If you’re looking for a way to earn some more money, and want to try something different, why not work as a film or TV extra in the UK? Take a look at what’s involved and how much you can expect to earn.
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.
Your first step
The first thing you need to do is to join an agency. Even if it’s just a one-off job, anybody who wants to work as a film or TV extra 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 grow your hair or have 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 used usually charge a fee, but as this was a one-off job, it was waived.
Do you 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…
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. I was penciled in for six weeks for my job and then released the week before. Then the following day, I was asked back to work!
I was originally booked for three days work. 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.
My experience of working as an extra…
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 is provided throughout the day, so that’s another cost you don’t have to worry about.
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 saw all 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 saw 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 started 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 did anybody call me darling.
So, how much does an extra get paid? Pay varies 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 or you’re able to provide some special skills. This is known as supplementary fees.
This is an example of pay from Casting Collective
|Basic day rate||£88.20||£86.40||£73.16|
|Overtime day rate||£8.27 (per 30 minutes) £16.54 (1 hour)||£13.10||£13.72|
|Night rate||£110.25||£94.60||Not stated|
|Overtime night rate||£10.34 (per 30 minutes) £20.54 (1 hour)||£16.30||£19.79|
However, different agencies will pay you slightly different rates.
The 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 in total):
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.
Would I recommend working as a film or TV extra?
Probably. Unfortunately, I was that bus conductor. I did very little for three, long days and it became very tedious. Although I got to know the other conductor very well, and luckily he was a nice chap. I did enjoy seeing the set though, and how the whole system worked. Plus, the money is very reasonable.
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 reduce my hours at work, I will certainly look for some more hours as an extra.
If you would like to find out more or you want to work as an extra, take a look at the list of 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.
Estimated pay per hour: £14
If you don’t think working as a film or TV extra is for you, then take a look at my page for other ways of making extra money.
Update August 2018
So, the movie was released this month. I wasn’t invited to the opening night, although I’m sure it was an oversight on the producer’s behalf. I ended up taking my family to our local cinema with the promise of seeing me on the big screen… well that was a disappointment. Not even a glimpse! Oh well, maybe next time.