What to know if you want to be an extra for TV or film
by Clive Ramroop, Contributor
Words like “booming” and “sprawling” have been used to describe BC’s film industry. It’s easy to see why, when you can find clusters of white trucks and trailers materializing in seemingly random spots like a park in Surrey or near a mall in Langley. As productions like The Flash, Riverdale, and numerous movies-of-the-week keep the industry rolling, casting directors for these productions require “nameless” players in the background to fill space or add realism to some scenes. Though these extras—also known as background performers—don’t receive the publicity of the A-list stars, they can make some good money in the process.
Curious about how to be an extra for film and/or TV? It’s not terribly difficult. For one, previous acting experience isn’t necessary, but the ability to take direction is. An easy way to get started is to find an agent that deals with background players. There are quite a few such agencies all over Metro Vancouver. Signing with an agent does not guarantee steady work, however—it’s an on-call job, and getting a gig depends on what casting directors are looking for, regarding “character types” or certain “looks,” and of course, who is available on which shooting dates.
When you are booked on a filming date, you have to be at the location by your call time. It could be obscenely early like 5 a.m., or quite a bit later like 7 p.m. Due to the unsteady, unpredictable nature of this line of work, someone with a regular nine-to-five weekday job might not be suitable if they’re unable to take a day off for a booked shoot. No-shows not only make the agency representing that absentee look bad, it’s grounds for immediate dismissal from the roster. You’d be advised to wear something appropriately comfortable for the weather—given this is Vancouver, your waiting area might just be a big tent with a power heater to shield you from a torrential downpour, if the crew is filming outdoors.
You may be asked in an advance email to bring some articles of your own clothing to match a certain character look. The purpose is to further help the costume departments, whose otherwise large wardrobes may still be limited to account for a crowd of more than 75 extras. Once you’re in costume and your hair and makeup are ready, the day is a lot of “hurry up and wait” in the holding area, usually not far from the film set itself. You may experience long stretches of wait times before you and other extras are called on set, so bring something to do. Once you’re called, be prepared for the film crew to capture multiple takes of the same scene, especially if it’s a fast-action scene with rapid-fire editing for the show’s final cut. It’s possible for various angles and takes of the same scene to be repeatedly shot for hours!
If any of that seems boring to you, don’t worry; there are some perks to being an extra. For starters, free food! And of course, there’s the pay. You’re guaranteed a minimum four hours’ pay even if a shoot goes less than that; if a day goes past eight hours, you get overtime—but be aware that your hours on set will take about two to three weeks of processing by financial departments. Under some circumstances, you can even apply to join the Union of BC Performers as a “Background Member.”
Being a background performer may not lead to hitting stardom of your own, but you can still say you’ve been on a show with certain celebrities—after the non-disclosure agreement has expired, that is.