How do you fancy mixing with the stars, getting paid, and appearing in movies? Sounds great, doesn’t it? But is it all glitz and glamour? Take a look at everything you need to know about becoming a film extra.
Becoming a film or TV extra
I am always on the lookout for new ways to make money and although I had thought about it, I had never seriously considered working as an extra (aka Supporting Artist) before. But recently I saw a post on Facebook being shared about a movie being made in the local area, so I decided to give it a shot.
The good news is, extra work in the UK is on the way up. The UK seems to be in favour with Hollywood again and is a popular place for filming new movies which, of course, means a need for film extras. Plus, there always has been and always will be a call for TV extras.
The first thing you need to do if you want to become an extra or supporting artist is to join a casting agency. Even if it’s just a one-off job, anybody who wants to work in the business will need a “middle-man”, somebody to act as a liaison between you and the movie/TV company. The agency will need to know a lot about you.
Depending on the filming and the costume, you will probably need to look a certain way. That means providing, height and weight measurements and some photos. Plus they like to know if you have any useful skills (such as ex-military or a dancer), or if you’re willing to do a bit of partial nudity, all of which could help you find more opportunities. You may need to change your look, such as growing your hair or having it cut short, depending on the role.
Some agencies will require you to pay a fee when signing up. Some will charge you straight away, others will take the fee out of your first pay packet. The agency I use usually charges, but will sometimes waive the fee for a one-off job.
Are extra jobs posted on Facebook and other social media a scam?
Occasionally, you may see jobs posted across social media. Don’t automatically assume they’re a scam, as that’s how I found my first job.
Using social media is more common for casting agencies if a movie or TV programme requires a lot of extras or is being filmed in a location quite a distance from London. But do your research first on the agency before you join or spend any money.
Do extras need any experience?
Nope. Fortunately (for me at least) you don’t need any acting experience to work as a film or TV extra. My last role came in 1987 when I did an amazing turn as Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. I had the audience in tears. Although I was never asked to act again…
Do extras have to audition?
Generally, no. Most of the work you are required to do is standing in the background, performing fairly simple actions – such as talking, walking or watching. Something I’m sure most of us can do.
Casting and movie companies are more interested in your appearance. And by that, I don’t mean how good looking you are, but if you suit a certain look. For example, a movie set in the 1930’s won’t be too keen on men with long flowing hair as they will be looking for a more classic look. However, a 70s’ set film would love people with longer hair.
As the casting company will already have photos of you, there’s no need for you to audition. The only issue is if you’ve changed your look drastically since you’ve provided your photo. This is why it’s always important to keep your portfolio up-to-date.
Just because you don’t meet a certain look doesn’t mean you can’t adjust. You may get several months notice for new projects. This should give you some time to grow your hair – either on your head or your face. My most recent movie was set in the 40s’ and they were looking for that gelled-over look they used to have. My hair was quite short when I received the call, but had a couple of months to grow it longer.
Of course, it’s possible for movie companies to work around problems, using props and costumes. However, if you turn up at costume fitting and you have decided to get multiple piercings in our face for a film set in biblical times, you could get turned away.
When you receive an offer of work, you’re “penciled in”. This means that you have been put forward for the job for certain dates. This is by no means a guarantee that you’re going to work. For one job, I was penciled in for six weeks and then released the week before. Then the following day, I was asked back to work!
And you can’t guarantee how long you will work. I was originally booked for three days. This changed to five a few weeks before, then four with a week to go and then back to three just before I started work.
What’s it like to be an extra in a movie?
It probably sounds like a lot of fun doesn’t it? Meeting famous actors, appearing in a film and getting paid. But, as with any job, you have to take the rough with the smooth.
The good points
It is an amazing experience being on set. You can see how much hard work goes on and how many people are involved behind and in front of the camera. Plus, you get to see some major stars in the flesh.
The work isn’t taxing. Most of it involves walking from A to B or just chatting to somebody in the background. Occasionally, some people will be asked to do a bit more.
You also get to meet some very interesting people. Some of the extras have been in the business for years and have some great stories and lots of gossip about the stars. People come from all walks of life, so there is plenty to chat about in between takes.
Food and drink are (usually) provided throughout the day, so that’s another cost you don’t have to worry about.
The bad points
You are cattle. No matter how many times one of the assistant directors tells you how important and special you are… you aren’t. All they care about is getting the film shot, and don’t care if you’re happy or not.
Several times I have seen 300 extras released to go for lunch at the same time. You can queue for 20 minutes, but 15 minutes in they will be asking people to go back to set. Could you ever see the stars missing their lunch?
