Many people seem to have a disdain for extra work that I just don’t understand. I realize that as an extra, you are not in any sort of spot light and are generally required to blend in with the background, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Being an extra offers you the chance to be on set that you might not otherwise have, and any chance to be on set means the chance to network and make connections. There isn’t a person out there who can”t benefit from networking.
Being part of the canadian actors union ACTRA really helps as well, as that means I generally get paid pretty decently for any extra work I do. WIthout being part of the union you don’t make as much but it’s still a great opportunity to take. In my experience as an extra, I know I’m not looking for my two seconds of fame so I generally try to hang back and out of the spotlight as much as possible. Why? If I let all the other extras, eager to be in front of the camera, then I can stay back and network with different people in the crew. Also, being an extra can be rather tedious work if you get stuck walking back and forth for two hours while they try to get the scene right. That’s another reason why I tend to try and not be “picked” to go in front of the camera if I have the option because I get paid whether I’m “working” or not. That’s not to say that I don’t try to make my way on set at all, sometimes the scenes can be alot of fun. I once got to be an extra at the waterpark in West Edmonton Mall and was paid to swim all day. That was pretty cool!
By staying back some of the times though I have managed to meet some really cool people! I’ve made friends with many different people in many different film crews. It’s been great to get a different view of what goes on behind set. I’ve heard so many stories about how different people got to the roles they were in at that time, how the first AD became first AD, how the extras casting director found his position, and what it’s like to be a stand-in. All of these people have their own connections to the movie industry, and I was able to find out their story and benefit from having all these contacts.
The next best thing about extra work is all the other extras! People from all backgrounds and all experience can be extras. You”ll meet people who are just beginning their career and have only done extra work so far but may be crazy smart biologists, older folks who are retiring with years and years of experience in the business with loads of tips to give you, and other actors/actresses just like yourself trying to make their way. All of these people have their own experience with acting, if they managed to get their way on set, then they know something about the business. They may know something you don’t, and they are likely very interesting people. To get into acting, you have to have some amount of personality, and you can meet some real wacky characters out there!
If you’re just starting out, extra work is necessary because at the very least it’s something acting related to put on your resume. It also lets casting directors know that you do have experience being on set, which is an asset. Do not pass up the opportunity to do extra work if you’re just starting out!
Then of course, there’s always the chance that a great opportunity will come from just being present on set. I’ve heard stories of people that were just on set as an extra and something changed in the script and they quickly wanted someone to speak a small role. The director went over to the extras and just picked one fellow and gave him a speaking role. This started out with just being present on set, so as i’ve stressed already, don’t pass up the opportunity to be on set in any form!
In summary, I love extra work because:
-You get paid to do very little with the potential to have alot of fun
-You have amazing networking opportunities, the acting business is all about your connections!
-You meet very interesting people from all walks of life
-You gain experience and can learn from the techniques the main actors are using
-Other great opportunities can always pop up unexpected from extra work
Acting is alot of waiting, waiting for the next audition, waiting for the next film to come through town, and if you missed the chance to get a speaking role then extra work is a great way to break up the waiting and get yourself on set.