You dream of working in films or TV.
Of working with the stars. You envision yourself on a movie set, aswirl with lights, cameras, technicians, costumes, make-up, fellow actors and actresses - and the director...
"Quiet on the set"
The boom mic sweeps overhead. The camera dollies forward...forward...closer...closer...and focuses on -
An impossible dream? Unattainable without a big-time agent? Can't happen without years of training, a degree from a hot-shot acting school and loads of experience?
Well my Hollywood Dreamer, I am here to tell you it ain't so. You
make your dream come true. And it is easier than you think - and you don't even have to learn "The Method", get expensive photos or have a resumé.
How is this possible? Don't all the other AWOL lessons stress the importance of training and experience; of hard work, and dogged determination to achieve success in the acting world?
Well...yes, all the other lessons stress that important stuff. It just so happens that this particular lesson does not.
Why? Because this lesson is about being an
(otherwise known as being a "background" player.) And being an
does not require classes, or expensive photos (inexpensive photos, yes - expensive photos, no.) or a big-time agent or any of the usual actor stuff.
What this lesson will
This lesson will not tell you
you need to know to become a background player. There are entire books that go into the background player business in detail. An excellent one is
"EXTRA" WORK for brain surgeons
. Although this book is primarily directed at LA bound actors, there is a lot of excellent how-to information useful to anyone, anywhere, who wants to do background work. Avoid scams, get detailed info about background player casting agencies, learn how to register, what to bring, what to expect and much more. Well worth the price of the book. It's also a lot of fun to read.
After reading this book, you will know how to get background player jobs (without getting scammed) and when you show up the day of your first background player job you will actually know what to expect, what to do and
what not to do
. So if you have a hankerin' to do background player work, do yourself a favor,
get the book
What this lesson
This lesson will give you some quick tips and info that will give you an idea of what background player work is all about.
So what's an "Extra" (background player)?
Well, you know in a show like
when the Frasier and Niles are sitting in the coffee house, talking and carrying on, while in the "background" are all those other people who drink coffee but who don't have any lines? Well, all those people in the
are "BACKGROUND PLAYERS". And they each got paid about $90 (if they were union actors) to be on the set that day and pretend they were drinking coffee and conversing with their partner.
Or like in
Xena, Warrior Princess
, when Xena is in a market place talking to Gabrielle and Joxer, while in the "background" various wretched looking people are walking past, shopping, selling their wares - but not saying any discernable lines? Well, those are background players too.
Or like in
Shakespeare in Love
; all the people standing in the audience watching
Romeo and Juliet
- all the audience members without lines? Yep, those folks were also background players.
Or like in
, all the happy passengers on ship and well wishers on shore as the Titanic embarked from the dock to sail toward her tragic destiny - Extras. Well, actually, only some of them were background players. a lot of them were computer generated images of people, not real people. Sort of like
. But that's a whole different issue that Hollywood will have to sort out one day.
So basically, an
is an actor who has no lines; who is hired to fill the set with the types and numbers of people one might expect to see if the setting were real - to make the scene seem more natural; passengers and crew on a luxury liner; shoppers and vendors in a market place; patrons in a coffee house.
So what's the money like"?
If you are a background player in an student or grad student film, don't expect to get any pay. You might get paid for independent film background player work, but you might not.
Background players in feature films and TV shows get paid to perform their modest roles. Not a lot, however. Union general background players get paid less than $90/day. Non-union background players get paid less than 1/2 of that.
Background player work is not regular. You can work for a few days, then not get another background player job for weeks.
I realize if you are 12 years old, living in Montana or Wisconsin and reading this, you will think that $90/day is a lot of money. Trust me, it is
. Especially in a place like LA. It is very expensive to live in LA. $90/day doesn't go very far.
, when you are just starting with background player work, you are not apt to already be a union member. So as a non-union background player, you will be making
less than $50/day
. It can take a very long time before you attain union status. Needless to say (but I am going to say it anyway,) actors who do background player work do not live in the lap of luxury. They are lucky to be able to afford a roof over their head.
Mostly, background player work is a way for struggling actor wannabees to make a few hundred dollars now and then so they can pay for groceries and maybe the rent. However, some people do it just for the fun of it; don't need the money; just like to see themselves in the movies and on TV.
Notice, at the beginning of this section I said "Union general background players get paid less than $90/day." Background players
earn more money under certain circumstances. Some of these are:
How much more does a background player get paid for each of these special circumstances?
Check out SAG's Rates for Extra Work site.
Special Ability Background Player
Performer specifically called and assigned to perform work requiring special skill, such as tennis, golf, choreographed social dancing (including square dancing), swimming, skating, riding animals, driving livestock, non-professional singing (in groups of 15 or fewer), professional or organized athletic sports (including officiating and running), amputees, driving which requires a special skill and a special license (such as truck driving but not cab driving), motorcycle driving (but not bicycle riding), insert work and practical card dealing.
