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A lot of actors of all levels decide to get into extra work, but some actors believe that you should never work as an extra if you want to be taken seriously in the industry. But how true is this? Should actors do extra work?
Actors who have never worked on a professional set before often find the experience helpful. Sometimes extras can be upgraded to the main cast roles if the director likes them, although this is rare. Most wannabe actors work as extras to gain experience that they wouldn’t have without getting a role.
In this article, I’ll be going over everything an actor should know when deciding to do extra work.
Table of Contents
How Much Are Extras Paid In The UK?
In the UK, how much you’re paid of course depends on what show you’re working on. There are a few basic guidelines, and usually, you don’t just get the standard daily rate. Going into overtime isn’t uncommon, and you often get more for other reasons too.
I collated information on the pay rates of extras from Equity UK, the performers union. So here’s a table of the basic rates for what extras get paid in the UK:
|Standard Daily Rate||Overtime (per hour)||Night Rate||Night Overtime (per hour)||Costume Fitting||Haircut||Special Skill|
|BBC||£86.40 – £106.80||£13.10 – £16.30||£94.60 – £129.20||£16.30 – £21.90||£25.10 – £46.70||£25.25||£41|
|TAC Welsh Independent TV||£70.50 – £124||£29 – £57||£10.73||£43.44|
|PACT||£97||£16.16||+ £48.50||£24.24||£48.50||£20||£25 – £30|
|SVOD||£97||£16.16||+ £48.50||£24.24||£48.50||£20||£25 – £30|
|Feature Film||£97||£16.16||+ £48.50||£24.24||£48.50||£20||£25 – £30|
What Are The Benefits Of Doing Extra Work?
Despite everything, there are some definite benefits to doing extra work. I’ll talk about them here.
1. Experience On A Professional Set
Perhaps the most valuable benefit to extra work is that you get to experience working on a professional working set. Film & TV sets can be very mysterious places. You’re not allowed in unless you’re part of the production. So how do you learn how a working set works?
It’s important for an actor to know this stuff, because what if you land a role next week for a big show. Will you know how a set works? Will you know the terminology? Or will you be nervous about your lack of knowledge?
Extra work can be a brilliant solution to this for many actors. It’s relatively easy to get into, requires no experience, and because extras don’t usually do much, you can simply watch and learn.
2. You Earn Money In The Industry
A great benefit to extra work is that rather than working the classic jobs that actors tend to take, like a bartender, you still get to work in the industry that you want to be in. It allows you to stay in touch with the industry.
Many actors who work side jobs get stuck in the 9-5 grind. They get lost or forget about their goals in order to pay the bills. It can be very hard to find a balance.
When working as an extra, you’re in this industry, you’re around these people. You could be standing next to an actor you just saw in a massive film, who’s being directed by a director you respect. You won’t forget about your dreams, if anything, you’ll think about them more.
Extra work can be great when it comes to flexibility. You’ll get sent the dates that you’ll be needed for, and you can either accept or decline the offer. It’s often as easy as that for the basic roles.
Sometimes you may be cast for a 2-week stint on one show. Or maybe even asked to be in the full block of filming. During hard times, I’ve personally worked a full season of a show, earning a few grand over the shoot, I can definitely say that I prefer that to working in a bar.
3. You Get To Meet Other Actors And Creatives
I’ve met so many people from my experience doing extra work. Many of which are very similar to me. Actors, musicians and filmmakers. I even did a short film with someone that I met from doing extra work.
I’ve met so many people that I’m sure I will work with at some point in the future. People that have big dreams, and intend on making them work out.
You get to develop genuine relationships with people. It can be a breeding ground for networking. Especially if you work on the same set for more than one day. I’ve only worked on one show as an extra, but I stayed on it for all three seasons, and I can tell you I met so many people and made some great memories in that time.
If you’re smart, you’ll use these relationships to develop your own work together, to grow your presence and experience in the industry.
4. Some People Do Get Given Roles
I’ve known people that I met as extras who were then given named and credited roles in the show. Leading to them getting representation from an agent, and being brought back for multiple seasons.
This can be a legendary opportunity, although I wouldn’t count on it happening. If you think about the number of people that work as extras on sets every single day, and how many people actually get given roles from this. It’s very, very rare.
If this is your sole reason for doing extra work, your effort would probably be better spent elsewhere. Working on projects where you actually have speaking roles, developing a showreel and using the material you have as leverage to book other jobs.
5. You May Realise You Want To Work Behind The Camera
When you work as an extra, you not only get to see how the actors work, you see how the whole cast and crew work together as one. You get to see the nuances of each role.
