Here’s an EXTRA Friday Question:
It’s from RichD.
So the recent mention of WINGS here inspired me to revisit the series on Netflix. While making my way through the first seasons I again noticed the older red-haired woman who worked at Roy's counter, which got me to wonder about the background performers who are the extra-equivalent of series regulars on various shows.
I would assume that these are pretty sweet gigs. When they are first cast is it with the intention that they will be recurring?
Are they hired episode-by-episode or offered a season long contract? While I'm assuming that they aren't there for table reads, how much different is their schedule from the speaking cast?
Usually the extras (or “background” as they are also called) who are essentially regulars are also stand-ins for the main cast. They’re the same height and size of the stars. During the days when directors are blocking the show with the camera crew these extras stand-in during the long somewhat arduous process of assigning individual shots. Here’s a fun fact: Do you know who Bill Cosby’s stand-in was on THE COSBY SHOW? None other than Samuel L. Jackson. This was before he became an Avenger.
Certain extras do become de facto regulars. On MASH we used the same nurses. I don’t know if I ever knew all their last names but they were Sherry, Gwen, Kellye. And over time a few extras were given lines. Kellye for one, and Jeff Maxwell as Igor. And of course, the extra’s extra – Roy Goldman (pictured: right).
Don’t know your definition of “sweet gig”. Extras don’t get paid that handsomely and frankly, it’s pretty boring. They spend an inordinate amount of time just waiting or standing, or waiting and standing.
On the other hand, they’re IN the business. They go to work at Hollywood studios. They’re on the stage, they get fed, and in many cases they form friendships with the cast and crew. So on the list of jobs that suck – hanging out with George Clooney all day would not be one of them.
I’m sure some extra assignments are worse than others. I wouldn’t want to be a knight on GAME OF THRONES, standing around in heavy armor all day. And a friend of mine got a gig on a movie and was told to report to Six Flags Magic Mountain at 5:00 AM. Fun, she thought. For three days she rode a roller-coaster for twelve hours a day. Can you imagine? Over and over and over again. She almost died.
On single-camera shows extras are just hired for the days they’re needed. Could be one, could be five days a week.
On multiple-camera shows they’re hired for two days – camera blocking and shooting day.
Now everyone has cellphones, but I remember on CHEERS we’d take a break before the afternoon runthrough and all the extras would form a long line at the phone booth outside the stage to call their answering machines to see if they had a gig lined up for the next day.
Pay scale: Extras make much less than speaking actors. And by speaking I mean even one line. This is why for the most part extras just react but don’t speak. I believe they can speak as a group (like cheering for someone), but no individual lines without being bumped up to actor status for that episode.
Not sure the conditions of their hiring – I assume most are on a day-by-day basis, although stand-ins and recurring extras might be hired on a more long term arrangement. And I assume there’s no exclusivity. If an extra gets a higher-paying speaking part elsewhere, I’m sure they’re free to take it.
On the other hand, extras can sometimes kill you. One idiot will be looking into the camera or not reacting and it distracts from the scene. So if you ever get to be an extra someday DON’T DO THAT. You’ll find your career is a very very short one. Someone else will be hanging out with George Clooney instead of you, and if that isn't a deterrent I don't know what one is.