Extras Casting: The Right and Wrong Mentality of “Extra Work”

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The Extras Casting: Healthy Mindset On the Set

There are many misconceptions when it comes to the subject of being an “extra” in Hollywood. Now, I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should be an extra. While there are benefits from participating in extras casting, there can also be some downsides, so let’s break it down.

Extras casting
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I think where many people who are especially new to Hollywood go wrong in their mindset is that they think if they can become an extra on a TV or movie set, they have a great opportunity to getting a speaking role on the project. Now, the likelihood of being upgraded as an extra, and we’re just being honest, is very small. However, that doesn’t mean it never happens. But, given that the percentage is so small in terms of being upgraded, this should not be the sole or main motivation behind pursuing extra work.   

So what’s the healthy approach to extra work? Go in with the mentality that it will be a learning experience, that you will get to observe how a set is run, act professional, not get in anyone’s way, and start to get familiar with the lingo on set, the pace of the shows, etc.  Doing this a handful of times to feel comfortable on set without having the pressure of having lines and the crew focused on you can be beneficial when you are starting off your acting career.

You want to be careful that you set very realistic expectations though… because being so close to the director, the principle actors, the DP, etc. can at times create a false sense of hope that because you are also in these key shots or RIGHT next to the star of the show, that you will definitely be upgraded. With this false sense of hope, you continue to do extra work day after day after day, and after awhile you realize you’ve spent your year doing extra work, and not really moving your acting career forward. At this point, you may even have a show you are a “regular” on. You get comfortable because now you are a SAG background artist making more than double what you used to be paid as a non-union background, you feel welcome on set with your little team of people you see every day, you get meals provided for you, and for the most part… the work is pretty easy.

Now, if this was your goal when getting into the work, then you have achieved it. However, I have found that the actors who come to me do not have the end goal of being a “regular extra” on set. They try to use the material for their reels or to submit their credits on IMDB, or tell stories of them with the stars of the show, etc. to agent/ manager meetings.

Remember when I said if your goal is to do extra work as a learning experience when you start off your career, then that is perfectly understandable? Well, if your goal is to become a working actor from being an extra, then this is not really the path for you.

Most of the people on set do not regard extras as actors. Oftentimes, they just think of extras as backgrounds artists, or worse “wannabe actors.” So with this being said, the more time you spend on set as an extra, the more you’ll be categorized at as an extra.

Let’s talk about vouchers and becoming SAG-AFTRA eligible from extra work. Now, movie extras tend to work longer hours.  Movie sets can be a way for you to obtain some of your vouchers because they tend to need the same people day after day for specific shots. If you are looking for more information on how to become an extra on a movie, your first stop will be Central  Casting…however… a lot of big movies actually call for their extras on LA Casting and Actors Access through the “background” tabs. These movies will be labeled “untitled” etc. in order to hide their identity. So, don’t just spend your time calling in to Central Casting every 5 minutes… you can also be submitting for this type of work on those acting sites.

Here’s where you can become friendly with the 2nd AD (2nd Assistant Director) who is most likely the one wrangling you, filling out your paperwork, etc. Don’t ask for a SAG-AFTRA voucher your first day on set. Instead, show up, be professional, develop relationships, and when the time is right, you can always inquire on this topic after relationships are developed.

Share your goal with them and they may be willing to help you out. You can say something like, “Hey Susie, I have really loved working with you and the team. It is actually my goal to become an actor and my current goal is to obtain my 3rd SAG voucher in order to become eligible for the union and to look more appealing for representation. I understand that there are only a certain amount of union vouchers each day, but if there is ever any way I can help out on set, etc. I would be so grateful for the opportunity to obtain my last SAG voucher.”  Or, for a softer ask, you could ask if they have any suggestions for how to obtain a voucher.  That may be more comfortable for you if you don’t have a strong relationship with the 2nd AD.

This will look completely different based on the circumstance and the relationship, so you have to be really perceptive on set and learn how to read people. Keep in mind, you are not the only one asking for a voucher, etc.

Nowadays, however, becoming SAG isn’t like it used to be, where you HAD to be Taft-Hartleyed or you HAD to obtain your three SAG vouchers.  Because there are so many open doors for becoming SAG-AFTRA through SAG New Media projects, that can be a better way to go.  We’ll be sharing some insider tips in another article of how to become SAG-AFTRA eligible through producing your own union webseries.  You have more control over the process by creating your own content with SAG-AFTRA actors, and you no longer have to wait for your time to shine on set from being an extra and begging for your vouchers. New media has changed the game!

Main Reason Why “Extra Work” Will Not Lead To Acting Work

If you want to start developing your career as a working actor, then you start you have to start creating a lifestyle that is it is bull to become a working actor, and start investing your time and money into becoming one. Being an extra also takes up your entire days onset, so when you really should be auditioning, you instead are sitting around on set waiting to walk cross the room.

Being an actor requires you to have a flexible schedule see you can audition. Remember, auditioning is your job, so in order to achieve your dreams you need to be able to make some sacrifices and cuts to your life. Although at times, but becoming a regular extra, you set yourself up to you have a regular schedule steady income meals, etc., you are not creating a suitable lifestyle to be able to do what you came out here to do… become an actor.

Extras CastingWhen you have an agent or manager who is sending you out for auditions, it is so important that you are able to make as many of those auditions as possible.  If your rep hears that you are unable to make an audition, callback, or acting gig because you committed to doing extra work on a day that conflicts with the audition or shoot days, that will really jeopardize your relationship with them and also your rep is less likely to push for you. 

So although it may be a paycut, and you may not be working a job in the industry as your “side job,” it is so essential that you are able to find a job that will allow you to audition during the day.

This is not a time to be prideful. In fact, now is the time to swallow your pride. Most actors who come to LA have college degrees or are very intelligent people. So taking on a restaurant job or something of this sort that allows them to have a flexible schedule can be a hit to the ego, when they know they could be making a lot more doing something hat would be more challenging, etc. However, the more you look at your side job as a means to an ends of becoming a working actor, the more you will be able to stay positive while you hustle after your dreams.

Keep in mind that extra work can be a trap and people can get stuck doing it for years because they are setting the wrong expectations of what is to come for them in their mind. In order to become a working actor, you have to put in the time, energy and money to get there. “Shortcuts” are few and far between and if you do choose to do extra work, have the mentality that it will be a learning experience to do for a short time, to then transition into taking on a lifestyle and job that will help you become a working actor. Your dreams are possible, and most of the time the only thing that separates “you from them” is having the knowledge of what to do and then creating the ability to do so.

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