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The Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Film and TV Extra

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The Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Film and TV Extra Powered By Docstoc
					The Ultimate Guide To Becoming A
Film and TV Extra
First things first, generally the term 'extras' isn't used professionally and instead supporting artists or
SA's is preferred. It's not something of huge importance but there are the few people who will be (overly)
offended at being called an extra, it's probably their way of feeling more important in their part of the
process. Don't get me wrong, SA's are very important, watching a film with empty streets and customer-
less cafés would obviously look a little silly and break the illusion of reality, but as a supporting artist you
are basically at the bottom rung of the film production ladder. If you have a problem with authority or
taking orders then this definitely is not for you.


A good place to start then, would be to inform you of the pros and cons of SA work, then you can make
an educated decision as to whether you think you can tough it out.


You will get treated like a second class citizen, it's just the way it works, there is a hierarchy on set that is
almost always put into practice, especially on the bigger budget productions. The film set is a busy and
high pressured place, the crew involved have so many important things to worry about it, the added
hassle of having to look after 150 extras is seen as just that, a hassle. You may even get some crew
members being a little bit rude to you, so if you are a sensitive soul, again maybe this isn't for you.


However that doesn't mean to say you will necessarily have a horrible time, if you can handle being
bossed around a little SA work can be a lot of fun. Last winter I worked as an SA on The Deep Blue Sea,
starring Rachel Weisz which was probably the most fun I have had on a set. Our scene in particular, took
place in an old English boozer, where we had to spend the day singing wartime songs such as 'How you
gonna keep 'em down on the farm'. Also what made the day so lovely was that director Terence Davies
was so nice and friendly. He got genuinely exited to see this old pub come to life with song, and was very
appreciative of our help and made his way around the room to thank us individually and shaking each of
our hands. It is not often that directors are so open and encouraging, but usually they are at least always
polite. A lot of the time you may not even see the director at all during filming, on very big budget shoots
they are usually sitting by a monitor in some far off corner or in a different room completely. As was the
case on the set of Hugo. My first day on set director Martin Scorsese was nowhere to be seen, partly as
the scenes I were involved in were filmed in a studio room without the main cast and were using only
green screen as a background. On my second day however the scenes were a little more complex with
bigger sets, one of which was a beautiful Victorian fairground, so Mr Scorsese made an appearance and
came out to say hello to us all. Obviously he is a very busy man and he didn't greet us all individually
(there were 300 SA's on Hugo), but it was a nice little extra to get to meet such an influential director,
even if it wasn't personally.


Something else you should be aware of is the hours. Most likely on studio films you will need to arrive as
early as 6am and if you don't drive this can be tricky. Because the tube doesn't open until 5-5.30am I
have had to get the night bus at 3.30am from North London to get the earliest train, as the main studios
are quite far from central London. Usually though there will be a shuttle bus from the train station from
Shepperton or whichever studio you are located at, so they will pick you up if the start time is a very early
one. Occasionally you will be asked to do a night shoot, these are not as common for SA's but be
prepared to work some strange hours. Also days can be long, my longest being sixteen hours, most of
which was outside in mid December. Days can be hard work, long and cold, you might have to stand for
long periods of time or sit around all day doing nothing. Which brings me to my next point, there is a lot of
waiting around, in fact it's mostly waiting around. It can take hours to set up shots and for actors to go
through hair and costume changes, then scenes often have to be blocked out before shooting even
begins. The film business is not always as exiting as people think. However if you're as big a movie geek
as I am you probably will get as exited at the little things as I did. The first big film in which I did SA work,
was last year on the film My Week With Marilyn, I literally spent the whole day walking up and down
Charles Street in central London, mostly in the rain, but I had a brilliant day. I was so fascinated to see
the huge lights and camera cranes, I loved getting to see all the vintage vehicles they brought in,
including an old double decker bus. What I was most exited about though was getting to spend most of
the day standing next to the lead actor Eddie Redmayne (told you I'm a geek).