This is why many people that work as extras move into jobs behind the camera. Moving into a role as a runner on HUGE projects, working their way up in the industry to become an assistant director or grip, or being in the sound department.
You never know, you may realise that you became an actor to work on film sets, and you can do this by being behind the camera too. Many people don’t think of this, but it’s very common.
Should I Do Extra Work?
Ultimately if you want to do extra work, you should do it. But if you want to know if you should, or not. You should think about what you’re getting from it. Are you learning, or getting any experiences that you don’t already have? Or are you just doing it for the sake of it?
If you’re getting any benefit from it, then it’s worth it. If you’re not, then you shouldn’t. Extra work is very beneficial for some actors, especially when starting out, but for some, it’s not.
How To Become An Extra
Okay, so you’ve decided that you want to become an extra. How do you do it? Well, it’s actually very simple, here I’ll give you three easy steps to follow to become an extra.
1. Join An Extra Agency
In the UK extras are usually cast through one of the many extra agencies around. Do a little bit of research into who they are, and which would be suitable for you, and apply.
There’s no guarantee you’ll get in, as their books aren’t always open. But if you follow their pages on social media, they often advertise that they need extras of a specific look, or that they’ve opened their books in preparation for a specific show.
2. Get Sent Bookings
Once you join an extra agency, the agency will send out a booking to see if you’re interested and available to work on a certain show on a certain date. They will also state what the show is looking for. Whether you have to have a beard or whatnot.
You will then apply to the gig, and in a few days, they will let you know if they want to hire you for the job. You will then give one more confirmation of whether you are able to take the job. And you will then be hard pencilled, which is when you now are under contract for that job. You’re now an extra.
3. Rinse And Repeat
It’s really that simple. Extra work isn’t too hard to get. You’ll get sent jobs all the time, all over the country or area you’re in. Simply repeat step 2, over and over, and enjoy your experience as an extra.
Set Etiquette For Extras
There are a few rules that extras need to follow when it comes to working on set. Movies and TV shows have budgets in the 7-9 digits. You may have heard the phrase, time is money. Well, that couldn’t be more relevant here. What etiquette do extras need to follow?
1. Never Be Late
Time is money. You may think that because you’re an extra, you’re not important, and you can turn up late.
Although some days, you may turn up and not be used for the first 5 hours. Some days, you’ll turn up and be needed immediately. If you’re late, you may be thrown offset without pay. Your agency will be notified, and you will be penalised or even thrown off the books.
Being on time is rule number one for a reason.
2. Don’t Bother The Cast & Crew
It’s okay to be friendly, and no one is saying to ignore people when they speak to you. No one is saying that you can’t make eye contact with the actor you’ve looked up to for your whole life.
What I’m saying is, if you’re an actor, you understand what it takes to get into character. Imagine being in the wings, about to walk on stage for your big moment, and then someone comes over and starts talking to you. Some actors will be okay with that, but most are getting into character and getting in the moment.
It’s the same with the crew, everyone on set has their job, and they’re focusing on that job. A film set is like an ants nest, everything may seem like chaos, but everything is calculated. If you then bother the sound guy as he’s taking levels, or the DP as he’s thinking about which lens to use, you may get asked to stop.
3. Try Not To Talk On Set
Both during and in between takes, try not to talk. I understand it’s very hard. I know from personal experience. The days can be very long and boring, and you’re making new friends. But the day will be longer if the crew has to keep shouting, quiet on set.
It sounds obvious, don’t talk during a take unless you’re told, but you’d be surprised how often it happens. The mics used onset are extremely high quality and extremely sensitive. Even if you’re whispering, there’s a chance you’ll be picked up. Be considerate.
You may wonder, why do I have to be quiet in between takes? The crew need all the quiet they can get, they need to be able to focus and stay organised. In my experience as an extra, the crew would always get frustrated when there were a lot of extras due to the noise. When there are 50 people in a room, even whispering can be loud.
Be sensitive and considerate. Even if the principal cast are being loud. Stay quiet, stay professional. Watch the people around you, learn from them.
4. Do What The Crew Tells You
If a runner, AD or any other part of the crew asks you to walk from here to there. Do that. Don’t change your path, don’t just do what you feel like, they’ve asked you to do that thing for a reason. Even if you think it’s stupid or makes no sense, it’s because it looks good on camera.
