We all dream at some time about becoming a movie star, walking down the red carpet at premieres and being adored by millions of fans. Sadly, it’s a daydream for most of us. There is a way however of getting in front of the camera, even if it’s as part of a crowd. To become a movie extra is not an unrealistic ambition and many people manage to achieve it. It may only mean one minute of celluloid glory or it could mean an enjoyable sideline that pays pretty well. You don’t need to be drop dead gorgeous, in fact that could work against you. Producers want people who can blend into the background.
It’s not just the movies either, where extras are required. Extras, or as the industry sometimes prefer to call them, background artists are needed for TV shows, commercials and music videos too. You can work as union or non-union but there is a division for extras in the Screen Actors Guild. So, how do you find out about these opportunities to become a movie extra? The best way is to look for open auditions and these are announced on websites and in classified advertisements in trade journals. Also, look out for casting calls. When you become a movie extra, you may be in a background shot or in the foreground, in a crowd scene or you may be selected to appear in a small group or walking down the street by yourself. There are many possibilities!
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion to get ahead. Many people register with a casting agency, most of which are free. It’s considered worthwhile to get some head shots done, by a professional photographer if you can afford it. You could post your resume online. There is a lot of competition out there to become a movie extra so you need to spread the net wide. Don’t wait for Steven Spielberg to call you for his next blockbuster. A local performing arts school may require extras for graduate films. An independent filmmaker may be shooting a low budget film.
Once you land that first job, try to create a good impression. Follow instructions carefully and don’t impede anyone from doing their job. Resist the temptation to pester the stars and don’t ask for any autographs. It just isn’t the done thing. Be prepared to work long hours with a lot of waiting around. It’s not all glamorous. However, there is the very occasional story of an extra being given a line to say! English actor Jimmy Nail started out as an extra on the film, Get Carter and ended up with a big part in the movie version of Evita.