Always wanted to be in the movies or on TV, but don’t live anywhere near Hollywood? It’s become easier than you think.
These days, the movie and TV industry is shooting all over the country. That means, the films and shows often desperately need extras for their scenes and there are plenty of roles for people 50+.
Typically, pay is guaranteed for eight hours. In Georgia, for instance, you get a guaranteed $64 before taxes for up to eight hours (no matter how many of those hours you actually work) and then overtime pay beyond that. Clearly, being an extra is something you do for fun, not to get rich.
(MORE: How I Remade Myself Into a TV Star at 55)
On Set With Robert Redford
“My first experience as an extra was in the upcoming movie A Walk In the Woods with Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Mary Steenburgen,” said Patti Benedict Shellhaas, 53, of Cartersville, Ga. “I sent in some pictures my son took of me on my iPhone and an hour later, the casting agency called and asked if I wanted to be in a Robert Redford movie. I about died.”
Shellhaas was on set three days and will appear in a dining room scene at a table next to Redford, with Steenburgen serving her a turkey platter.
Since then, she’s been a frequent extra with roles including an upscale patron at a party, restaurant diner, hospital visitor concertgoer, pedestrian, “millionairess condo owner,” wedding guest and funeral mourner, she said.
“The best thing I like about being an extra is just being around some stars and famous people,” said Shellhaas. “They are really just ordinary people with amazing looks and incredible luck or talent.”
Tips for Extra Wannabees
If you’d like to hobnob with stars as a movie or TV extra, as Shellhass and I have, here are some things you’ll want to know about how to get cast and what to expect:
- Most extras casting agencies have Facebook pages where they post available roles. To find them, get on Facebook and type “extras casting” and your locale into the search box.
- You should never pay an extras casting agency upfront for anything. If someone asks you for money, walk away.
- Most agencies want you to submit three photos: a close-up of your face, a full body shot and something in between. Selfies are fine if they’re taken well.
- You’ll need to the casting agency your description, weight and sizes: shirt (neck, sleeves), pants (waist, inseam), shoes, etc.
- Often, productions want extras with specific skills or experience, such as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, doctors, military personnel, bartenders, cooks and wait staff. If you have any, be sure to note them in your email.
- If you do get booked, expect to put in 10 to 12 hours a day. Shooting can also go much longer – 18 hours is not unheard of.
- Plan to arrive 15 to 30 minutes before your call time (don’t be surprised if your call time is before dawn).
- Extras are usually asked to bring multiple outfits so the wardrobe people have options to dress you. A garment bag will make this easier.
- You’ll check in with a rep from the agency that booked you and will then need to show a photo I.D. with your Social Security number, such as a driver’s license or valid passport.
- There will be one or two Production Assistants (commonly called PAs) assigned to wrangle extras. If you’re in your 50s or older, they will be younger than you — a lot younger. Treat them with respect and don’t take it personally if they’re gruff with you. Their job is stressful and at any given moment, someone may be yelling in their ear through their earpiece.
- You will most likely be fed lunch, possibly breakfast, and sometimes dinner. Don’t be surprised if everyone else has already eaten by the time you’re allowed to; extras always eat last.
- On set, don’t expect the director or the stars to acknowledge you, although they may. Don’t try to strike up a conversation with them. If you have a question, ask a PA.
Patti Benedict Shellhaas in the background of TV's Red Band Society show
What Shooting Is Like
Your first time on set, ready for your first scene, your heart may skip a beat when you hear the cues that will eventually become familiar: “Here we go! Picture is up! Rolling! Sound speed! Background! Action!”
You’ll do whatever you’ve been assigned to do, usually when you hear the word ‘Background’ called out — perhaps “crossing” behind the star as she walks into the scene. Then you’ll hear “Cut!” and either “Going again!” or “Back to one!” and you’ll do it all over again. Or you’ll hear someone say “Checking the gate!” or “Check it!” and then, “Moving on!” to indicate a new setup for the scene, or perhaps a new scene altogether.
When it’s all over, you’ll get your voucher signed (so you’ll get paid), and go home. And, at least for a day, you’ll have been an integral part of movie or TV magic.
Stephen L. Antczak is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and is the author of four books and more than 50 short stories.