Film

Working as a film extra: here’s the reality

The purpose of a film extra is simply to fill space and blend in. That might seem easy enough, however, there’s a lot more that goes into being a blurry dot floating in the back of the cinema screen than you might imagine. Here’s what it’s really like:

It starts with an availability enquiry from an agency via email or text. If you respond that you’re available, your photos and details will be sent to production. You’ll then receive a notification that you’ve been “penciled”.  

The production will be given an array of photos that fit a brief. They may narrow down their options: placing a smaller group on “heavy pencil” to be reconsidered later.

Alternatively, they may select the extras they want outright; “booking” some, and “releasing” the rest. This can be tedious, but you have to be patient with it. I was released 16 times before I got my first film extra job, but who’s counting!  

Once you’re booked, you’ve got work. Typically, this starts with a fitting (usually a separate day). You’ll be given some generalised “character information” about your role and be fitted into your costume/hair/make-up. This process can feel quite intimidating at first, but once you do one, it becomes second-nature.  

The call time for the shoot day won’t normally be realised until the day/evening before.

The call times can be 6:00 AM, or earlier. You always get an array of complimentary meals on shoot days, including breakfast if it’s an early start. There will also probably have a fair amount of time to socialise with the other extras by complaining about how tired you are.  

Once you’re in costume, it’s a real lottery in terms of how the day pans out. Some days you might be on set for hours; other times you might be waiting around in a crowd holding area the whole day and never be used in a scene. You’re not usually allowed a phone, so my advice would be to bring a book, or maybe a small pillow.

Personally, I really enjoy my time working as a “supporting artist”, as the professional term goes. It pays well and I went in simply with the intention of gaining a bit more of an understanding of the film industry. You have to have a thick skin. The selection process can be very disappointing at times, and “releases” can sting. Film environments can be very stressful and you, as an individual, aren’t going to be anyone’s top priority. However, if you want to learn a thing or two about the film world, work with the odd Hollywood A Lister, and can do without the glamour, then (Co-Vid permitting) I’d recommend applying!


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22/09/2020

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Jake Walker-Charles