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Browsing through hobbies in the Ciao Cafe recently I realized there was no category for a favourite hobby of mine - Television Extra Work. I have been a Television Extra now for just over 4 years and though I would share my experience with you.
The only reason I discovered my hobby was after a friend of mine (who was already an extra) asked me if I wanted to appear as a background artist as a one off. My friend was working for a casting agency that needed a huge crowd for a concert scene; the agency had asked the all extra's taking part if they could bring a friend along so along I went and really enjoyed it. As well as enjoying it I also got paid £50 for the privilege! After that I was hooked and that's where my hobby began…
WHAT IS TV EXTRA WORK
Television extra work is work for any Film or TV Production where background artists are required to fill out a set. This can most often include "hanging around" in the background of a scene. Extra work is normally paid work and is undertaken by supporting artists of all ages, shapes and sizes.
MY STORY AS AN EXTRA
After my initial taste of extra work I was really keen to work again. As my friend was already working for a casting agency I asked her about signing up. I was given the agencies telephone number and rang then to ask how I would go about applying to be on their books. From there I was invited to an interview and asked to bring with me some snapshots.
The day of the interview arrived and I took with me my snapshots as promised. I filled in an application detailing my vital statistics and any hobbies I had. I was then given a rundown on the history of the business before being attending an informal chat with the companies chief booker who would assess my suitability and provide me with an in-depth low-down describing what would be expected of me before answering any questions I had.
All most agencies will ask is that you can be available for weekday and evening work (with occasional weekends!) And that you have a reliable method of transport. The agency I work for deals with three different television areas: Mersey TV (Liverpool), Granada (Manchester) and Yorkshire Television (Yorkshire) so it is important that you are able to travel. Most of the time I will be phoned with around 24 hours notice to check my availability for work so it is important to have quite a flexible job, and an understanding boss!
After our chat the Chief Booker told me there and then that she would be happy to have me on the books. There is no charge for appearing on the agencies books, However I was asked to have professional photographs done. An appointment was made for me through the agency for this to happen. The cost to myself for the Photographs was £30. I was given the option of paying this amount on the day or having the charge come out of my first paid job.
Most reputable agencies will not charge you for appearing on their books but will insist on having professional photographs taken. This will normally consist of a couple of Headshots and Full length shots. Any agency asking for a joining fee, an extortionate amount for photographs or insisting on a full portfolio is not worth joining up with.
Within three weeks I received a call from the Chief booker to check my availability for a job coming up. The job was to take place two weeks later. (I should note here that being given such a large amount of notice is quite unusual!) I agreed my availability and from there was given my call time and Instructions for the Job. I was told I needed to be at Manchester University for 12 noon and would need to be dressed in "Clubbing Attire" I was I was being cast as to appear in the background of a Night Club for a brand new TV drama that was set to be rather controversial. That TV drama turned out to be "Shameless"
THE FIRST JOB
The morning of my first job I was extremely nervous, despite my previous brush with "Extra fame" I would, this time be going it alone. The evening before the job I had used an Internet route planner to ensure I had full directions to where I was going.
I dressed suitably in a pair of Jeans and what I would consider a "going out" top and set off for the casting. I arrived at my destination 30 minutes early and was greeted by the runner who asked me to sign in. I was then ushered towards a waiting room filled with at least 50 other extras where I would spend the next three hours until I, and the rest of the extras were required.
Finally our call time arrived, all the extras were taken by coach the short journey to one of Manchester's nightclub where the scene was due to be shot. The Director explained we were all required to be dancing in the first scene, he then arranged all the extras in various stances around the Nightclub and asked that we remembered where we were stood, this is for continuity purposes. After we were all given specific places a 30 second burst of dance music was played and we were asked to start dancing and continue dancing until the director shouted stop. As you can probably imagine I felt quite silly at first. I refuse to dance sober at the best of times so dancing with no music was quite a challenge!
Two hours later and it was time for tea. Both food and refreshments had been provided by the production company and all working on set had been given an hour to recharge their batteries. Pretty soon the hour was up and it was back to work.
The next scene was to focus on the first floor of the Nightclub again the Director gave us specific stances and asked us to start dancing (Luckily by this time the Embarrassment had subsided!) Two hours and several different locations later the Director announced that filming for the extras had finished but had asked the runner to speak to myself and six others about the possibility of us staying later to film another scene.
This was music to my ears and I agreed. This scene involved the six of us standing outside the nightclub waiting to go in, I was at the front of the Queue and was to be knocked out of the way when one of the lead actors (James McAvoy) came tearing out of the club. By the time the scene was ready to be filmed it was 8pm. The evening was turning rather cold and I was still dressed in my "going out" clothes with no coat! Luckily there was still a good supply of hot drinks to keep me going. By 11:30pm and three takes later (Including one where I was really sent flying!) we were all finished. Myself and the other extras were taken back to base and signed out. (It is always important to sign out as this tell the production company that the job was completed and confirms your attendance and more importantly your pay.) Exactly 12 hours after I had started I had now finished. I was absolutely shattered but had a fantastic time all the same, and met some fantastic people.
