I’ve had a number of side hustles throughout my life, especially since I started working as a freelance writer. I’ve worked at the mall wrapping Christmas gifts, sewed labels into jerseys, been a substitute teacher, worked trade shows, and everything in between. But these days, I’ve earned extra income by working as a TV and film extra. I’m lucky that my hometown of Atlanta gets a lot of business from the film industry and there’s always something in the works. I’ve since been an extra on a syndicated studio show, a few network television shows, and one soon-to-be-released full-length movie. It’s a highly flexible job, pays quickly for very easy work, and can help you save for your travels. I also like doing it because I enjoy seeing how they’re made. So how do I do it?
Finding Work as an Extra
I was actually an extra in a made-for-TV movie as a child, which my mom found out about from a friend. These days, though, it’s all about the Internet. Search for your city + casting on Facebook and you might find a few companies. Many will have links to submit information or email addresses to contact. To find out about these jobs first, change your settings so that you see their notifications first. In Atlanta, the main companies are Central Casting, which also has offices in Los Angeles, New York, and New Orleans, as well as Tammy Smith Casting and Hylton Casting. You reply to notices they post on Facebook or their website and will receive a call or email if they’re interested. Be sure to have a few photos on your computer that you can send, including a headshot (not professional necessarily, just chest up) and one full body.
Pictured: Some of my best ensembles- 80s mom jeans and medical scrubs
The casting company will tell you the details you need to know like what time, where, and what to bring. Most of the time, you’ll provide your own wardrobe based on what the casting company tells you. But other times you’ll have an outfit supplied, especially if it’s a period piece. I’ve worn some 80s mom jeans, scrubs, and a ball gown on past jobs. Sometimes advance fittings are required where you’ll go in and have your outfit approved before the actual day of shooting. It’s good to bring many options for wardrobe to choose from. I’ve worn the same jewel tone top in a number of projects because it shows up well on camera. Also keep in mind that you’re usually responsible for your own hair and makeup.
Unless otherwise stated, payment for extras or “background” is $64 for 8 hours of work. Other positions like featured extras or stand ins are paid more. You’ll also receive “bumps” for certain items like if you drive your own car in a scene, if you have to come in for a fitting, or if you are nude in a scene.
You’re expected to be on set for a minimum of eight hours, but it can be more or less. I’ve been on set once when it was supposed to be a short scene but it ended up being thirteen hours, which I got overtime for, even though I wasn’t used in the scene at all. Other times you’ll only be there for a few hours. And be aware that if your call time isn’t until 5 pm, it’s likely an overnight shoot.
Types of Work
There’s more than one way to be an extra. One is a paid studio audience member. This might be a courtroom show, game show, or talk show. In my experience, you sit for a while as they film multiple episodes in a day, but you usually get paid that day in cash. There’s also the typical background or extra position where you’re assigned a group like “pedestrians” or “hospital visitors.”
There’s also featured background, which is selected more carefully and can be paid more. You will have camera time, but won’t have any lines. It might be a person standing next to the main actor as he performs a long dialogue.
Working as a stand in is much more lucrative, but more competitive. This essentially means that you’ll stand in place of the actors to adjust lighting because the actors time is much more expensive than yours. Most casting agencies want you to have experience as a stand in and you need to resemble the actor at least in height. But this job sometimes entails staying for longer. Another job is a body double, which might be your whole body or specific parts like a hand double. These pay a higher wage than extra jobs.
Being the Best Extra Ever
The casting company and the PR onsite will both go over the rules of working as an extra. They’re all generally the same, but I’ve outlined them as well.
- Show up on time. This is the most important thing. If you’re late more than once, you won’t get hired again. The job involves some very early call times on the opposite side of the city so you also have to factor in travel time. And give yourself time to get lost if you haven’t been there before and park, whether you’re on location or at a studio.
- Be nice to everyone, even if they’re not nice to you. Just like every industry, there are sometimes unfriendly people you have to work with, but treat everyone with respect. This is especially meant for the PAs, who have a thankless job and are like your babysitters for the day.
- What happens on set stays on set. DO NOT under any circumstances take photos to post online. In fact, leave your phone off or on silent in your bag. And DO NOT approach the actors unless they speak to you. They’re trying to work just like everyone else. You’ll likely sign a contract agreeing to these terms.
- Be ready at all times. On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten to be in another scene just because I was in the right place at the right time. A PA might call for four people to head to set. More time working is
- Patience is a virtue. Do not ask when you’ll wrap. There are people who got there earlier and will stay later. It’s done when it’s done. That’s why casting will tell you to plan for twelve hours.
- Bring plenty to do. It took me a few times to learn what I needed in my bag. Don’t count on outlets to plug things in and bring your own snacks in case you get there between meals. You’re allowed to get items from craft services, but don’t go crazy stuffing extras into your purse. I usually have Lara Bars, headphones, playing cards, and a book.