Tips for a Film Extra – Professional Guide by a Professional Film Extra

by on September 23rd, 2014
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When the acting bug hit me as the tender age of 14, I was sure within the next decade I would be making films for a living. Ah, how life has a fun way of debunking your dreams. While I may not be continually working on a film set, I have had the opportunity to venture into movies through small roles known as being an “Extra.” I know, there is already an abundance of information scattered throughout the Internet informing acting hopefuls on how to be an extra, and all the ins-and-outs of this section of the entertainment industry; however, I feel there are several pieces of vital information missing from these articles.

There’s no doubt that being a film or television Extras is exciting and fun – plus, telling your friends about brushing shoulders with some A-lister is always a plus; however, there are several tips you, as an esteemed Extra, should follow and even consider before stepping foot onto a film set.

Tip #1 – Understand Your Role

Not only have I worked on high-profile films as an Extra, but I have also been privileged to work directly with a films First Team and Second Team (First team typically includes: Directors, Producers, Vital Film Crew and Lead/Supporting Performers. Second Team typically includes: Secondary Film Crew and Stand-Ins).

This first-hand experience allowed me to truly see the role of an Extra. It is true, an Extra is a vital part of the atmosphere of a production (interestingly enough, Extras are typically referred to as “Atmosphere”). Now, this isn’t to say you aren’t valued amongst the rest of the film crew, but on the same token, you are at the very bottom of a large totem pole.

Key points for understanding your role:

Only do as directed. Keep talk to a minimum – hold quiet conversations. Be ALERT Ask questions, but only if necessary – I can’t tell you how many Extra’s I’ve seen “chewed out” for asking silly questions. Hold yourself as a professional – even though you may only be a blur in the background. Have PATIENCE – working as an extra is tasking. You will be required to work for 12-hours (typically), and will have to perform monotonous actions over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over again. This is your job, though. If you aren’t comfortable with a lot of down time, then this isn’t the gig for you.

Tip #2 – Follow Directions

While this tip may seem a little arbitrary and useless, I can’t tell you how many Extras thought it their ideas were better than the Production Assistant who is responsible for their movements. Going against your instructions, whether that is walking at a fast pace, moving from your seated position or not acting ‘natural’ can quickly get you banned from the film set.

If you are one that cannot remember directions clearly, bring a small notebook with you. There is no shame in jotting down several quick notes.

When in doubt, ask for confirmation. A production assistant will be more than happy to clarify your movements or actions if you have a question. Just, make sure to be polite and try not to ask the same question over-and-over again.

Tip #3 – Show Up on Time and Leave on Time

While working on the Second Team for the production “The Joneses” starring Demi Moore, I was amazed by the number of extras who would show up late, leave early or not have a ride when it was time for them to leave.

Arrive on set at least 15 minutes early, ensure you can stay throughout the entire day, and please have a ride at the end of the day. Nothing will keep you out of a film set by not following this tip.

Tip #4 – Bring a Book

As stated earlier, there is a plethora of down time as an Extra. I would say that for every 30 minutes of actual work, you will spend 45 minutes doing absolutely nothing. This can become very boring. While many “tips” suggest bringing your iPod or some other digital device, I strongly discourage this. The primary reason: You need to hear when it’s time for you to go back on set.

The best way to pass the time: read a book. Catch up on a story you’ve been meaning to read, study your homework or read some more of my acting tips on your smartphone or laptop; just don’t plug your ears with music.

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