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An extra is someone who works in film and television as part of the crowd. Believe it or not, many people make full careers for themselves doing extra work. Extras are a very important part of the film and television industry because they make the film or television show appear more real, or more lifelike. Turn on your television and you will see extras in almost every scene of every television show and commercial. See those guys in the back enjoying their burgers and chatting with the cute girl who just walked by? See how they just sort of fill in the shot? They create movement. They create life. They almost never have lines, their names are not listed in the credits, and the viewer knows virtually nothing about their characters. So, why would anyone want to become an extra?
Extras get to be on television and in the movies, yet they are not burdened with having to learn lines. They often get a decent paycheck for the work they do, they get exposure in the field, and they get a good deal of experience learning the ropes of working in the film and television industry. Many actors use extra work as a way to earn supplemental income, get to know other actors, and gain exposure with directors and casting directors. Many an actor first got his or her feet wet in the industry by doing extra work. In California, extras even have their own union, the Screen Extras Guild. That's right, the extras industry is so big in Los Angeles that for some people this is a complete line of work. In other words, these people make a career for themselves working as extras, much like Ricky Gervais's character, Andy Millman, in the popular British series Extras. Today, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) covers union extras. SAG extras are entitled to vouchers for mileage, overtime pay, and the same on-set meals that the actors get to eat.
One of the most exciting things about working as an extra is that you may have a chance to meet some famous people. Movies and even some television shows are being shot on location all over the country nowadays. This means that a production company could just pop into your town, no matter where you live, and film scenes for an upcoming movie. When this happens, the production company counts on the locals to fill in as extras. Open calls for extras are most often announced through local radio stations or newspapers. Sometimes the production company holds auditions, but more often it simply asks people to show up at a certain time and place dressed in a certain style of clothing. Unfortunately, these gigs do not always pay, but once again, they give you experience, exposure, and net-working opportunities, and they are a good place to get started in your television or film acting career.
You should register with an extras casting company if you want to do work as an extra. Extras casting companies are responsible for hiring certain people to make the film look just right. As an extra, expect long hours and a lot of sitting around waiting to shoot the scene. On the upside, this is a great way to get your foot in the door, so do not rule it out until you have tried it.
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EXTRA CASTING AGENCIES
Casting by McLean/For Extras
P.O. BOX 10569
Chicago, IL 60610
220 South Flower Street
Burbank, CA 91502
Central Casting New York
875 6th Avenue, 15th Floor
New York, NY 10001-3507
GetGigs.com: Film Extras
The Global Movie Extras Network
Movie Extras Registration and Resources
Chambers, Cullen, and Elisha Choice. Back to One: The Complete Movie Extras Guidebook. Hollywood, CA: Back to One Publications, 2006.
Martin, Rob. You Can Be a Movie Extra. London: Titan Books, Ltd., 2002.
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