The following day I received a call from one of the bookers at the agency to say the Production Company had been really pleased with me and to confirm the fee I would be receiving for my appearance which was £50. I was now to await my next job!
Method of payment for appearances is always by cheque and turnaround for receiving payment is normally three weeks. The Agency I work for take 15% commission for every job I do. This can differ from agency to agency. 15% Tends to be the average but I do know of agencies that will take up to 20%. The £50 that I received tends to be an average for what is known as a "Walk on one" part. In the industry there are three different pay levels depending on the type of part that you undertake for example:
Walk on One - This is simply just being in the background of a scene.
Walk on Two - This can include being in the background and taking a small amount of direction, for example being asked to be filmed walking across a road.
Walk on three - This can include anything such as having you haircut for a particular scene, taking direction and a small speaking part or exercising a special skill such as Horse riding.
Although there is no industry base pay for these parts a "Walk on three" part will always guarantee a bigger fee.
I should also mention here that whilst you do not need to join Equity to become an extra. Equity Extra's tend to receive around £65 for a days work as part of there membership and joining Equity is often a step forward to demonstrating your commitment.
It is important to remember that as an Extra you are classed as Self Employed. It is solely up to the individual to arrange payment for any tax or national insurance that is owed on any money earned.
DO'S AND DONT'S
This is purely advice based on my experience as an extra for anyone who is considering this a hobby.
DO ring your agency after a Job if you have done more than was required of you. I once got booked as a walk on two as a character look-alike for Holly oaks. Once I arrived and started my scene the director asked if I would take direction and I ended up with a small speaking part. After the job and in my excitement I forgot to advise my agency and got paid only for a walk on two.
DO take a spare set of clothes. Experience has taught me that more often that not what is supposed to be a 6 hour job can turn into a 10 hour job. I would always advise you to take a couple of extra layers and different wardrobe alternatives if possible.
DO take something that will occupy your time. I did an awful lot of A - Level revision once whilst waiting to be called. Sometimes you ca be waiting round for hours so always take a book, magazines and MP3 player or anything else to relieve boredom.
DO make a plan of your route. Whenever I am given a job I always get a route planner to plan me a precise route. This can be done on the internet and there are several sites which will plan a route for free such as the AA: www.theaa.com
DO always book out. If you are planning a two week break always
DON'T ring the production company if you get lost on your way to a job. Casting agency bookers will always have an A - Z to had and are at the other end of the phone should you need assistance. Always allow more time for your journey, give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
DON'T be late. Following on from my last point. Casting directors will see this as unacceptable and will report this back to your agency.
DON'T Not turn up, If you cannot make a job for any reason always let the booker no, it is incredibly rude to just not turn up and causes the production company lots of problems.
DON'T turn up in labelled designer wear. No production company will be willing to take the risk of you appearing in there background in a labelled item of clothing. Before any job the booker at an agency will always advise you of what to wear and may even ask you to wear a specific colour so style of clothing.
DON'T ask for autographs or photographs with the Actors / Actresses. There is no harm in chatting with the cast but asking an actor to pose for a photograph is highly unprofessional and would more than likely result in a casting director refusing to work with you again.
Extra work is not or those looking to get main parts - It doesn't happen. Whist it is possible you may get a regular slot as an extra in a TV show it is very unlikely that you will ever get a professional part.
It is also important to remember that extra work is not for everyone. I had a friend request to join the agency I am with after she heard what I did. After she got her first job she quit as she couldn't stand all the waiting about.
Extra work can not be relied on as a full time occupation. It is entirely normal to go months without any work and then for three jobs to come in at once. Usually if you have just appeared in the background as a "non regular" it will be eight weeks before they would even consider using you again.
Over the last four years I have had some fantastic jobs which have ranged from standard background work to character look-alikes. I have attended many castings for adverts and even participated in live studio audiences. I have also met lots of lovely people, some who I now count as good friends. When I started my hobby I was quite a shy person and rather timid. Through my hobby I have gained the ability to travel to places I have never been before and work with people I had not previously met, this has done an awful lot for my self confidence and now means I will drive anywhere without worrying that I may get lost!
Extra work is a fantastic hobby and anyone can have a part as an extra. My agency has several men and women on their books over 70 who have had an awful lot of work. Background artists are not supposed to stand out so a scene full of beautiful models would look ridiculous in the background of the Vic or the Rovers Return! Extra agencies rely on normal people . If you are interested in becoming an extra I wish you the best of luck and hope that you get out of it as much as I have. I would recommend checking out the Spotlight which I will detail below for a list of reputable agencies in your area. www.spotlightcd.com
If you do have any questions feel free to drop a note in my guestbook.