One day after coming home after a long and tedious day working as a stand-in on the film, “Get Low,” which stars Bill Murray, Lucas Black and Robert DuVall, I received a phone call from a fellow actor friend. He is currently signed with a talent agency, and while he has gone on several auditions, he has yet to book a job. After hearing stories about my day-to-day work on a film set, he asked me one of the worst questions you can ask a working extra, “Do you think I should be a film extra?”
Why this a horrible question to ask? Well, first off, this is a totally personalized question – what works for one person may not work for the next. Another reason, there are a lot of details that should be considered by an aspiring actor.
After mulling over this question for quite some time, I believe I have come up with several pros and cons of being a film extra.
Pro – Real Life Set Experience
Perhaps one of the most important advantages of working on a film as an extra is being able to achieve real life film set experience. While there are countless books and classes dedicated to preparing beginner actors for working on film sets, nothing is more educational than actually working on one and seeing the movement that takes place. I have taken over 10 years of acting classes, and while many of these courses focused on acting technique, I learned more about film set etiquette and the technical side of acting by working as an extra and stand-in. If you are just starting out as a film actor, obtaining at least one job as a film extra will deliver vital information – and you get paid for it!
Pro – Watching Seasoned Professionals Perform
This is another major advantage of working as a film extra. While delving into community theater and studying at an acting studio provides vital information regarding acting technique, there is nothing more educational and inspiring than watching artists who have mastered their craft. I vividly remember working with Bill Murray and Robert DuVall and being in awe as these two acting masters worked with their script and delivered awe-inspiring performances over-and-over again. I learned more in one month working on “Get Low” than I did after spending nearly a decade in acting classes.
Con – Limit Your Chances of Being on Certain Shows
Now, this disadvantage is widely disputed amongst the acting community. Some actor, and casting directors, say that working as an extra (especially a featured extra) can automatically disqualify you for auditioning for speaking roles on a TV show or movie. On the other hand, some professionals in the industry do not see it this way. No matter the side of the fence you stand on, the truth of the matter is if you work as an extra of an episodic sitcom, you will more than likely not be able to audition and book speaking roles for the same show. However, if your goal is not to be an on-camera actor, then you don’t have anything to worry about.
Pro – Networking
I remember working as a stand-in on the Demi Moore film, “The Joneses” and on one of the last days of production the entire cast and crew were eating lunch when one of the executive producers stood up and said, “It has been a pleasure working with all of you, and no matter you role in this film if you have a script or an idea please don’t hesitate to contact me.” Later on I found out that his production company has purchased many scripts from crew members who’ve worked with him in the past. You never know who you’ll run into and the opportunities that may arise from working as a film extra. This alone makes spending 12+ hours a day worth it.