Film & TV

Foot in the Door: How to become a Film and TV Extra

Movie theatre cinema white screen

By Laura Dazon

It’s scary, but possible

The film industry is an impenetrable fortress in which only the luckiest can step. But there is one oft-forgotten way to make it on the sets of worldwide productions without having someone open the door for you. Don’t expect this article to teach you how to glide through the grand entrance.

Today, we’re going through the back door, baby: How to become an extra.

camera phone and measuring tape pixel art what you need to be an extra

Your Weapons

Let’s be clear: your willpower is not enough. You’re going have to revise your arsenal if you want to approach the beast. It starts with good photos of yourself; not the type you’d put on Tinder or Instagram, those will get you crushed immediately. Every casting agency has its own criteria, but generally, your first weapons will be a head and shoulder portrait and a full body standing shot. Bring along your phone (a UK number is essential), your email, your bank account information, and a valid ID. You’re almost good to go. The last thing you’ll need is measuring tape. You’re about to discover the size of (almost) every part of your body.

smuggler agent sign pixel art casting agent extra cinema

Your Smuggler

It’s time to meet your smuggler: the casting agent. You need someone to guide you through the land, a seasoned warrior who knows what to feed the beast. There are plenty of agencies out there, but don’t be overwhelmed. What you want to look for is an expert in casting extras. Start with Universal Extras; it’s free and easy for students to register, and they sometimes hold open castings in town where they will take your photos. You may want to have a look at Key Castings, PhoenixCasting, and Mad Dog, or anything you can find from the key words ‘casting’ and ‘extras in the UK’ on Google. Stay away from anything that makes you pay a registration or subscription fee for extra work. Don’t forget: being an extra is a job. You don’t pay your manager to be a barista, do you?

What it’s like

Now that your profile is complete, you wait. You can apply for jobs you think you’re suitable for and then wait again. Sometimes you receive a call from an unknown number asking what you are doing this Friday. Most of the time you won’t, but what are the odds exactly? I often hear people saying they’re not pretty enough to be an extra, but being an extra doesn’t have anything to do with beauty. Casting agencies are looking for people to appear in film and TV to represent the world as realistically and hence, as diverse as it is. Sometimes they will look for the exact trait you don’t like about yourself. Your skills are taken into account too; speaking another language or knowing how to juggle could be the very reason they call you. You never know what to expect when you land a part as an extra.

Sometimes you won’t even make it on-screen because you were cut out in post or because you were cast for one part of your body only. Shoutout to the time my hands achieved more fame than I ever will because they were the same size as the lead actress’; I’ll never receive a phone call as disturbing as the one time this unknown number asked me to send pictures of my hands.

treasure chest pixel art cinema extra

The treasures awaiting

Being cast as an extra could lead you anywhere; from an abandoned school in the countryside of Wales for a Channel 4 drama, to a concert stage for Bohemian Rhapsody. In an industry as thriving as the UK’s, there is space for everybody. It’s a fun occasion to be pampered by professional makeup artists and hairstylists and finally know what you would look like in a Victorian gown or a nurse uniform. You also pretty much get paid to wait, a lot. Between scenes you will have time to explore the sets and meet tonnes of cool people. If you’re lucky, you might even get to talk to a famous actor or actress. Don’t count on that though, chances are you’ll only see them from afar.

Trophy pixel art cinema extra

Now you’re (almost) a Star!

Now you’ve learned how to become an extra. Go ahead and experiment it for yourself! Then, months later, you’ll sit in the cinema to watch a movie you were part of, you’ll feel one of the most gratifying sensations running through your veins. Albeit minorly, you contributed to something larger than yourself. Surrounded by many passionate people from the film industry united together to craft art, you were this tiny yet essential cog in the matrix. You get to say, “I was there.”

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