Another thing to mention, if you are hoping to make SA work your career, then you might want to think
again, very rarely does anyone make a living from it. If you are lucky you might get a couple of jobs a
month but you may only get a couple of jobs a year. It is not a steady source of income (more on money
later). Just think of it as a fun hobby where you can make a little extra money. It is extremely rare to get
constant work, it happens only occasionally to very lucky people, I once met a woman who had been an
SA on Casualty for fifteen years, but this almost never happens. Also if you are an actor, hoping to get
your big break from SA work then again, it almost never happens that way, on very rare occasions, you
may get picked for a 'featured extra' role, which means a little more money and it's a little step up from the
regular SA. The best thing you can gain as an actor from SA work is just learning how sets work, you can
get to experience being a part of big productions and may even get to try out a little bit of acting, although
mostly reacting though rather than actual lines.

Moving on, I will now give you some pointers in how to get started in SA work. First of all you will need a
head shot. It does not have to be professional, just a very clear photo with your own digital camera will be
fine first of all. Use a white wall to stand in front of, make sure you are wearing a plain coloured top and
take a picture of your head and shoulders only. You may be asked to give a full length photo too, in that
case, stick again with plain clothing. As a supporting artist, in the majority of cases, your role is to blend in
to the background. Casting agents don't want to see someone with crazy hair and lots of make-up, most
of the time they want someone who can easily be styled into whichever period the film is based, whether
it's a period costume drama with plain make up and bonnets, or an eighties based production with bright
make up and crimped hair. Don't look like a character in your photo as it will limit what you get picked for.
However if you are already someone with a different kind of style, i.e tattoos or pink hair then there is no
reason why you can't get worked too, it may not be as often, but all different types of extras are needed. If
you have naturally something different about you, i.e very tall or very small, agencies will be quite eager
to add you to their books so they can have all bases covered, although like with everyone, work is never
guaranteed. What I'm basically saying is not to try and be something you're not in photos. Something else
to say about photographs is that when you go for a registration day with an agency there will usually be a
photographer there to take your picture, this may be free of charge or the price may be taken off your first
booking, the agency may even insist that your head shot is one using their photographer, so there is
really no point in getting professional pictures taken before joining agencies unless you can get them
done for free.


Usually you will have to fill out an online form before any kind of registration day. On the form you will
have to add your head shot and fill out a lot of details, including numerous body measurements and dress
sizes. You can add any special skills for example horse riding, skiing, dancing, singing, acrobatics, fire
juggling, the list goes on! They love it if you have any kind of official uniform such as police or nurse, if
you have vintage clothes from any decade or if you have vintage cars or motorcycles even better!


Once you have been added to an agencies books you are then ready to be put forward for jobs. The
agency will usually either text or call if there is a possible job for you, you will then be asked to call or text
back if you are available on the dates given. You will usually then talk to someone on the phone about
whether your head shot is up to date and if your hair is still the same as in the photo, they may then tell
you a little about the project. They will then tell you that you are pencilled in for the dates mentioned, but
this does not mean that you have got the job, only that you have been put forward for the job and you are
expected to keep these dates free. If you have been chosen for the work out of everyone that has been
put forward, you will get a text or call at a later date and they will tell you, you have been confirmed. Until
they tell you you have been confirmed do not take it for granted that you have been picked. I once even
got a first text from an agency that read "You have been selected by (name of the film) for the dates
8th/9th/10th May". Even saying I had been selected by the production company wasn't a confirmation. I
don't know why they do it this way, but until you have spoken to someone and asked them 'Have I
definitely got the job?' it can be quite difficult to know for certain. Even once you have been booked, dates
can change constantly and be pushed further and further back if the production is behind schedule. It is
also possible for scenes you are in to be cancelled all together. I had been booked for a scene in The Iron
Lady starring Meryl Streep, and the day before I was due to work I still hadn't been given a call time, I
then phoned up to ask what was happening and was told my scene had been cancelled. Nothing is
certain with SA work.


Once you have had that all important confirmation and have been given your dates. You will be required
to go in for a dress fitting. You have to be available for this dress fitting or you will not be allowed to do the
job. You will either have to go into the studio or to a more central location depending on the project. At the
dress fitting you will have to try on different possible costumes and also you will usually get hair and
make-up tests.


Now to let you know what a typical day is like on set. The night before, you will get a text with your call
time, this is the time you have to be on set for, these texts can arrive quite late, but you might want to call
up the agency to double check if you have not heard anything by the evening. You will arrive on time at a
crazy hour in the morning. If you are driving, look out for the florescent signs reading unit base to guide
you to the starting point. If you are on location it is usually pretty obvious where people need to gather, if
you are unsure, just ask anyone with a head-set on. If you are at a studio, the size of the place can be
daunting and confusing. There will be a reception so just ask where the supporting artists, of the film you
have been chosen for, are supposed to be. When you arrive in your designated area, there should be a
table where someone will take your name and give you a form to fill out. You can fill this out throughout
the day but don't forget to hand it back in or you won't be paid. You may get to go for breakfast next or it
may be after you are dressed, someone will let you know. When you do go into costume, hair and make
up, there will be an allocated area for each department and you probably will have to queue. There will be
someone there to let you know where they want you to go first. If you are based at a studio, the room
where you are dressed and made up may also be used as the SA holding area. If you are on location
there will be a room or even a bus especially for SA's to stay until you are needed.


Next is the waiting game. Sometimes you will be needed straight away, other times you may wait most of
the day until you are called. When the time comes that you are needed, usually it will be a 3rd AD (3rd
Assistant Director) who will be in charge of the SA's. You will have to follow the 3rd AD and listen very
carefully to their instructions. They will tell you where you will be sitting, or if you are in motion, they will
tell you your starting point or first position and then which direction you will be walking in. When they are
ready to go for a take, the will first say rolling, you do not need to begin your actions on rolling, this is just
a cue to let everyone know the camera has started recording. Next there will be a call for the background
action, this is your cue to start, then there will be a simple action for the main cast to begin. If you are
walking down a street for example and haven't been given an end point, you must keep on walking until a
cut is called, camera lenses are very long so they will be able to see you even if you are very far away
from the starting point. You will then be called back to your first position where you get to do it all over
again, many many times usually.


There will be a lunch break, it may not be a long one. There will be a van serving food, in studios there
will be a separate van for SA's and there will then be a specific area for SA's to eat lunch, this will be
signed, but you can always ask. After lunch it will be more of the same, waiting around to be called or
doing your thing on set. At the end of the day the director will call 'that's a wrap', which will mean you are
done for the day, but it's always best to double check with someone if you think you have finished. When
you are back in your starting room you will have to get out of your costume and put all the items of your
outfit back in the plastic bags or on the hangers you were given, then either leave it hanging on the rails
or give it to someone from the costume department if they are collecting them. Next you will need to get
your hair unstyled, usually the hair team like to do this themselves so they can collect any hair grips, pins,
accessories or extensions. Then last of all you just need to hand in your form to whoever you signed in
with or to whoever is in charge of signing out. Don't forget to take one of the copied pages of your form
home as a receipt. Then you get to go home!


Now for the bit you have been waiting for, the money. The amount you will get paid for SA work differs
from job to job. It can start at around £70 for a television production with ITV, up to around £120 for a
studio feature film. These basic payments are for a specific amount of hours, then there are extras which
can be added on top of this payment. You can get extra money for very early starts, you will always get
more money for overtime. You will get extra money if the job takes place on a public holiday., if you need
to get your hair cut by one of the hair and make-up team, as well as extra money for stand-in or double
work, providing your own costume, using your own car, using a skill such as horse riding and for any lines
you may be given to say. You will also get around a half days pay for the dress fitting.


Now to whether or not you should ever work for free. It is not something that I ever considered doing, as
being an SA can be hard work and long hours for very little respect. But in saying that there are a lot of
low budget films who just cannot afford to pay for SA's. If there is a production happening near you and
you think SA work would be a fun experience and something different to do with your free time, then why
not. Directors who get SA's for free will often be a lot more grateful for your help and will try and make it a
fun day for you. But if you wish to get into SA work regularly, you do not need to work for free. As an SA
you do not need any experience to begin, being chosen all has to do with the way you look and if you will
fit in with the production.

				
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