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How to be a movie extra – The ULTIMATE guide!

Are you looking to become a movie extra full time? Or just as a side hustle? Or, you fancy giving it a go – We have you covered! 

Here’s how you can become a movie extra in the UK or a movie extra in the US. But firstly, let’s dive into what a movie extra is and then what a day in the life of a movie extra entails. 

We will then move on to the best agencies and places to get started and sign up to become a movie extra

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents – How to be a movie extra

What is a movie extra? 

A movie extra is also known as background talent or a background actor. The main purpose of the movie extra it’s to help build the atmosphere. 

The TV show or movie director will use you as and when needed to create the illusion of a busy street, or maybe you’re sat in a coffee shop enjoying a brew – they’ll use you essentially as a prop. 

Movie extras are placed on set to create realism, make the scene look real, and bring it to life. It creates a realistic feel, and you are, as an extra, incredibly important to the film production

Have you ever thought of becoming a voice over actor? 

What’s expected of you as a movie extra?

As a movie extra, there’s a lot that is expected of you, it’s a pretty integral role in the film production, and surprisingly, it can be pretty demanding at times. Here’s a few key things that will be expected of you: 

  • Provide your own wardrobe or attend a “Fitting day”. 
  • Be punctual. Be on time to set and on time to the scenes. 
  • Work long days. Almost always you’ll work more than 8 hours – although it’s not all bad. It means you’ll be paid overtime!
  • Be aware of who your direct reports are. Make sure you keep in contact with them to ensure you get into costume and onto the set on time. 
  • Long waits. Occasionally you’ll be sued for two scenes in the same location. Scene two may take 3-4 hours to prepare so that you may have a long wait. Make sure you bring something to read or something to occupy you!

Although this sounds like long days, you’re compensated (And fed) well for the day. You can meet other extras and connect. A lot of extras are students or actors just starting – you may even find your next co-star for a short film you’ve written; there are endless possibilities. 

How much do extras make?

Extras make a wide range of money and vary from country to country. Below is the average pay an extra will make in the UK and the US. 

How much do film extras make in the UK?

In the UK, film extras will earn between £80 and £120 – this will also increase if you have to work overtime, where the rates increase by 50%. 

Here’s an example of the casting collective, a well-renowned extras agency in the UK:

How much do film extras make

However, these will vary from agency to agency and each agency will take a percentage of each job. This varies from 10%-20% – try to stick to the latter percentage as 20% is a large chunk of your pay. 

But remember only to go through legitimate agencies (See our list at the bottom, click here to take you to the list of UK extra agencies [Insert Anchor]). 

How much do movie extras make in the US?

The pay for movie extras in the US fluctuates widely; however, the national average wage for a movie extra is $13.31 per hour.

In general, in the US movie, extras who are part of the union will get paid more than non-union extras. If you are not in a union, try and get into one as people may try to pay you below minimum wage or even try and get you to do it for free – something we wouldn’t advise doing if you are looking for a steady income from extra work.

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How to become a movie extra

Becoming a movie extra isn’t as hard as you may think; however, it does take time, and there will be a few steps you’ll need to take to become a movie extra. Here are a few tips/steps to follow to help you become a movie extra. 

Research extra agencies

Firstly, make sure you research extra agencies in detail. Find one or two that suit your needs and complete their application. Have a look at their history and previous projects they’ve worked on. Maybe even reach out to someone who’s listed as working with them previously, ensure that they’re legit!

Get a headshot – Make sure it’s of high quality.

To be registered to an extra’s agency, you need a high-quality headshot. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I do believe at first, when you’re starting, you can get away with taking your own headshot. 

But, once you’ve been paid for a few jobs, try and get a professional one done; it will open a few more doors for you.

Here’s a great article on how to take the perfect headshot.

Sign up with an extras agency.

Once you have a headshot, you can then begin to sign up for the agencies. As an extra starting, we recommend signing up to 3-4 reputable agencies. This way, you’ll have more opportunities – starting afresh in anything, you’ll have to build your reputation. 

Remember extra’s agencies need to ensure you’ll be punctual and never let them down – they’ll often reach out to extras that have already worked on a job and have good feedback. 

However, don’t let that put you off; remember, most of these movies and television shows need big crowds or a large number of people on set, so you’ll be contacted about these. But, make sure you are available on this date before you accept, as if you are a no show on your first set, there is a high chance you’ll be left out and deemed unreliable. 

Extras agencies have a reputation to hold up, so they don’t like to work with people deemed unreliable.  

For the UK:

It differs a little from the UK to the US in terms of extras work; here’s the last step/s for bo becoming an extra in the UK and becoming an extra in the US. If you’re a US-based extra, scroll below for the US breakdown.

Submit proof of address and bank details for payment

Now finally, you’ll need to submit your proof of address to the extras agency and then include your bank detail so they can pay you on time. 

Generally, you’ll be paid by the extras agency once the production has been completed and the agencies have been paid. This may take some time, so if you’re looking to move into this full time, make sure you have the finance to bridge the gap or transition over slowly. 

But you will get paid, and when the first payment comes in, it’s pretty sweet!

Paying taxes.

