Ski Bum Jobs: How To Be A Film Extra
“I did something stupid,” a fellow actor friend confessed. “I’m being a film extra on Mosaic.” Mosaic is an upcoming HBO production and one of the several film projects that has made its way to Park City and the new Park City Film Studios; and “being an extra” basically means being one of the bodies in the background of said movies. Sometimes, those people are called “atmosphere.” Talk about dehumanizing.
“That’s not stupid,” I told her. “You get to be on set with the talented Steven Soderbergh directing; you’re featured so we’ll be able to see your face, you get a free lunch, snacks and money for doing next-to-nothing all day.” If you are not a professional actor and have a flexible work schedule, in other words a seasonal employee, film extra work is anything but stupid.
“It’s not every day where you get an opportunity to be part of something that can become big,” said Utah’s G and G Casting Director Gumby Kounthong. “You’ll meet interesting people and take away an experience worth sharing. Plus you get paid for it.”
All you need to be a film extra for a day (or even more) is the right attitude and a normal level of professionalism. You don’t pay to sign up for an agency; you don’t need those acting headshots or an acting resume. “Reliability, being on time, listening to directions and having a flexible schedule are what count,” said Kounthong. “You need to treat extra work like a job. It’s fun, but you’re working.” Your job is to blend in, not stand out. Being a film extra, however, can stymie an actor’s chances of an actual role which is why my friend thought it was “stupid”.
I did a day as an extra on the ABC/Don Johnson series Blood and Oil. I had auditioned twice without landing anything so I figured it was my only shot at getting an inside (and insider’s) peek at the new Studios before the show ended. I worked five hours, sitting on a bar stool at the No Name (aka Tack Room), made $101.50, was treated well and had lunch with the writer of that particular episode. We had a ton in common- law graduates, lived in the San Fernando Valley, had kids the same age. I thought we had a connection. Turns out the writer complained about me because “an extra” dared to talk to him. Whaaat?! Can you say jerk? But such is the Hollywood mentality. It doesn’t mean Utahns are stupid to choose to play all day in Park City and get paid for it. It means some Hollywood asses are stupid to think we are subhuman.
SUCK UP YOUR EGO
There are three tiers of background work:
There is absolutely no acting here. You won’t put this gig on your resume nor will anyone “discover” you. You walk past a door, sit in a bar, silently mingle at a party. You will be an unrecognizable body milling in the background. Your day could be one hour; it could be 12. You will sit in a holding area that may or may not have heat, chairs, or wifi. You plan accordingly- bring a chair, jacket, a book, your wifi hotspot. There will, however, be food. Lots of snacks and nibbles; lunch fed to you after the all other cast and crew have gotten theirs. You also might get rad hair and makeup like I did for Mythica. $101.50/day.
Featured Film Extras-
The waiters who pour coffee for the lead actors or open a car door or play dead for the CSI team. You have no lines but you play a meaningful part. These parts usually go to those with a specific “look” or talent. You’re a 20-ish ethnic ballet dancer. A casting job ad might look like this one from Netflix’s Deidre and Laney Rob a Train filmed last August in Salt Lake:
D&LRAT | 2 days left | Women’s Prison Scene | Thurs. 8/4 | Looking for a featured extra ($150) Heavily Tattooed Woman.
Featured is a lot cooler than being a plain ‘ol film extra. Your friends will notice you if 1) your scene isn’t cut and 2) they don’t blink. You still won’t be discovered but if you are recognizable in a scene, they can’t use you in any other scenes at different locations. You get more money and often a shorter day. $150/day. Bonus, if you do stunts like I did in Ice Spiders.
The crew uses look-a-likes to help position the lighting and cameras for the next scene or “take” while the stars take a break. No one will ever see you as a stand-in but you get treated better than the two above. You get to hang with the lead actors as well as spend time with the director and crew. Plus, you eat before the other extras. $150/day.
If you are interested in getting on set in Utah go to gandgcasting.com, follow posts on Utah Actors (http://utahactors.ning.com/forum) and Yun Casting on Facebook, and check in regularly with the Utah Film Commission to see what’s coming.