Being a movie extra sounds like a decent way to earn about $100 a day.
Considering the impact our favorite films have on our lives and culture — especially gigantic blockbusters — wouldn’t it be exciting to be even the smallest part of one?
Or… would it ruin the magic?
We wanted to know what it’s actually like to land a gig as a movie extra. How do you get cast? What’s it like to be on set? And, ahem… do you get to meet the stars?
We got in touch with TPH reader Jared Zajac who mentioned his experience on our Facebook page. Zajac was an extra in two major blockbusters filmed in Cleveland, Ohio.
Zajac makes his living as a motion graphics designer, both as a freelancer and as an employee for a Live Events company.
In 2011, after seeing an ad on Cleveland.com for an open casting call, he spent a week as an extra on “Marvel’s The Avengers.” In 2013, he spent one day on the set of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
A Reader Tells Us What It’s Like Being a Movie Extra
We asked him to describe the experience for us. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The Penny Hoarder: What was the casting experience like?
Zajac: The casting call took place at a local hotel. I arrived early, but the line already extended far into the backyard of the hotel. The local news crew was there, and it was very hot. By the time most people got to the casting area, they were a little red from the sun.
I waited for probably two to three hours. When I got to the casting area, they allowed a certain amount of people into a classroom-type area, where they would explain what this is for and what we would be responsible for if we were cast.
They handed out a pamphlet with an explanation and a list of the rules. We had to fill out a short questionnaire; then they took a headshot photograph of each person.
TPH: What was it like to be on the set of “The Avengers”?
Zajac: Our scenes were the scenes in Germany near the beginning of the film (they were actually filmed in Cleveland’s Public Square).
On a typical day, we arrived on set at around 5 p.m. and wouldn’t wrap shooting until around 7 a.m. We were paid overtime for anything over eight hours a day. (Editor’s note: Zajac noted on Facebook that minimum wage is standard for non-union extras. Union workers receive scale pay.)
They went over the plot with us, and what was happening in the scene. They also stressed that this information was confidential and we would be discharged if we divulged the scenes. We went to wardrobe and makeup where we changed — and they made sure my shaved head wasn’t too shiny.
The first scene we filmed on the first day was the shot of all of us running out of the theater scared when Loki attacked. I paired up with a “movie wife,” and we ran out together, and away from a flipping police car. The “theater” was actually a mall, and inside was our on-set holding area.
The next few days, we filmed the scenes where Loki makes everyone kneel before him. The ground was very hard and uncomfortable so we were given knee pads.
Joss Whedon was there, but he wasn’t directing us. There was a local Cleveland director for us.
Tom Hiddleston was on set, and his weapon looked very cheap in person, like a Halloween costume prop! He was a jokester and very talkative, even to the extras. Two versions of Captain America’s shields were also on set, one was wooden and one was metal.
We were there in the wee hours of the night, around 3 a.m., filming the scenes where Captain America arrives to confront Loki. We were all directed to get into our kneeling positions and a stand-in would stand where Captain America would be.
Once we were all in our places, Chris Evans would replace the stand-in and act his scenes as Captain America. He was very no-frills, not very talkative and very focused on his work.
There was one particular day early on where I sat in holding for over five hours. Those days were the roughest because there wasn’t much to do besides eat and socialize. There would be really extensive catered meals for lunch and dinner (lunch was around 8 p.m., dinner was around 2 a.m.).
On the final day, we moved over to the museum, where we filmed a scene of Loki killing a guy. For that day our holding area was under a bunch of tents outside. It was also a shorter night, and we were out of there by two or three in the morning.
In this movie my role was “guy in a tux” who was attending a play. In the end, despite being in many shots, I only saw my face in one shot of the entire film, one of the kneeling scenes.
I did make some friends on the set, and it’s cool to see them in the scenes and remember that week I spent with them all.
We actually held an “extras screening” on the day of the premiere at a local theater. We dressed up, and all met up again one more time to watch the movie together for the first time at a midnight showing when it opened in May 2012.
One of the extras made “Avengers” t-shirts for everyone with our wardrobe number on the back, which we all wore to the event. One extra even showed up in a limousine as Tony Stark.
Another showed off his new “Avengers” tattoo. Yeah, some extras went all out. But it was a great event.
TPH: How did your experience on “Captain America” compare?
Zajac: Two years later, I went to another local casting call for the movie “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” I mentioned that I was in “Avengers,” which might be a reason they called me back to work again.
For that movie, we were in a local hall. I was cast as a SHIELD Agent this time, and we were shooting the establishing shot of the morning at SHIELD Headquarters, which is shown throughout the film a couple of times.
On set were Chris Evans and Emily VanCamp. We didn’t film scenes with them, but they shot some scenes while we were in the holding area. There was, again, catered food for us, and it was much like the last experience, except this one was much shorter. I again saw myself in the trailer and then the film, but this time I was far away and you couldn’t really see my face. Only I knew it was me.
But seeing yourself in the film is just an added bonus. The experience is one I will always remember.
How to Find Work as a Movie Extra
Are you intrigued? Zajac’s description of the experience certainly perked up the movie nerd in me!
If you want to find extra work, check out these tips from other Penny Hoarders:
Keep an eye out for open casting calls for extras from these sources:
Your Turn: Have you worked as a movie extra? How does your experience compare?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).