Wednesday, January 30, 2019

EP108: What’s it like to be an Extra in Hollywood?


A great entry-level job in the industry is becoming an extra – the background people you see in movies and TV shows.  Ken explores that world, the requirements, pay, future, how to get one of those jobs along with some stories including who was “that girl” on the MASH opening credits?


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13 comments :

thomas tucker said...

I've always wanted to know who the blonde girl is in in the opening scenes of Goldfinger, after the titles. She swims by the plate glass wall of the underground swimming pool at the Fontainebleau Hotel after the famous aerial shots. Anybody know?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Don't get me started on extra work. (Or as they prefer to be called, "background actors.") To quote Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." I did have some fun as an extra. I learned a lot about the industry. I got my SAG card through extra work. Which was simultaneously a blessing and curse. No wonder so many SAG extras break the rules by working non-union.
But, I won't go into that here. Sometimes they treat the animals on a set better than they treat extras. And, while I hate playing the "race card," if you're white with a mainstream look you'll get much more work than if you're ethnic. The vast majority of my jobs were relegated to Hippie, homeless and Indian i.e. Native American. Age is also a big factor in how many jobs are open to you. Although, from what I understand it's SLIGHTLY better now. Proceed at your own risk. Some people can actually make a living at background acting. A few even work enough that they qualify for union health insurance. But most DON'T. That's why you run into so many FORMER extras. Extra work can burn you out quickly. Even if you work often.
M.B.

Carson said...

My favorite Al scene on Cheers was the episode where Cliff is undergoing electric shock therapy for his annoying personality. Somehow Al gets the remote for the electric unit and starts shocking Cliff and says, "Dance mailman!"

Robert Forman said...

I lived in Los Angeles for many years and have been in areas where TV shows or movies have been shooting on location. On a few occasions some member of the crew was asking various people including me if we wanted to be in the film in the background. I always declined figuring it would be an all day affair with no payment except, perhaps, refreshments and a chance to be around celebrities which didn’t interest me. Is this the same thing as an “extra” or is there some other term for it? Is this something you have encountered?

Steve D. said...

The higher pay rate is for union/SAG members. The lower rate is for non-union ones who get paid California minimum wage. All background can get rate "bumps" for things like smoke, fire, water,wardrobe changes on the shoot. They all get over time after 8 hours.

Max Clarke said...

Sinatra!

Al was great, but his most important line - one that actually meant something important to another character - came in the episode, CHEERS: The Motion Picture.

Won't give it away, but Woody faces a crisis. At the end of the episode, when Woody has a question, Al says, "Don't mention it, kid!"

Andy Rose said...

Speaking of extras and seemingly simple tasks... I was an extra in a movie police station scene. There's a throwaway line in which the main cop insults another officer, who just glowers and flips him off. The script gave the insultee a Hispanic-sounding last name, so the AD selected the first extra he saw who looked vaguely Hispanic. On Take 1, that guy gave the lamest, most awkward attempt at The Finger I have ever seen. It turned out the extra was Greek, and basically fresh off the boat. He had no concept of what it meant to flip a person off... not even the mechanics of how to extend the middle finger. It took more than a dozen takes, and by the end, every single person on set was desperately trying to teach this poor guy how to flip the bird.

Background story #2: I was a pedestrian on a TV show in which a woman's skirt was flipped straight up by a sudden gust of air, a la Marilyn Monroe. We were all supposed to act surprised and then laugh at her. But the action was several feet downstage from my mark, so I knew I probably wasn't going to be on camera. All of a sudden, a PA grabbed me and switched me out with the guy who had been closest to the actress during rehearsal. No explanation, but great, I'm sort of on camera now. Later on, I asked around to figure out why I got pulled up. It turned out, the original guy was a Baptist youth minister. He wanted to be an extra on the show because he knew his kids watched it and would get a kick out of it, but he backed out once he realized that his one moment of fame would feature him gawking at an attractive woman's exposed panties.

Blair Ivey said...

I know a guy who broke in off being an extra on 'Grimm'. It can happen.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Thanks for the mention, Ken.

A million years ago, I worked as a nightclub comic by night. By day, I worked for a time as a casting director for extras at Fox when Fox had a casting department. I actually cast some of the extras on the MASH movie. It’s a long and winding story about how I became an extra on TV’s MASH. Suffice to say, it was the beginning a nine-year relationship that helped me learn, grow and guest as an actor on many other shows, pilots and a few movies. My relationship to the crew, actors, extras, writers, producers, even visitors to stage 9 was a deeply rewarding and positive experience in my life. I arrived at MASH as a young, brash nightclub comic and left as an adult.

If you want to become an actor, producer, director, cameraperson, etc., working as an extra on a set is a much better place to learn how it all works than working at Macy’s.

So sign up with Central Casting and go have an adventure!

Mike Barer said...

I loved that segment, my wife and I were in the crowd at Husky Stadium in the movie, Prefontaine, about the great Oregon runner whose life ended tragically. It was shot in Seattle, even though it was suppose to be Oregon. They had a public casting call, which must rankle the people who do this for a living.

Andy Rose said...

@Mike Barer: Large crowd scenes with unpaid extras typically do not take away any paid work from others. The large crowds are only there for filming a few very wide shots. The close-up shots of the same scene will be filmed at a different time with 100 or so paid extras. They will spend the whole day moving from section to section of the venue, filling up whatever small portion will be seen on camera in each shot.

I was once background on a low-rated drama that was filming a football game scene inside a real NFL stadium. It was a very expensive location to rent, so they had to shoot as many scenes as they could quickly with as few extras as possible. Over the course of one filming day, I played a fan of one team, a fan of the other team, a security guard, a sideline reporter, and a guest in a luxury box.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I was an extra in an episode of The X-Files. It was a first season episode; Miracle Man. If you look closely, you can see me in this clip. I am walking in a graveyard and wearing a hooded jacket @00:10
https://youtu.be/h23ZlYFzO7k

In the scene I stand close to Dana Scully, played by Gillian Anderson; she was so pretty, with those bee-stung lips of hers! *sigh*

Carter Burger said...

That's funny cause I always key in on the blonde running behind Kathy. I guess the grimace on her face is because she's trying to catch up to Kathy in the lead?