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How to be a movie or TV extra

You won't get rich and you won't see your name in lights, but being a film extra is one way to see yourself on screen and make a little money for your trouble.

By Smart Spending Editor Jul 11, 2013 3:40PM
This post is by Jim Wang at partner site Bargaineering.com.

MSN money partnerOK, this isn’t very personal finance-y but I found it fascinating. A few years ago, while I was working at Northrop Grumman, I was helping organize an event where current and former Northrop employees came back and talked about a variety of issues. The session I was helping with discussed work life balance.

Variety of professionals standing together © altrendo images, Stockbyte, Getty ImagesI met a man who told me that his current retirement hobby was being an extra in movies. As it turns out, he was one of the extras in the wedding scene in Wedding Crashers. That scene was filmed on the eastern shore of Maryland.


Being an extra, as he explained, was mostly about having fun and “being in a movie.” The pay is terrible. The work is unreliable. And even if you were a “full time extra” and managed to get work 40 hours a week, you still wouldn’t be able to support yourself. Ever since I heard him talk about his retirement hobby, I’ve been fascinated with what it took to be an extra.


So, I started researching.


How to Become an Extra
There’s a joke that every aspiring actor in New York has been in an episode of Law and Order. That’s because the original series started airing in 1990 and there have been half a dozen spin-offs (SVU first starting airing in 1999 and has over 300 episodes), so there have been plenty of opportunities!


Although extra opportunities exist wherever filming is going on, there's more of it in cities like Los Angeles and New York. You find work by scouring the trades, backstage.com, craigslist, newspapers, and sign up with local and regional casting agencies (if you’re serious, this will cost you a little bit of money -- be concerned if that’s more than $20).


How Much You Are Paid?
The world of extras is split into two groups -- those in the Screen Actors Guild and those not in the Screen Actors Guild. If you aren’t in SAG, you can get anywhere from absolutely nothing to minimum wage. SAG members get paid based on the negotiated schedule, which is significantly more than minimum wage.


How do you get into the SAG? You are either a “principal performer” (which you won’t be) or you get hired as a SAG extra for three days. How do you get hired as a SAG extra when you aren’t in the SAG? Every production needs to hire at least 30 SAG extras as part of their negotiated agreement and sometimes the SAG extra doesn’t show up. Or they’re late and they need to start filming. When they hand out the 30 SAG vouchers, you need to try to snag one. You’ll get paid more, you’ll get a day credit, and when you get three you’ll be able to join the SAG!



Joining SAG-AFTRA
Joining SAG gets you better pay for being an extra (instead of minimum wage), but it’s pricey. The one-time initiation is $3,000 with annual dues of $198. You also pay 1.575% of covered earnings of up to half a million dollars. But joining does get you access to that better pay!


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(Incidentally, the chat with the former Northrop employee only stoked my interest in it. The fascination probably started when they filmed Smart People in and around my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon. I still remember the fake snow on the grass when they were filming in the spring.)


Have you ever been an extra in a TV show or movie? Ever been in a commercial? How’d you get the gig?


More from Bargaineering:


7Comments
Jul 11, 2013 9:34PM
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I've never snagged one, but did try a couple times and went to the cattle call when they filmed a movie in my area. You wait in long lines for several hours, fill out a form or two, provide ID, and hand it over to the casting folks.  Then most people get a "thanks" at that time and go home with no calls.  One bit of advice that my mother (who has done local non-SAG work) gave is that when trying to get cast as an extra, don't put down ANY conflicts on your form.  There's so many people showing up to these calls that they won't even consider someone who can't be available on any and all shooting dates/times. 
Jul 11, 2013 10:53PM
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Happened to be in Vegas when they were shooting 'Honey, I Blew Up The Kids'.  They basically had a sign on the street, if you were on the street you gave permission to appear. They shot a scene where everyone was running screaming that they later CGI'd the giant baby into. No pay, but amazingly funny. My sis & I had a blast, and came home with a great story.
Jul 11, 2013 10:46PM
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I was an extra in Ride With the wind.. Three days at $175/day meals and motel room for two nights..

 

long hours easy work....

Jul 12, 2013 7:47AM
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I got to be an extra in an unusual way. My sister was dating a locations director for one of the studios. I was invited to attend film shoots when they were occurring in the area where I lived in Southern California. I didn't get paid, didn't get any SAG credits, but I had a lot of fun, met some wonderful people, actors and actresses. I also learned how much hard work all of those folks do to bring entertainment to everybody.
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I've been in two movies. When they were cast "For the Boys", they wanted some active-duty military in the audience of the WWII USO Show scene. There were 70 of us, mostly Marines, in an audience of nearly 500 for the shoot. They actually came to the military bases and recruited ppl to be in the movie. You had to take leave to be able to participate. As I recall we were paid $54 a day. The catering was terrible but we were a big crowd. On the other had, between shots we were entertained by the band, Bette Midler sang for us, James Caan is actually a very good stand-up comedian when he wants to be. Unfortunately, you probably won't see many of the active duty that can be identified. While we were filming on the sound stage to get detail shots, Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm. Everyone of us left for our duty stations. An absolutely amazing experience.

The second movie was "October Sky" (originally meant to be titled "Rocket Boys"). This was a general cattle call with hundreds of ppl showing up on the advertised day at the advertised time. The application process wasn't much. Name, address, phone number and a recent photo. Someone had a polaroid camera on hand at the event and I paid $10 to get an instant pic. I turned it in and waited a few days. I got a call back, and I was originally cast as one of the teachers, a suit was chosen for me, and I was told to get a '50s style haircut at one of two barber shops. When I showed up on the first day of shooting that I was scheduled for, they re-cast me as on of the police officers who arrest Jake Gyllenhall. Nine or 10 days of a actual shooting days that involved me, $75 a day, and great catering. Again amazing to watch all of the behind the scenes stuff that goes on.
Jul 12, 2013 10:25AM
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Musta been one prick come here and give everyone here a thumbs down..
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