Have you ever wanted to get paid to work in the movies or on television?
Well, the quickest and easiest way to get your first paid job in Hollywood is to become an “extra” or “background actor”.
Before I started with being an “extra,” I was in constant lookout for hospitality jobs london area but my luck isn’t there. And so I moved to the Hollywood to pursue what I love.
Extras or background actors are those nameless faces and bodies that you see sitting next to your favorite TV stars while they dine at a restaurant during a scene from the show. They are the multitude of unknown pedestrians on city streets, the passengers waiting at the train station and the patrons at the cafe in your favorite movies.
So now you know what an extra does. But how do you get paid to be an extra?
Well, first off you’ll need to be in a major metropolitan U.S. city such as Los Angeles or New York.
Although production companies do hire extras for on-location movie and television projects in Vancouver, British Columbia and Toronto, Canada, along with several U.S. states, including Hawaii, New Mexico, Michigan and Louisiana, the majority of major productions are still located in Los Angeles and New York.
Once you’re in a major metropolitan city, you’ll want to contact that area’s local film commission office and get a list of casting companies that hire extras and background actors for local productions.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Los Angeles because the majority of extra or background acting work will be found in Hollywood where all the major movie and television production studios are located.
In Los Angeles, the biggest background casting company is Central Casting Los Angeles. To register with Central Casting please call 818-562-2755 for recorded instructions.
Central Casting helps to cast background actors and extras for most of your favorite movies, network and cable television shows.
Additionally, if you’re in Los Angeles, you may want to sign up with the following background casting companies:
Jeff Olan Casting
Sande Alessi Casting
Rich King Casting
Carol Grant Casting
Bill Dance Casting
These casting companies can help you get hired as a background actor or extra for Hollywood movies, television shows, commercials, game shows and print ads.
Each casting company charges a registration fee, which is about $25 for most of the companies listed here. But please visit their websites to get the current fees and registration requirements.
When you go to register in person, they will ask you fill out an information sheet about yourself (height, weight, eye color, hair color,etc.) along with an I-9 for tax payment purposes and take a digital picture of you.
Also, if you have any specific skills such as opera singing, horseback riding, salsa dancing, juggling, fire-eating or you are a professional clown, mime or acrobat, these are all worth listing on your information sheet so that the casting directors will know what you can do.
Finally, they will want to know if you are union or non-union. Most of you will be non-union since you’ve never worked a day as a background actor or extra. (Note: once you have worked enough days on union vouchers for SAG (Screen Actors Guild) or AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) you can become eligible to join the unions. To learn more about this, you can visit Central Casting’s FAQ on their website)
For a non-union background actor or extra working in the Los Angeles area, the current pay rate is about $64 for an 8-hour day with time-and-half for overtime. A lunch or meal is usually included when you are working on-location, but those that are working on a studio lot may have to buy their own meal at the studio’s commissary.
On average, a non-union background performer can expect to earn anywhere from $50-$100 after taxes for a days work in Hollywood. This is all dependent upon the amount of overtime hours and additional pay bonuses that they receive for bringing their own costumes or wardrobe and/or being subjected to various elements such as smoke or water on the set.
Once you’ve registered, each casting company will give you a casting hotline number to call and submit yourself for whatever jobs are available each day.
If you’re in Los Angeles, Hollywood O.S. and L.A. Casting are two companies that charge a fee, allowing you to submit yourself to multiple casting directors for various roles listed online.
So what can you expect when you call the casting hotlines?
First off, you must understand that In the world of background acting and extras casting, there is a huge emphasis on your “look” or appearance, so please always dress professionally.
You always want to look your best, unless you are submitting yourself for specific roles such as tattooed prisoners, homeless, residents living in a down-scale neighborhood, traditionally attired ethnic characters or various costumed performers such as clowns or mimes.
When you call up the casting hotlines, you will often times hear the casting decisions are looking for a particular “type” of character based on appearance and wardrobe. You will likely hear terms such as upscale restaurant patrons, hip and trendy club goers, or business casual pedestrians.
There will also be age-ranges listed for the character types. Again you’ll hear the casting directors ask for a range of ages from 20-25, 25-30, 30-40s, 50s, etc.
They will sometimes ask for people that can be cast to play roles in the 18-to-look-younger range, which means that you look like a teenager or high school aged even though you maybe older than you appear.
Also, casting directors will occasionally be looking for people that own specific types of cars, boats or pets. In those instances, they will request you to send them a picture of your car, boat or pet.
After calling the casting hotline and hearing a role that you fit the description for, you will be asked to call a separate number to reach the casting director.
If you are calling Central Casting, often times you will get busy signals because of the huge volume of calls they receive from those registered in their databases. (Note: Do not give up when calling Central Casting’s hotlines, if you get a busy signal, keep redialing until you get through as its a first come, first serve system. Once the roles are cast, they will not likely be taking anymore calls. It may take up to 30-minutes to get through to a casting director.)
The other casting companies may have you leave your name, number and the role that you are submitting for on their voicemail. Those that are selected for the role will be called back. (Note: Do not keep calling these other companies, as they operate on a different system than Central Casting does.)
For those of you living in Los Angeles, who don’t like making phone calls all day, there are also “call-in services” available that can “book” paid work for you as a background actor or extra on movies, television shows and commercials.
In many ways, these call-in services operate like a temp service for background actors. They usually charge a monthly fee of around $40-$75 to find work for you based on your schedule and availability.
Among the larger companies offering these services are Extras Management and Kids Management, which helps to find background work for children.
Other notable call-in services include Joey’s List, Jessica’s A-List, Face2Face Management, and Booked Talent.
If you register with a call-in service, you will likely be required to take additional digital pictures at their offices in various costumes or wardrobe items so that they can submit you to a variety of casting directors for various movie. television and commercial projects.
Additionally, a great source of information for those wanting to get started in Hollywood as an extra or background actor is the website Background Acting, which lists additional casting companies and call-in services.
Now get out there and as they say in show business, “break a leg”