Fulfill Your Hollywood Dream: How to Find Work as a Film and TV Extra

Image: Movie Extra. Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read
Jonathan Kos-Read/Flickr

Itching to be part of the magic of Hollywood? While you may not be in the spotlight, being an extra in movies or TV shows could fulfill your dream — and fill your pockets.

An extra is one of those people you see in the background of your favorite films and shows. Sometimes they look like regular people, such as shoppers in a mall scene, and other times they’re dressed up to fit the theme, like zombies, cops or random people in scrubs in the background of any episode of Grey’s Anatomy. You won’t get a speaking role, but you will earn about $8 per hour. If you’re in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) union, you’ll earn $18.50 per hour.

Born and raised in Southern California, I always wanted to try acting. Though I moved away before I had the chance, I later realized I could find work as an extra just about anywhere. I finally seized my opportunity one sweltering August day in “Hotlanta” on the set of TV show Necessary Roughness — making money doing something truly fun.

Ready to try being an extra? Here’s how to do it.

1. Sign Up With a Casting Company

Find casting companies in your local area by searching for “casting company + [your city],” or sign up with a national firm, such as Backstage. Also check Facebook, which is where I connected with a local casting company,Catrett Locke Casting. I “Liked” their page and signed up to be on their email list, and that’s where I found the ad for my job.

2. Apply For Jobs

Casting companies post the types of roles they need to cast, and there’s something for people of all ages and backgrounds. You might see posts such as “females, 18 plus, any ethnicity,” “males and females, 25 to 40,” or “bullies, male, 18 to 25.” The company will specify what to include in your application — follow these directions carefully!

When I found a role that suited me perfectly, a tennis fan, I sent in a few photos: one headshot and one of me playing tennis. I also provided the required stats, such as my age, height and weight.

3. Be Responsible

You don’t need any experience to be an extra. But you do need to be responsible, meaning you need to show up on time, not cancel at the last minute and follow directions once on set. That’s about it. The production assistants and other staff tell you what to do every step of the way, from where to sit or stand to which direction to look.

4. Be Prepared

You’ll likely be on set all day — the casting company told me that filming would take “anywhere from six to 14-plus hours and sometimes even longer.” While lunch is often provided, it’s a good idea to bring some snacks and a drink. Remember to bring something to keep you from being bored, like a book or your tablet.

5. Network

There’s lots of down time when you’re an extra. While you could stay glued to your phone or computer the whole time, use this time to your advantage by connecting with your fellow extras. Like in so many fields, networking is big in showbiz.

When I was on set, I was the only newbie. The experienced extras were happy to share insider info, such as which casting companies were the best to work with and what upcoming gigs I might like. Plus, during a break from shooting, the casting directors announced that a movie was filming the next day and they were signing people up on the spot. A few minutes of chatting lined up all sorts of additional work to choose from!

6. Have Realistic Expectations

Being an extra in a movie or TV show is a fun way to earn some money. You won’t get rich, but if you’re just going to sit around the house anyway, you might as well sit around the set and be paid. Plus, it’s fun to watch the finished film or show and try to find yourself in the crowd!

Some extras work full time, and others take a job from time to time as the mood strikes or when they need to boost their bank accounts.

Just don’t get the idea that you’ll suddenly make it big in showbiz. “Extra work rarely gets one anything but more extra work,” says my neighbor, Frank Brennan, who has appeared in many films, such as Looper, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Need for Speed. If all you’re looking for is a taste of the bright lights and a little more cash in your pocket, extra work could be perfect.

Your Turn: Have you ever worked or considered working as an extra?

Laura Agadoni has a background in credit union marketing. Her articles appear in various financial publications such as The Houston Chronicle’s small business section, The Motley Fool, Yahoo! Finance, San Francisco Gate’s real estate section, Zacks, Arizona Central’s small business section and InsuranceQuote.com.