25 Things I've Learned as a Background Extra
Musings While on My 25th Production in Los Angeles!
I work as an extra (or some like to say, "background actress") in Los Angeles. Today marks the 25th production I've done since moving here at the beginning of the year. (I got some experience in this field when I lived in the Bay Area!)
Here are some lessons I've learned, but also some advice for anyone interested in working in this industry.
- It isn't a hard thing to get started in. Registering with Central Casting is free, you just need to get there EARLY and wait in line for a few hours! (In a way, it's good, as this sort of provides a nice preview for your future work schedule.)
- The immediate follow-up to that is probably one of the #1 rules of this job: be early. I can't emphasize this enough. At your call time is too late. Set multiple alarms, check Google maps ahead of time, give yourself at least a half-hour window, ESPECIALLY in a traffic-filled city like Los Angeles!
- Buy generic, versatile, unlabeled clothing and accessories that are good for many types of shows and films. Target and H&M are my go-tos.
- Then, always keep five complete outfits in your car that you can use for wardrobe, on hangers or in a duffle bag or suitcase.
- Expect to work 12-hour days. Sometimes it's less, and a lot of times it's more!
- Know that you'll get booked last minute. Be ready to cancel plans. If you use a calling service (like Extras Management or Face-to-Face) and know you have a conflict, book out or update your calendar availability as soon as you can.
- If you do your own bookings, don't double-book yourself. Not showing up has serious consequences!
- You'll get very early and very late call times. In my experience, 6am is pretty standard. You do get used to it.
- Perfect your camera-ready hair and makeup look so you can get it done quickly!
- Take advantage of the free food and coffee on set! Some weeks, I don't need to buy food, since there are meals and plenty of snacks provided.
- You'll be driving all over the city to go to jobs. Think of it as an adventure!
- You'll get to work in a variety of interesting locations. (My favorite was on a beach in Malibu! I also love working on the major studio backlots.)
- You'll get to see celebrities, yes!
- But you usually won't get to interact with them. Respect their personal space and know that they are there to work.
- Always, ALWAYS listen to PAs, crew members, and the director.
- And, be quiet near set. Remember, you, too, are there to work first and foremost! When cameras are rolling, it's unprofessional to be talking or making a lot of noise.
- Unless otherwise told, everything on set is PANTOMIMED. This can lead to some funny, interesting, mismatched conversations without you knowing it at the time! I had an on-set discussion where I was talking work and politics, the guy I was partnered with was talking about circles and squares. Neither of us realized it until we could tell each other what we were saying.
- Bring a portable phone charger, every day. Phones have a weird way of knowing when you're working on a film shoot, and the battery drains faster. That said, you should usually be leaving your phone in holding (the area where extras wait when they're off-set).
- You'll often sign a non-disclosure agreement that says you won't disclose details about the production. Take this very seriously, and be careful with what you post on social media.
- There is a lot of down time. This can be great for getting other work done, if you are a good self-motivator and want to be productive!
- But also, film shoots are great places to meet people, so socializing off-camera is a good way to make new friends.
- Always have your I9 IDs on you! Your passport, or photo ID, and social security card.
- The base pay is not a lot for non-union, but the rate goes up a lot when you hit overtime. Joining SAG gets you a substantially higher pay, but it is a large initial investment.
- You will get to watch how movies and TV shows "happen" behind the scenes, and it is fascinating!
- You will have a ton of fun!