting artist work is best suited to people with flexible jobs or lots of free time” he says. “It’s very varied, amusing and mostly interesting, though it can be tedious, repetitive, cold and tiring due to the early starts, so you should be prepared.
“It takes a certain sort of character to be able to hack it. You need patience, professionalism, confidence and sometimes a great deal of tolerance. That said it can be fascinating, you may get to see places you never knew existed or would not normally be able to access. You could find yourself playing a policeman one day, a scientist, a corpse or indeed a wizard another, but mostly you’ll be that person in the background, unloved, largely out of focus and unseen!
“After a few roles, once the scales have fallen from your eyes, you will find yourself viewing TV and movies very differently, aside from trying to see yourself on-screen for that nanosecond (“That was me!!! What was you!?”), you’ll notice the detail more including what is going on in the background, continuity errors and inconsistencies. You’ll also start seeing people you’ve worked with before.
“Managing your diary is a key part of the job, the agencies will contact you (mainly by text message but sometimes by phone call or email) with potential roles to check your availability and suitability. Should you wish to be put forward for a role, you will normally be immediately on a pencil, it should be noted that this is not a firm booking. The agents will in most cases submit multiple people for the same role to the production team, so there is a good chance that you may not be chosen.
“If you are not booked you will be “released” from the pencil, unfortunately, these days this can often happen as late as the evening before the job which can leave you high and dry.
“While most agencies are fine with you accepting multiple pencils for the same period, you should note that if one of them should book you on a job, you must let the others know if you are no longer available giving as much notice as possible.
“My advice is that if you aim to make a living out of extra work (which is definitely possible, I’ve met many people who do), keep on top of your diary, always make notes, pencil what you can and remember that you are not booked until you are booked.
“For a lot of jobs, you’ll wear your own clothes not a costume, you will be given a brief by the production’s costume department. Sometimes this can be against the weather, e.g. dressing for summer when it’s winter etc. so some thought is necessary about how you will cope. You should try to be as flexible as possible with your look to avoid limiting your potential roles and you’ll find that you soon start to accrue a wardrobe of logo-less, bland, neutral clothes as this is what is principally required.
“Stay polite and friendly as you will see the same people behind and in front of the camera, time and time again. Enjoy the experience, it’ll certainly add your party banter! Whilst you should take extra work seriously, do remember that’s entertainment, not brain surgery!”