You will stand around for ages. It might not sound bad, but spending several hours on your feet in an uncomfortable costume can be quite galling. I’ve seen many people with bruised and swollen feet/ankles.
It can be incredibly boring. For example, if you’re selected to be a bus conductor and they decide to cut the bus scenes, you will be sat around for three days doing nothing. It’s not as if with that uniform you can do much else.
Some of the extras aren’t so much fun. There are certainly people who are constantly trying to outdo each other, with stories of who they worked with and what they’ve appeared in. My “amazed” faced starts to wear thin by the end of the shoot.
You will often have to start work at around 06:00. Depending on their location, this means many extras have to wake up at 04:00! Sometimes you won’t be told of your start time until 10 o’clock the evening before.
Oh, and not once has anybody call me darling.
Do extras ever get speaking roles?
Although I fancy myself as a bit of an orator, I have never been asked to speak in a movie. It’s generally quite rare for extras to be asked to speak, but it’s certainly not unheard of. It’s the holy grail of extra work.
And the added benefit is, you earn an extra fee (see supplementary fees below).
How much do extras get paid?
The important question – how much does an extra get paid? Pay varies in the U.K. depending on what they’re filming. Movies pay more than TV, with the BBC and ITV paying different rates. Commercials and corporate films tend to pay slightly more.
For a movie, expect to earn a basic rate of around £88 for an 8 hour day (plus a meal break). On top of this, you earn extra if you work between 22:00-07:00 as these count as night hours.
You can also earn extra money if they cut your hair for a particular role or you’re able to provide some special skills, such as military experience or you’re a dancer. This is known as supplementary fees.
This is an example of pay from Casting Collective (correct March 2019).
|Basic day rate||£90.87||£86.40||£73.16|
|Overtime day rate||£8.52 (per 30 minutes)||£13.10 (per 1 hour)||£13.72 (per 1 hour)|
|Night rate||£113.58||£129.20||Not stated|
|Overtime night rate||£10.65 (per 30 minutes)||£21.90 (per 1 hour)||£19.79 (per 1 hour)|
|Holiday pay||£9.79||£8.87||Not stated|
However, different agencies will pay you slightly different rates.
The extras’ agency you choose will also deduct a fee from your day’s pay. This is usually within the region of 10-20% but differs depending on your agency. On the movie I worked on, some people were being charged 15% from their agency, whilst others were being charged 20% from another.
Here is my pay from my first day (13 hours work):
In total, for three days’ work and a costume fitting (which took 90 minutes), I earned £651.75. After agency fees, this is about £554.
Supplementary fees for extras
As I touched on above, you can earn extra for various reasons. These include:
- Special skills
- Short haircut
- Costume fitting
- Audition (if needed)
- Providing your own clothes
- Strenuous workout
- Lookalike Doubling, Stand in, Dialogue.
Unfortunately, if you work as an extra you may have to pay tax. We all have a tax free allowance of £12,500 for 2020/2, but anything above that will be taxed.
To pay the tax, you will need to register for a self assessment on the government website. But don’t forget, you only fill this out the following year. So if you work in May 2021, your assessment won’t be due until January 2023.
Can you make a living being an extra?
Due to the nature of the business, you will struggle to make a full-time living from being an extra. There is a big need for extras but there is also plenty of competition.
Casting agencies aren’t keen on just giving specific clients all the extra work, otherwise people would soon leave. Instead, most try to share the work out evenly. So it’s possible for you to be booked up for a month and earn several thousand pounds and then have noting the following month.
Nearly all the extras I’ve worked with also have an income from elsewhere. In fact, I have yet to meet a full-time extra.
I think it would be very difficult to fit work as an acting extra around a full-time job. Nearly everybody I spoke to was either self-employed or retired. If I ever reduce my hours at work, I will certainly look for some more hours as an extra.
Would I recommend working as a film or TV extra?
Yes. It might sound like a dream job of standing around and getting paid, but it can be very hard work. But you get to meet some great people and it’s always good to do something different.
If you would like to find out more or you want to work as an extra, take a look at the list of extras’ agencies below. These all come recommended by people that I worked with.
This isn’t a comprehensive list though. One person I spoke to was signed to 27 agencies! But make sure you always research agencies before you hand over any money. And you’ll find that the majority of casting agencies are based around the London area but most can be joined online.
I can’t tell you which is the best casting agency to work with as everybody I met had positive and negative reviews of all of them. It’s just a matter of finding the right casting agency for you.
Estimated pay for being an extra: £14 per hour
I hope you’ve found my post about Everything You Need To Know About Becoming A Film Extra helpful. And if you have, why not take a look at my page for other ways of making extra money.