Extra Performer used as a substitute for another actor for purposes of focusing shots, setting lights, etc., but is not actually photographed. Stand-Ins may also be used as General Extras.
Extra Performer who is actually photographed as a substitute for another actor. A General Extra who is required to do photographic doubling shall receive the Special Ability rate.
A Performer who delivers a speech or line of dialogue. An Extra Performer must be upgraded to Day Performer if given a line, except in the case of "omnies".
Any speech sounds used as general background noise rather than for its meaning. Atmospheric words such as indistinguishable background chatter in a party or restaurant scene.
Wet Work/Smoke Work
Body Make-Up; Skull Cap; Hair Goods; Hair Cuts
Damage to Wardrobe or Property
Personal Accessories - specifically:
- Golf clubs
- Tennis racquet
- Luggage (per piece)
- Skis and poles
- Police Motorcycle
- For props not listed, performer must negotiate a fee at time of booking.
As you can see, all this can get very complicated. See why I said it would be
a good idea to get the book
OK. So you want to try the background player thing.
How do you get the work? Well, mostly you need to be registered with agents who handle background player work.
Normally, an agent is a person who, through contacts and lots of time consuming effort networking, sourcing, and direct marketing, finds auditions for actors. If the actor gets a part, the producer contracts with the actor for compensation to the actor. The agent functions as a negotiator on the actor's behalf.
Extra work is a bit different. Agents function as a funnel. They amass huge files of people who want to do extra work. They are contacted by casting people who pay the agent a fee to send them extra candidates. Many agents who book extra work will charge a "registration fee". This should not exceed $25 - $35. Any more and you are being scammed. Some agents do not charge a fee to register extras. This is good.
YOU SHOULD NEVER PAY AN UPFRONT FEE OF ANY KIND TO AN AGENT FOR ANYTHING EXCEPT IF YOU ARE REGISTERING SPECIFICALLY FOR THE EXTRA WORK THE AGENT USUALLY HANDLES!!!
Registering does not mean you will automatically receive phone calls from the agent who will send you out to extra calls. You are competing with the many other actors who came through the agent's door before you and all those who come after you. You must regularly contact the agent to keep your name at the front of the line.
When contacted by casting people to send actors to an extra call, agents search their files of background players and contact the actors either directly, by placing the info on their "Hot Lines", or through an actor "calling service", and inform the actors of when and where to go for the call, what to bring and wear, etc.
You may or may not pay a percentage of your earnings as a commission. Depends on the agency you are working with and whether you are union or non-union.
On many low-budget, non-union productions, like student films and independent films, non-union actors might agree to work for no monetary compensation. Maybe agreeing to work for meal expenses and a copy of the film when it is completed.
If you can find auditions or find out about extra calls on your own, you can go and try to get a part. Actors, even those with agents, develop their own contacts, spending lots of time consuming effort networking, sourcing, and direct marketing in search of audition opportunities. If they get a role, they are their own negotiators - although background players don't have much to negotiate with, they should still know what they should be paid - especially if their status is upgraded from a regular background player to a featured background player or if some special skill is employed, etc.
How do you find out about background player work without an agent? The same way as for regular acting work. You develop contacts by networking and direct market yourself.
I strongly suggest you get the book:
"EXTRA" WORK for brain surgeons
Although this book mainly deals with the LA market, it is full of info actors can use to find extra work anywhere - how-to info: avoid scams, where and how to register, what to bring, what to expect, what to do, what
to do and much more.
So what should you bring to an agency?
Generally speaking expect to bring these things - but call the agency first. Each one has different requirements.
- A Piece Of Paper With This Info On It:
- Home Phone (Get An Answering Machine)
- Pager #
- Other Contact Numbers
- Social Security #
- Date Of Birth
- Age Range You Can Convincingly Play
- Union Status
- Ethnicity You Appear To Be
- Make, Year, Condition And Color Of Car
- Clothing You Own:
- Types Of Suits
- Police Uniform
- Nurse Uniform
- Formal Gowns
- Any Other Uniforms Or Special Wardrobe Items
- Wigs Owned
- Unusual Physical Traits (Body Piercings, Tatoos, Obvious Scars, Etc.)
- Will You Work:
- In Water
- All Night
- In Gay Scenes
- In Nude Or Semi-nude Scenes
- In Smoke
- Special Props You Own (Instruments, Sports Equipment, Etc.)
- Special Abilities You Have
- Current Photo Id
- Original Social Security Card, Or Receipt From Social Security Office, Or Official Copy Of Birth Cirtificate
- US Passport Or Current Alien Green Card
- 3 X 5 Color Photo (Matte Not Glossy Finish)
As you can see, being a background player is a bit more complicated than showing up somewhere and getting paid.
And speaking of showing up and getting paid...well, actually, this is the end of this lesson. If, after reading all this, you still think you want to give
a try, there is a whole lot more you need to know. A whole lot more than I can put in this humble lesson. Get the book.
"EXTRA" WORK for brain surgeons.