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Next time you’re watching your favourite programme on the telly, keep an eye out for those non-speaking background TV and film extras that help to make a scene more realistic.
Pretty much every programme or film has them and they’re not trained actors. In fact, they’re ordinary people like you and me!
Now you know that you’re probably wondering how they got these parts?
It’s a lot easier than you might think – and there’s good money involved!
If you fancy trying your hand at becoming a TV or film extra, here’s what you need to know to break in.
Finding a TV & film extras agency
First of all, you’ll need to sign up with a few extras agencies. These aren’t hard to find – you can usually find ones in your area with a quick online search. Then you’re ready to get the ball rolling!
You don’t have to limit yourself to just one agency. Most of them will expect you to be signed up with other agencies too. Just be careful not to double book yourself for jobs on the same date(s).
A word of warning: not all extras agencies are the real deal and some will, unfortunately, be trying to fleece unsuspecting newbies.
Reputable agencies won’t ask for money (more on this later!). It’s worth doing a bit of digging to check that they really have worked on the programmes and films they claim to.
A few reputable film extra agencies we know of are:
Approaching extras agencies
Once you’ve picked out some extras agencies that look like good bets, it’s time to apply!
Impress them with some good headshots and body shots so they have a very good idea of what you look like. Professional photos are great if you can afford to get these done but you won’t be disadvantaged if not.
If you’re looking for some budget shots, ask a friend or family member to take your photos (in natural light). Or approach a local college and see if their photography students are in need of volunteer models.
Some of the details you may need to apply include:
- Date of birth (and the age range you could realistically play in background scenes)
- Height, weight and vital measurements
- Any unusual distinguishing features you have (including tattoos and piercings)
- Any talents or skills you have (that could be used in background scenes – such as playing sport or even just driving!)
- How far you would be willing and able to travel for jobs
Do I have to pay to become an extra?
Reputable ones will not ask you for any kind of payment upfront.
So they can make some money, most extras agencies will charge fees of around 15 per cent for representing you.
The yearly fee for being included in their casting books and database is often taken from the money you earn in your first extras job. If you don’t land any extras work, you won’t be charged. Simple as that!
It’s important to know this before you start contacting extras agencies as some do unfortunately ask for money upfront and don’t put you forward for any jobs.
How much does an extra get paid?
A basic day rate for a film or TV extra generally comes in at around £84, plus travel expenses. If you’re working over 9 hours, overtime comes into play and the money is more generous for working through the night.
If you can nab an extras job with one of the big TV channels, here’s what to expect.
BBC have a base rate of £86.40, while ITV is a bit lower at £73.16.
You can get higher pay in certain situations – especially if you’re willing to do things like work on public holidays or make changes to your appearance (a haircut, for example).
In theory, extras who aren’t union members can be paid less so if you plan to get a lot of work as an extra, it’s worth protecting yourself by becoming a member.
What skills do I need to become an extra?
Here’s the great thing about being an extra. You don’t actually need any acting experience to get your foot in the door. Most TV or film extras have non-speaking parts so you’re not expected to be RADA trained before you can be cast!
That doesn’t mean everyone will be a good fit though. You’ll need to be reliable, punctual and good at taking directions, for starters.
Having a thick skin also helps since a lot of your success as an extra is going to be based around your look.
Chances are, you’re going to be perfect for some jobs and totally unsuitable for others! This is par for the course with extras work as casting agents are usually looking for specific looks when they’re hiring extras.
Do I need to be attractive to be an extra?
While extras work does tend to hinge on whether you fit the look, you definitely don’t need to be model material to land jobs.
They’re usually looking for ordinary, everyday people to use in the background of scenes. So if that’s you, you stand a good chance of being put forward!
What is the tax situation as an extra?
You’ll need to register yourself with HMRC as self-employed if you want to get started as a TV or film extra. As of 2014, extras are considered to be self employed for both tax and National Insurance (NI) purposes.
If you have other income and that takes you above the personal allowance, any money you make as an extra will be taxable.
So now you know how to dip your toes into the world of TV and film extras, what are you waiting for? Casting agencies need people from a wide range of backgrounds to be used in scenes – and this could be you!