The life of a film extra

I have often wondered, while watching scenes from some film or TV show that takes place in a public setting, about the people who are seen in the background doing everyday things. How many are they paid professionals who do this as a living? When a superhero film was shot in Cleveland some years ago, they sent out an appeal for people to appear as extras for a few street scenes and I think many responded just for the chance to be in a film. It involved just hanging around a lot, apparently. I don’t know if they got paid at all.

But some people are professional extras who appear over and over again and I wondered how good a living it was. One of the people who does this has made a compilation of his appearances.

I think the thrill of seeing yourself must be at least part of the reward, at least at the beginning, though I think that would wear off eventually.

Ricky Gervais had a series some years ago called Extras about the lives of such actors where he played one of them, always trying to move up the ladder and get to speak at least one line which I think entitles you to a credit and likely more pay. To do so, he was always schmoozing the stars and the directors and anyone who might be able to give him the necessary boost. In addition, he would try to make himself more conspicuous in the scene so as to get noticed and thus get a break that might lead to bigger roles and perhaps stardom. Paradoxically, this would often result in him getting fired or his scene getting cut from the final product because the director did not want the extra to be noticeable. Although the show was a comedy, it felt somewhat sad to me that someone would strive so hard for what seems like such a small reward.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Didn’t you stick around for season 2 of Extras? Gervais’s character gets the reward -- a starring role in his own sitcom. It being Gervais, the character is depressed at the lowbrow and repetitive nature of the comedy, even as he becomes enormously recognisable and successful. But it’s pretty explicit even in the first series that being an extra isn’t his ambition -- he wants more, and gets it.

    I know a couple of people who’ve made decent money on the side working as extras. You generally can’t live on it, but if you’ve the time and the patience it’s a pretty good supplemental income, plus you get to rub shoulders with the stars, if that’s what floats your boat. Nobody I know who has done it has parlayed it into a successful acting career, but at least one has made a career in theatre and television production based in part on contacts made at the catering truck.

  2. Trickster Goddess says

    I used to do work as a film extra before I moved into working as crew. It was sometimes fun, but frequently boring, sitting around in the holding area for long periods of time between shots where you are needed. I always took a book along to work and enjoyed the thought that I was getting paid to catch up on my reading.

    Once I got called in on a show and was there for 15 hours but ended up not being used on set even once. I did get entire book read, though. Not bad for a day’s pay.

    After I retired from the industry, a few years later I ended working as an extra on a TV movie about the TV series “Charlie’s Angels”. Appropriately, background character I played was a film crew worker on the show within the show.

  3. Curious Digressions says

    Professor Google says between $8 and $22 for 8 hours plus overtime. Low rates for non-union. High rates for union.

  4. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Yes, they pay. Usually minimum wage. But they feed you 🙂

    If you can provide acceptable costumes, or have a needed skill you get more.

    I did one movie (which has done wonders for my 6 Degrees score because it had Robert Redford and was directed by Sidney Furie). I was a blonde hippy chick in the background … among a herd of them. It was a whole lot of sitting and waiting in the summer heat. But it paid more than waitressing and I could read while I waited.

    They have had several casting calls locally, but until they want a grumpy old gringo lady I’m kinda out of luck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *