How to make money by being a film or tv extra
If you want a bit of glamour whilst you make money, being an extra in film and TV might be for you. Here's our guide to becoming an extra and making money from it.
How much will I earn?
The rates of pay for being a film extra are pretty good (especially as the majority of the day is spent doing nothing, waiting around for your scene - getting paid all the while).
Extra agencies each have their own rates of pay, but as a basic guideline extras earn between £70-£90 for a day, and from £90-110 for a night shoot.
As of June 2016, the rates for BBC and ITV are as follows:
Basic Day Rate: £86.40 Overtime Rate: £13.10
Basic Night Rate: £94.60 Overtime Night Rate: £16.30
Basic Day Rate: £73.16 Overtime Rate: £13.72
Basic Night Rate: £109.74 Overtime Night Rate: £19.79
Whilst the rates of pay are good, the problem is the scarcity of work as an extra, and the short-notice often involved in the job.
In order to make the most money you need to be organised, sign up to the right extra agencies, and be open to some unsociable hours.
What's it like being a film extra?
Obviously, being an extra is pretty damn cool. You show up to a set, get made-up (just like a professional actor), film a scene, and then a year later you get to see yourself on TV or in the cinema.
The upsides to the job are:
- It pays the bills, and is a great way to earn casual money on the side of your degree
- You don’t have to audition for parts
- You’re hired based on your looks and experience - no sending off CVs for each new film
- You can learn how a film set works, and network
- You get to know whether Jon Snow is dead or not, about a year before the rest of us
However, there are downsides, including:
- The hours can be long and unsociable
- It can be dull hanging around on set, waiting for your scene
- There isn't a career ladder that leads you to starring in films
One student told Winter is Coming about his experience of being on the Game of Thrones set.
"We had to be in front of production office around 5am."
"Each of us got our costume and then went for makeup and hair. After you finish with makeup and hair you return to costumes so they can check you out. I was surprised by their skill and care for details. This lasted around two hours because we were large group."
"Everything during the day of shooting was at a very professional level (cameras, makeup, hair, costumes, production, actors). We were located in a camp next to set, and they were shooting all the time. So when you’re on the set you do what you’re told. We could only exchange a few words with actors and crew between scenes. I closed my eyes a few times just to listen to the actors, and it felt like watching (listening) to a show."
"It was great when dozens of modern looking extras got transformed into Middle Age residents. And there were a lot of bloopers on set which I hope they’ll show us one day."
"I would do it every day. It was really special working with the people who brought my favourite story to life."
However, not all TV shows are Game of Thrones.
For just about all extras, there's also a lot of waiting around on set. This can be pretty fascinating, seeing how a film or TV show comes together, but a lot of extras say it loses it's novelty after a while.
Another part-time extra told Relevant Magazine about a far more typical experience. After being made redundant at another job, they signed up
"A week later I called to check my voicemail and heard a message sent at 10:30 p.m. saying I should call that night if I was interested in being in the movie. Why would they call me on a Friday night at a time most people would be out on the town? I wasn't sure if I should call back immediately since I wouldn’t get home until 2:30 a.m., so I decided to wait the night out and call in the morning, as I'd be refreshed and ready for a new day."
"I called back and got a hired hand who said they were filming that day, and I was needed immediately, if possible. I jumped on the opportunity and came with my necessary props and costume. They would be filming a fight scene on the train, and I'd have to dress up like a downtown business commuter on his way to work. I came with my turtleneck sweater."
"After a quick drive to the casting office, I filled out some forms and immediately was looked up and down by the wardrobe staff to receive my "okay" from the head costume manager. [I was] immediately was escorted to an EL platform in the Chicago Loop."
"I reached the EL stop and here my real job began:
"Waiting. When you're an extra, you spend most of your time waiting for the crew to set up for the next shot. Imagine a large crowd of people who have one assignment: Stand."
"That's exactly what most extras do: Stand. There's only one chance in a thousand that you could get that cool walk-on role during the sidewalk confrontation scene, and from those chances you would maybe, just maybe, receive a few lines to speak."
"Being a film extra can literally be a cattle call. [...] Herding conditions, boring in-between waiting periods, and long hours can only be for the truly unique individual with a wild side."
How do I become a film extra?
Step one: find extra hiring agencies
If you're near a major city, becoming an extra is a lot easier. London is the easiest place to find extra work, with big film studios like Pinewood and big TV production companies like Avalon UK always on the lookout background bodies to fill their TV shows / films with.
But it's just as feasible to find work in other major UK cities, if you look in the right places.
The top agencies around the UK include:
These agencies, between them, provide most extras for films and TV shows around the country, and have a good reputation with production companies as well as extras.
There are smaller agencies out there with good reputations, but it's necessary that you...
Step two: Do your research and avoid scam companies
It's important that you also find a reputable company. There are, sadly, a lot of scam companies out there that will ask for a fee to join the agency, but then won't find you any work.
A quick Google search will generally bring up the best agencies in your area, but make sure you do more research than that.
Google the company's name and the word "scam". If it's a scam, often there will be a warning of this from another person as one of the top results.
Backstage advise that there are other warning signs that the extra agency you are talking to are a scam company, including poor grammar on their websites, and promises to "make you a star".
"Don’t stop believing. Chase your dreams, follow your heart, and other inspirational messages are meant to lure in people who are desperate for success and have little experience in the acting industry. Legitimate agencies look for confident, successful, and poised talent. Sure, they want actors with big dreams, but they don’t specifically advertise for actors who are down and out."
They also advise that if the agency isn't specific about a type they are looking for, this is probably because they don't mind who they scam their money from:
"All types, ages, and ethnicities wanted. Specific roles generally require a specific look, age, ethnicity, or type. Be suspicious when almost anyone could fit into the advertised opportunity."
Generally avoid extra posts on Gumtree. These are often low-paid jobs, if they are paid at all, and can just be fronts for "adult film" companies.
Once you're confident you've found a reputable company, it's time to...
Step three: Get hired and wait for the email
Once you've found the company / companies near you, it's time to register. They will usually ask for a headshot (which doesn't have to be as professional as actors) along with information about you (weight, height etc), availability and experience if you have it.
Legitimate agencies will also sometimes ask for joining their agency. If they are a good agency, you should be able to make this back pretty easily through work they find you. However, be sure before you commit any money to a company that they are who they say they are, and that they service enough TV shows and films to be able to find you work.
Once you have registered with the company, they will usually submit you for local work that you are suitable for (based on your looks and stats).
At this point, you just need to wait around until you receive an email informing you that they've found you work. Be prompt in replying to the email (or call). Casting in film and TV is a fast-paced world. If you don't reply very quickly, the work could be given to someone else.
As unique as you look (bravo!) there is usually someone else out there who looks similar enough to take your place!
How to be on set
If you want to keep getting more work, you need to act like a real pro on set. Do exactly what you're told by the director (or one of their lowly assistants).
Extras are generally background people, and shouldn't distract attention from the action. If you distract attention, you're doing it wrong. Like this guy, inexplicably sweeping the air behind James Bond.
"F*ck, missed again."
Generally, if the editors see you doing something weird in the background, or looking at the camera, they will cut you from the scene and use a different take.
So if you want to be seen, try to do exactly what you're instructed.
Not like this extra on one of Nolan's Batman films, who fights an imaginary enemy then falls to the ground for no reason.