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Being a film and TV extra can be a fun and flexible source of income. And it’s not just for aspiring actors, either! Anyone can be an extra. You don’t need any professional training, just a few well-lit photos of yourself, and an idea of your measurements and you’re good to go.
An extra is a ‘background artist’ – they’re the people you see milling around in all kinds of scenes on TV and film. You might be a WW2 soldier one day and a cafe customer the next!
However, don’t be mislead into thinking being an extra on a film set is always glamorous. You’re often working for long hours, with early call times, and wrapping late. But even so, if you’re prepared for this, go along with a lot of patience and a can-do attitude it can be a great way to supplement your income!
Going through a casting agency is the simplest way to get work as an extra. Although a lot of them charge an initial sign up fee and take a percentage commission, they do a lot of the work and admin for you.
Agencies who have been in the business a long time, and come with stellar reputations are:
Alternatively, you can look for extra work yourself, although it is harder. Agencies charge because they have the right connections, production knowledge, and do a lot of the paperwork for you. However, you can still find jobs yourself. Take a look at Casting Call Pro and StarNow as there’s regular casting postings there you can apply for directly. You can also keep up to date with which films and TV shows are in production through Movie Insider.
Local publications and social media will also often have announcements about upcoming productions that need extras so it’s worth keeping an eye on these and using social media to monitor relevant hashtags.
Extras agencies work like temping agencies: you can join as many as you like. Be careful which ones you sign up to, though, as there are plenty that will scam you with charges and you’ll never hear from them again. The four agencies we’ve recommended are all well-known and respected in the industry.
Also, Equity is British actors union, so any casting agencies that are acknowledged by them will be fine.
As you sign up for an agency you’ll have to create a profile. You’ll need to upload a few photos and fill in details about your appearance and measurements. Don’t lie about your appearance – there’s no point as they’ll find out the second they meet you if you do.
Make sure you send include a headshot and full body shot. There’s no need to pay for professional photo shoot, but you will want them to be of a good quality and represent you well.
Although how you look does count, most of the time productions 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
If you’ve got certain talents you may be able to earn a little bit extra so make sure the agencies know what you can do! Special ability background players are those required to perform skills showing:
Sometimes extras can be upgraded to day performers (walk-on), 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.
Stand-ins are used to substitute actors so the crew can focus shots and set lighting between takes. This is largely a time-saving exercise, leaving the lead actors to do other things until the crew are ready for them.
Stand-in work is generally better paid than extra work, and is often booked for longer periods of time rather than on a day-to-day basis.
Film extras get very few details from their agency when called to take on a role and full information is usually given the day before the actual shoot. You’ll be told what your part is, what time to arrive and where, as well as what to wear for the 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 as there’s a lot of waiting around on sets! Avoid using your phone in general and especially not on set. Some of the larger productions will ban mobile devices to prevent information being leaked. On bigger film sets especially, you’ll 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.
Don’t bother asking for autographs either, as actors are also there to do a job. Most are friendly but busy on set and want to be left to it.
Generally speaking, as an extra you’ll only be needed for a maximum of a couple of days on each production and work is booked on day-by-day requirements. Although in some cases you may be needed for longer for continuity reasons.
There are 3 main union agreements used in and around London. Across different parts of the UK the rates vary more so it’s worthwhile to check with the production beforehand.
Some production rates will vary to this but it should offer a rough guideline of what you can expect to be paid.
Some additions will boost your income as an extra, including:
You also need to take into consideration the fact that most agencies take a commission of around 15% every time they book you a job. Many also charge a joining fee, so be careful not to get stung! Paying a fee doesn’t guarantee you work – and you’ll still be liable to pay the fee.
Working 9-5 in an office isn’t the only way to make money now and there are plenty of ways to get creative and keep earning.
Check out some more of our articles on creative ways to make money here: