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Being on a film set can be thrilling, even if you’re not a credited character but only someone in the background. This is known as being an ‘extra’ or ‘background performer.’ Typically there are no lines to memorize, and often you are working as part of a group. Below, we answer the commonly asked questions about being an extra and how much they get paid.
What is an “Extra”?
Extras are crucial to film and television productions, as they provide credibility to a scene. For example, imagine two characters having a conversation in a restaurant but the other tables are empty. Or a dramatic courtroom scene where the killer confesses on the stand, but there’s nobody in the gallery watching.
Extras serve a very important function as they fill those spaces and make the scenes we’re watching believable. Thousands of extras are required every day in productions shooting all over the world.
What is an extra’s pay like?
While often a fun job, it would be extremely difficult to make a full-time living as an extra. That’s because there’s quite a pay range in this role. In fact, many smaller, low-budget films seek volunteers as extras (meaning no pay at all, but likely a good lunch).
Raphaël Larocque, a 2023 graduate of Toronto Film School’s Acting for Film, TV and the Theatre program tells us that he found extra work on a film through Facebook, and although he wasn’t paid “I was rewarded with a lot of new connections and more on-set experience.”
Ramin Emad, a background talent agent for Toronto Film Extras—which has provided services for over 600 productions—tells us that the rate of pay on ACTRA productions for non-union background performers is $15.50 per hour (with an 8-hour minimum). Special Note: as of October 2023, the minimum hourly rate in the province of Ontario for background performers has been increased to $16.55 per hour.
If you have a special skill, one that’s required of the scene—let’s say the script calls for a juggler or someone to do backflips—then the pay could be higher. Toronto Film Extras will not just hire the extras but educate them about protocols and on-set etiquette. They will tell them what kind of clothes to bring, directions to the location, call-times and anything else relevant they need to know to ensure their time spent on set is successful.
The benefits of being an extra
Ramin tells us that a valuable benefit of being an extra is the chance to “watch professionals, who are at the top of their game, practicing their craft” as well as the opportunity (depending on the scene) to work on “state-of-the-art production sets.” Toronto Film Extras has supplied extras for The Boys, Star Trek, Orphan Black: Echoes, and Umbrella Academy (to name a few).
Alecks Ambayec, who is in her second term in Toronto Film School’s acting program and who has playfully characterized herself on her LinkedIn profile as “Cybersecurity Consultant by day—Theatre, Film and TV Actress by night” notes that working as an extra is “actually helpful for me as an actress because it’s my job to empathize and to see things from another’s point of view.”
Jessica Binstock, a professional voice-over artist who lives in Montreal, told us she applied to be an extra through an online application on Instagram. She was then hired to work on the upcoming Adam Sandler film You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah as a co-worker without any lines. She says she was paid $15.00 an hour and treated well the two days the production needed of her.
In addition to the networking opportunities (many of the other extras you will meet are likely to be actors or other industry professionals), there are sometimes opportunities to learn about upcoming projects or industry trends.
A lot of waiting but fun to experience🎥📺🎬
What’s required of extras?
Mostly, it’s just your time. Alecks spells it out for us, noting “It’s important to be prepared for long and irregular workdays. Film and TV productions often require early call times and can extend well into the evening or night.
Patience and flexibility are essential qualities for extras. Listen carefully to the instructions given by the assistant directors or production staff. They will guide you on where to stand, how to move, and what actions to perform. It’s crucial to follow directions accurately and remain attentive to any changes or updates.”
When you do get a call to work on a set, keep in mind the following:
• You need to be on time (plan to arrive ten minutes early)
• If you’ve been asked to provide wardrobe options, provide clothing that is as close to the instructions as possible (this is not the time to be creative).
• Expect to go longer—in some cases, much longer—than planned (the process of shooting has often been referred to as “hurry up and wait”).
• You will know in advance if snacks and/or meals are being provided.
• Never, ever look at the camera unless instructed to do so (this should be obvious, but many directors are later frustrated by this action in the editing room as it can wreck an otherwise perfectly good shot).
You may have to sign something (to agree to the work), but there is no exclusivity with background agencies. If you are looking for work as an extra, nobody should be asking you to pay money. Not even an administration fee. If you are being asked you should walk away, or see our article 5 Acting Agency Red Flags to Watch for When Trying to Land an Agent.
Remember to enjoy yourself
At the very least, being an extra should be fun. Perhaps Alecks sums it up best: “Never forget to enjoy the experience. Despite the long hours and waiting, being a background performer can be a unique and enjoyable experience.
Embrace the chance to be on set, observe the filmmaking process, and appreciate the behind-the-scenes aspects of a production. Treat it as a learning opportunity and make the most of your time on set.”
Oh and before you go!
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