I always thought working in TV or movies would be a thrill. Imagine being part of a blockbuster film like Avengers or Star Wars!
If you said, “Heck, yeah!” then read on.
In this post, Nathan Clarke tells us the secrets to landing your first movie extra job and what you can expect along the way. He is the founder of Millionaire Dojo, a website that documents his journey toward a million dollar net worth so that others may be inspired to follow the same path.
Lights! Camera! Action! You’re on, Nathan!
Have you ever thought it would be cool to be an extra in a movie but have no idea how to land movie extra jobs?
I was clueless, too, but once I found out how the process worked, I landed several roles in a few major Hollywood films.
I may never be a celebrity, but it was fun getting a behind the scenes look at the filming process and seeing some of my favorite actors in person. If you love movies/TV, you’ll enjoy being an extra.
Try to do it at least once in your life!
A movie extra or background actor is someone who plays a non-speaking role in a movie, TV show, or commercial. No matter what the show, most scenes need from several to hundreds of people in the background to provide believability and bring the scene to life.
You’ll see them in crowds, hospitals, schools, busy city streets, and sporting events. I was in a war scene that needed over 100 extras (mostly young men) to make it believable.
Sometimes extras can even be featured up close with the speaking actors, like a taxi driver dropping off the main character at the airport.
Good looks don’t matter and neither does acting talent. They need ordinary people of all ages, types, and sizes and no experience is no problem.
It’s easy to find roles if you know where to look.
Numerous casting agencies serve the sole purpose of finding the right people to fill needed roles. A simple online search for “extra casting calls” in your city will pull up websites with casting calls you can answer.
I live in Atlanta where the movie industry is booming, so new opportunities arise every week. San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago are also popular. Many extras drive from other states just to be part of the film.
But don’t fret if you live in a smaller town; opportunities are everywhere even if it’s a local show or commercial.
Many agencies post casting calls on their Facebook page. Click on the social media links on agency websites which you found doing the online search.
Your local newspaper, TV news station, and local film offices (e.g. Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in New York) may all announce casting calls.
Backstage is a popular website to find movie extra jobs, but you have to pay for membership to apply for roles. Luckily, many other websites post casting calls that are free to apply. I’ve had the most luck with Project Casting.
Some casting agencies keep a database of people looking for extra jobs and will gladly add your name. Then they can contact you if you meet the criteria needed for a scene. Register with as many as possible to increase your chances of landing a job.
Central Casting is one of the biggest casting companies, but you have to physically visit one of their offices to get added to their database.
If you’re not in a casting company’s database, you’ll have to actively search for casting calls in order to get movie extra jobs.
Casting Networks – Sign up to create your online resume, submit to projects, schedule auditions and get booked.
Extra’s Access – Access casting information and submit pictures for extra work.
Casting Frontier – Submit to casting calls and acting auditions in Los Angeles, New York City and nationwide.
If I were looking for a movie extra job, I’d search “casting call Atlanta” and pull up the Project Casting page for current casting calls. I’d review the descriptions and instructions carefully and choose any that appear to be a good fit for me.
When submitting for a role, it’s critical to closely follow all instructions on the casting call. The casting agency goes through hundreds of submissions, so make it easy on them.
If you can’t follow submission instructions, they will assume you can’t follow instructions on the set either. Don’t be that person.
Here’s a real-life example of an online casting call with instructions:
If I wanted to be on this show, I’d need to be available for the costume fitting on the 12th and all day on the 17th for filming.
Notice they don’t list a start time for the 17th. This means they could require you to be there at any time, for any length of time. You usually won’t know what time to be there until the day before filming. The standard workday in the film industry is 12 hours, so keep that in mind. I’ve been on set for 16+ hours before.
A typical casting call asks you to:
Photos are the most important part of your submission. If you’re submitting for a role with unique characteristics, send photos that make you look the part as much as possible (unless the casting call instructions say otherwise).
Great photos will help you catch the eye of the casting director and increase your chances of getting the part.
Submit details like height, weight, clothing sizes, in an easy to read bullet list so they can quickly scan it. Don’t put anything they don’t ask for in your submission.
If the film industry is strong in your region, and you continuously submit for movie extra jobs, use great photos and follow all directions, you should eventually get your first role.
Once you land a role, the casting agency emails you information about the day of filming. All you have to do is show up to the place they tell you to go and bring what they ask you to bring. If you’re chosen for a role that requires a costume, they’ll ask you to come to a fitting a couple days before filming (you usually get paid for fitting time).