If it’s something you are working on in full-time capacity and is breaking the minimum tax bracket, you’ll need to file your taxes. You can either do this as a Limited Company or a Sole trader, depending on your preference. Simply sign up on the UK’s Gov platform.

Make sure to do this as soon as you hit the or get close to the tax bracket, just to ensure you’re not fined and paying your taxes on time. 

And that’s it; you’re now a fully-fledged extra, maybe if you’re looking to expand your career as an actor and sign up to a couple of websites: www.shootingpeople.com or www.mandy.com to look for speaking roles and commercial work.

Read more on 10 tips to becoming an actor with no experience

For the US: 

Now for becoming an extra in the US. You’ll need to do the following.

Work authorisation documentation

To become an extra in the US, you’ll need to complete a few forms. Firstly make sure you fill out the I-9 tax form and become eligible for work.

You will need to submit the following documents to the authorities:

  • A valid United States passport
  • Your current drivers’ license or ID card, along with your social security card 
  • Or, you can submit your current driver’s license or ID card plus your birth certificate to fulfil this requirement. 

Remember, all of the documentation you present MUST be in its original format.

Start as a non-union extra

Once you start as a movie extra, you’ll begin with “Non-union” status. However, the only union you can join is SAG-AFTRA – we highly recommend doing this! To meet the criteria:

Becoming a SAG-AFTRA member

To become a SAG-AFTRA member, there are many ways in, probably the first port of call is to apply to the organisation and show proof that you have completed at least three days of work on a production as an extra. 

Until you reach the above, there is a possibility of receiving a voucher on set even if you are a non-union member. A great example of this is union productions. 

There is a reserved amount of spaces for extras that are part of the union. If one of the background actors doesn’t turn up, it leaves a space for a non-union extra to receive one of the SAG-AFTRA vouchers on that day. 

Perfect for entering into the union at lightspeed.

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What does a movie extras day look like?

Are you wondering what to expect for your first day as an extra? Well, fear not; here is a breakdown of a typical day of a movie extra. 

Morning 

Leave your home with plenty of time to arrive; if your call times are at 8am, try to get there by 730am. It gives you time to find the set and get registered on time. 

Next, you’ll meet the producer and assistant director and the extras casting director at around 8am. You’ll then need to complete all the paperwork for that day. This is usually when you are gifted a SAG-AFTRA voucher.

At 8.30, you will meet the wardrobe department; depending on whether you’ve brought your wardrobe or have a set wardrobe designed by the wardrobe department, they may need to vet your wardrobe choice to ensure it meets the production requirements. 

If you do use the wardrobe department’s clothes, you’ll be assigned a wardrobe voucher; this will be essential to return at the end of the shoot. 

9 am will come around rather quickly; this is when you have a chance to relax and get yourself some breakfast. 

9.20 am comes around, and you will be asked to move into the “holding area”. This is essentially a place where the extras gather, waiting for instruction from the production staff on when they will be needed and where. Be prepared to be called upon any minute. 

This is also where you can chill out whilst waiting for each scene; we advise taking a book or some writing material to keep you occupied. 

By 10 am, you’ll be called to the scene where the director will place yourself and the other film extras to populate the area. Whilst the scene is being shot, you, as an extra, will have to repeat the same similar actions each time to ensure that the production staff captures each angle until they are happy. 

It sometimes means that you have to replicate sipping a glass and laughing over 40 times. Try having a bit of fun with your fellow extras; it will add extra depth to the shot.

12-1 pm. Lunchtime, it’s now time for you to get fed. I’ll be honest, the food as these film productions are pretty decent! My personal favourite part of the day.

1-7 pm. You will be called on and offset for the rest of the afternoon, so be prepared to be called at any time. 

720pm. It’s the end of the day. You’ll need to return your wardrobe now and get dressed in your normal clothes again. Then finally, you will have to sign out with the production assistant, so they know how much the extras agency will need to charge. You’ll then be paid after the production.  

A list of film extra Agencies in the UK 

Here is a list of reputable extra agencies in the UK. If you’re looking to apply to different agencies, follow the steps above in the “How to become a movie extra”. 

Then finally, complete each extra agency sign up form – then you’re there!

I’ve personally worked with a couple of the below, highlighted and have had a very good experience.

The full list of the best film extra agencies in the UK: 

These are the extra agencies we recommend applying for in the UK. Maybe apply to two or three and get started from there. We Got Pop usually has some big productions so that they will take on new extras and actors, so definitely apply to them – but make sure you’re able to attend the shoot if you accept. 

You can then build from there with your experience for future productions and get more regular extras to work to the point you’ll have a full-time income from it. 

A list of movie extra agencies in the US

Here’s a list of reputable extra agencies in the US. Have a look through this list and maybe select 2 or 3 to begin your extras journey. Then once you’ve established yourself there, use your experience to move over to the other agencies and get yourself more extra gigs! It’s quite fun – you’ll be a veteran movie extra in no time. 

Here’s an overview of the best movie extra agencies in the US: 

For the full list of movie extra agencies, visit the Production Hub.

We hope this article on “How to be a movie extra – The ULTIMATE guide!” was useful to you. Let us know your thoughts below in the comments, and scroll further for more resources and articles on acting.

Happy acting!

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