Like most people, I used to think that extras were probably actors or aspiring actors and that your Average Jo couldn’t just walk into a feature film. Even those in a scene saying ‘Hi’ or ‘Good Morning’ must be actors, right? Well, no! Since working for an extra’s agency for the past one and a half years, I can confirm it is totally possible for you to get into film and TV with zero experience, here’s how:
The Basics: How to
There are a number of popular agencies in the UK and you can typically register your interest by signing up via their website or app (if they have one). Make sure to read the T&C’s first. Ensure they are a reputable agency and familiarise yourself with their social media channels – to me, social media presence is a great indication of how with it a company are.
Start you search engine journey with: background casting, supporting artists, extras.
After signing up, you’ll usually be added to a waiting list and your application reviewed in time. Typically, companies hold registrations throughout the year invite successful applicants to take FREE professional photos and run through how it all works with them. This is not an interview – It’s an informal affair where you’ll likely attend with 15-30 others (when safe to do so, post covid-19!).
Important: Never pay anything upfront. You can never be guaranteed being accepted onto the books or be guaranteed work due to the nature of the industry. I wouldn’t trust anyone willing to take your hard-earned money upfront from the get go. Most extras agencies will instead charge an annual booking/ registration fee taken from or after your first job.
Terminology: Getting Started
There different terms you need to get to grips with in film and TV land, from ‘heavy pencil’ to ‘release’ to ‘2nd AD’, but one of the first to start with is Supporting Artist.
Extras: In the industry, extras are more commonly referred to as Background Artists, Supporting Artists/Artistes or SA’s. (Just for the purpose of this blog, I’ll use the term extra).
Pay: FAA, BBC, ITV, Equity/Pact… these are all rates of pay. The rate chosen by a production will vary, but usually extras would earn around £100 (sometime more) per day. Additional payments can be made for creative reactions, lines, costume changes, hair cuts and more. Most agencies will have a list of pay rates listed on their website for reference.
The Books: Agencies have ‘books’ which just refer to their database. Be warned, if you drop out of a production (after being confirmed in writing as booked), without a reasonable excuse, agencies have the right to permanently remove you from their books and not contact you with opportunities again.
Codenames: Most productions will use a code name when in production to avoid details getting out! You may be asked if you want to take part in a TV show called ‘1930’s Gangster City‘ but you never know… this could be a top BBC show or returning Netflix hit! (… I made that name up FYI!)
Film & TV during COVID-19
What may be surprising to some is that productions are up and running and have been for months. With the exception of a few like RPattz’ Batman, a vast majority of productions have avoided stopping and restarting amid Covid-19. This is due to added health and safety measures and Covid testing those due to be on set. The tests are booked and paid for by production.
- Every film and TV production will provide casting agents with a ‘brief’ for every role. From ‘passer by’ to 12 people on a bus or 500 in an audience. There will always be role requirements whether its a certain skill or language, height or look. So, unfortunately not everyone will always be contacted or checked for every role, yes, even in a big crowd.
- Extra agencies never decide who is booked, they are the middleman providing extras for production to choose from. The production companies always decide who they would like to book and inform the agency who should then inform you of the outcome either way.
- “Extras are only used in the background” – not true! Artists are also regularly selected to interact with the leading cast, stand in for them, be body doubles and even say lines on camera.
Top Tips to Remember:
- Keep your profile or database up to date with recent photos and information, it may increase your job opportunities.
- Work can never be guaranteed because the agency does not make the booking decisions, sometimes it’s just down to luck!
- Extras agencies are not acting agents. They will not be able to get you a regular spot on your favourite binge-worthy show.
- Film and TV is last minute, its not uncommon to be booked the day before (though this is currently less likely due to Covid-19 and undergoing Covid tests).
- Extras agencies will take a commission from each day that you work (typically 15-20%).
- You do not need any experience whatsoever to become an Extra.
- You can be signed up with multiple background agencies at any time.
- You don’t need professional headshots, they’re very expensive! Most agencies like a mix of selfies too and will likely take FREE photos for you at an initial registration.
- Having an acting background or qualification does not necessarily mean you will get more opportunities for background work (unless you are cast in a role that specifically requires acting experience).
- All extra work is paid and you will be fed on set
- Being a extra doesn’t mean you will be recognisable on screen.
- Being an extra doesn’t mean you WONT be recognisable on screen!
I hope this gives you a little insight into a new, temporary or additional part-time career!
This blog post was written in November 2020, above advice regarding Covid-19 may change in the future. Please contact your agency if you have any queries regarding Covid measures, tests or anything else.