Also, don’t wander off randomly. Because you’re in front of the camera, continuity is key. If you randomly walk off to go to the toilet, that take could be ruined. Even if you’re not in the scene right now, they could turn around and do the other angle.
Ask a runner if it’s okay if you leave for a second. They’re there to help and make everything run smoothly.
5. Remember You’re An Extra, Not Paparazzi!
Whether it be that you want to get a selfie with the main star, or that you just want to snap a few shots on set. Don’t be a paparazzi.
There are legal contracts that you’re following onset, and storylines are often closely guarded. Don’t just share pictures on social media willy nilly. It can be okay to take some pictures of friends, and what you’re wearing for example. But don’t share anything online until the show has been fully released. The studio won’t hesitate to sue you. And that’s not a joke.
Also, it can sometimes be okay to ask for a selfie with an actor, just use your brain. If you’re going to do this, don’t do it while on set. The cast are working, don’t bug them. Wait until you get offset, ask them then. But still, if they seem like they don’t want a picture, or if you’ve been asked specifically not to by the crew, please follow the rules.
Things Actors Should Know About Extra Work
Before getting into the potential benefits of doing extra work, I wanted to state a few things that actors should keep in mind before deciding to do extra work.
1. Agents Tend To Discourage Extra Work
Most agents to some degree will discourage actors from doing extra work. This is because if an actor was to get an audition for a role in a show, but they’ve already been a featured extra in that show, the director may decide not to cast you.
This will then mean you not only lose out on a bigger paycheck but potentially a role that could completely jumpstart your career.
So when deciding to work on a specific show, an actor should think first, will this hurt my chances at work in the future, and will I regret doing this?
The answer to this may be, “no.” And in that case, go for it, there’s nothing inherently wrong with extra work. But I think it’s important that actors at least think about this before blindly doing working as an extra.
2. The Days Can Be Long And Boring
Depending on the film or show you’re working on, the days could be extremely long, and uneventful. In my experience working as an extra, I’ve had days where we sat for 12 hours, weren’t used once, and then went home. But I’ve also had days in which I’ve been on my feet, on set, all day. So it completely depends.
With that, if you’ve never worked on a set before, you probably won’t know how long it actually takes to shoot one scene. (it takes a long time) I do see this as a benefit though, as it can be a brilliant learning experience.
Before doing extra work for the first time, I knew it could take a while to shoot a scene with multiple angles. But I never realised just how long. Sometimes you could be spending a whole day, shooting one small scene. And when your part in this scene is simply walking up some stairs in the background, it can be incredibly tiring.
Although, even the main cast have days where they’re essentially in the background of scenes, so I actually think it’s a good test of your mental stamina, to keep up for the day, and stay motivated and professional, even when you know you’re not the focus of the scene.
3. It Can Sometimes Be Disheartening
Some people may take it differently, but I know for a fact, that some days I’d be on set as an extra and I’d get so disheartened at the fact that I didn’t want to be sat in the background.
I’d think to myself, “I’ve had professional acting training, I should be acting, not in the background.”
It’s an incredibly dangerous thought to have as an actor. We’re not entitled to anything, just because of what we want to be doing, or the training that we may or may not have had.
Sometimes these thoughts can be motivating. Pushing you into working harder to make your dreams happen. But in complete honesty, in my experience, it sometimes made me feel like a failure, and that just isn’t okay.
Should Actors Put Extra Work On Their CV/Resume?
It can be very hard to get credits to put on your CV/resume & IMDb when you’re first starting out. People often say you need an agent to get work, but you need work to get an agent. So is it a good idea to put extra work on your cv/resume or IMDb?
No! Actors looking to get genuine acting roles, should never put extra work on their cv/resume or IMDb. These are reserved for credited parts, not extra parts. It isn’t hard to tell if an actor has done this, and if an agent or casting director found out, they’d consider it to be unprofessional.
Do extra work for the experience, for the networking, for the knowledge that you get when onset. But never ever do this. It’s a trap that actors fall into way too often.
If you’ve done it up till now, don’t panic. Just take it off, and move on.
Should Actors Put Extra Work In Their Showreels?
All too often I see actors putting extra work in their reels. But is this beneficial?
No! A casting director would much prefer to see a self-shot showreel and be able to see and hear you acting than see you stood next to Brad Pitt as he gives a heartwarming monologue. Your showreel isn’t to show off what you’ve been in, it’s to show off what you can do.
If you don’t have any credits yet, write a short scene that suits your casting type, shoot a self-tape with someone reading in for you, and use that as your showreel. I can guarantee you will see better results, and be seen as more of a professional this way.