Movies and TV have a “code name” which they put on signs so the public won’t know exactly what’s being filmed. These signs direct you to parking. Once parked, you get on a shuttle and are bussed to the film location. You can hang out with the rest of the extras at a special spot called “extras holding”.
A production assistant (PA) meets with you for any paperwork and you’ll fill out a W9 form. (Bring 2 forms of ID in case you need it).
You’ll then be sent to wardrobe if you’re wearing a costume for the film. Some gigs I had to wear costumes and others, wore just my own clothes.
It’s more fun to get roles where you wear costumes. I was a gala attendee in a scene set in the 1700s. I got to dress up in full-on George Washington style attire with the powdered wig and all!
Once you get in costume, you may be sent to makeup for hair styling and make up if needed (e.g. a bloody war scene). After makeup, you’ll head back to extras holding and wait until they’re ready to put you in the film.
You’ve submitted for a role, been accepted, went to the fitting, showed up to set at 5 am, gone through wardrobe and makeup and waited several hours in extras holding. Now is the time you’ve been waiting for! You’re on a film set with famous actors and are about to take place in the production of a show seen by millions of people!
My first time as an extra was so exciting! I was a guest (along with 400 other extras) in the funeral scene in Captain America Civil War. I couldn’t believe I was actually watching a Marvel movie being filmed and was going to be part of the movie myself!
A couple of hours into the filming process, my excitement had dimmed quite a bit.
One can only hear the same few sentences repeated so many times before it becomes annoying.
So is doing the same thing dozens of times until the director is satisfied with the footage.
And the waiting around – for hours – doing nothing.
You might have to work out in the blazing heat or freezing cold and do it without complaint.
The film crew may be condescending to you. A nickname for extras is “living furniture”. Basically we show up, shut up, do what we’re told, and go home.
You may also notice a big table loaded with food. Don’t be fooled, those snacks aren’t for you! Just the actors and film crew. The crew will snap at you if you get anywhere near the food (speaking from experience).
Finally, don’t even think about talking to an actor or asking for an autograph unless you want to be sent home and blacklisted from ever working for that film company again. If an actor speaks to you first though, it’s totally okay to respond.
It can still be fun especially if you’re a film nut. I had a great time doing a Civil War scene for Vampire Diaries. I got dressed up, and they sent us out in the woods for filming. When I got there, they gave me the role of a dead soldier. They killed me on the spot before filming took place!
Being dead wasn’t too bad. I got to lay in comfort all day and just watch everything. One of my dead comrades fell asleep and started snoring loudly!
They rigged small explosions to go off throughout the set, and one of them exploded only 10 feet from me. The blasts were a concoction of dirt with chunks of brown foam, and I got showered with that stuff all day long. Years later, I still might have dirt in my ears from it!
Another highlight is the delicious catered food we got on our lunch break.
I also found it entertaining to be with the other extras. Some were like me and just having fun, but some thought they were on their way to Hollywood stardom and took things very seriously. They brag about all the films they’ve been in and how they’re going to hit the big time.
If only they realized they have better chances of hitting the lottery!
You’ll get the minimum hourly wage for your area plus overtime for over 8 hours.
For a typical 12 hour day, expect about $100 before taxes. Being a movie extra isn’t the most lucrative side hustle; I’ve built a much better side income flipping things on eBay.
When I did a scene for Sleepy Hollow as a 1700s gala attendee, I learned a bit of dancing and performed with a dance partner in the scene. The dancing was easy; just hopping around like they did in the old days.
Payment was $200 for the day and I miraculously headed home after only 8 hours. Sometimes you get lucky and earn a decent amount for your time!
The film industry is unlike any other; they’re a tight group and you have to know someone to get a full-time position. It can give you that extra edge to be a movie extra and maybe make a connection or two while on set. If you’re good at networking, you just might be able to land an entry-level position by talking to the right person.
Even if you’re not into the idea of a film career, a movie extra side hustle can be cool way to earn extra cash. If you don’t mind giving up an entire day to filming and you really want to see how things work in the film industry — plus see some celebrities — give it a shot!
Good luck, and see you on the set!
Nick here again: Sounds cool, huh? You won’t get rich on a movie extra job, but not many side hustles come with the perk of seeing your favorite movie stars in action!
Once again, you can check Nathan out over at Millionaire Dojo, which focuses on practical personal finance advice that can be implemented immediately.
Looking for more side job gigs? Check out these proven ideas you can start today!
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