Insider Tips for Getting Work as an Extra on a Television Show

If you want to work in show business, you don’t have to move to Hollywood. Whether you are looking to start an acting career, or simply experience what it feels like behind-the-scenes of a television production, there are often times opportunities in your own home town. “Glee,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Boss,” “Shameless,” and “Parks and Recreation” are among the programs that utilize background extras.

How to register for work as a background extra

The first step is to register with an extras casting agency. These days, many of them are recruiting via Facebook and Craigslist, or you can often find casting call updates from local papers and television stations and various search engines.

The following are websites that either provide casting info, TV show filming locations, or tips on where to locate the best agencies. Note: these sites do NOT hire or book you as an extra, but they provide a valuable resource.

In Los Angeles, Ca., be sure and check out:
For New York, you may find this site informative:

Can anyone register to be a background extra?

Yes. You do not need experience in the industry, or to be hot, young and gorgeous in order to be cast as an extra. Based on the needs of a television show, and the scenes they will shoot, agencies hire men, women and children, from all ethnic backgrounds, ages and sizes. There is a place for most every look – all you need is a really positive attitude and to be punctual and reliable.

What you will need to submit to the casting agency

To register, you submit a clear, recent photo, and contrary to what you may have heard, there’s no need to spend money on professional head shots or resumes for this type of role. A JPEG from a digital or disposable camera is perfectly acceptable.

You will be asked to provide your stats to the casting agency (age, height, weight, sizes, racial background, phone number, and email). A word of caution – while many of us like to “stretch the truth,” please be honest, because it can come back to haunt you. For instance, if you are hired as an extra, and it turns out you are not the 18-year old with the 24″ inch waistline you claimed to be, it can create a slightly embarrassing situation.

What to bring to set

When you receive a confirmation that you have been booked for a particular TV show, you will receive a confirmation detailing the call time, the address of the shoot, and the required wardrobe. Typically, you will be asked to wear one outfit, and carry with you two or three additional clothing options. Please make sure everything is clean, pressed and carried in a garment bag.

You should also have extra pens, a current state-issued ID, and your Social Security card (you will be asked to fill out an I-9 form and time sheet). It’s wise to bring your favorite book to keep you occupied between takes, as well as a bottle of water and light snacks.

The successful background extra

Working as a background extra can be a lot of fun, but just like any job, it’s important to remain a consummate professional at all times.

When you report to set, you will be taken to an extras holding area. An important reminder: avoid chatting too much, or too loudly with the other people in the room, and try not to complain about the weather, the pay or hours, because you never know who is listening to your conversation.

While filming, there is no talking, cell phones, taking photos or asking the actors for autographs, because if you do, you may be escorted out the door.

What you will earn

You will not get wealthy doing this job, because the average rate of pay is $68 for 8 hours, plus time and a half overtime. It will take 2-3 weeks for you to receive your paycheck, which will be mailed to you.

Lights, camera, action!

The most rewarding part of being a background extra is to watch the cast and crew in action, and to observe all the fascinating aspects of a television production. When I worked on shows in Los Angeles, they had an expression that sums it up best – “you’re not just watching TV, you’re making TV.”

Welcome to the wonderful world of entertainment!

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