Monday, May 01, 2006

So, You Want To Be An Extra?

Recently I got an email from a lady who wanted to try her hand at extra work. She asked me how to go about it and how the union worked. I thought I’d pass the information along, just in case somebody out there wanted to take up where I left off, filling the monstrous void I left behind.

Several years ago, there was a union for just extras, called the Screen Extras Guild. It apparently treated its members really well, and an extra who belonged to it could make a living if he/she worked regularly.

But a few years back, that union was absorbed by SAG, the Screen Actors Guild that all your favourite stars belong to. All the SEG members doing Extra work at the time were given the opportunity to join SAG. If you already meet SAG’s requirements from the work you did in the past, you may be able to forgo the hoops the rest of us jump through and simply pay the fee to join (currently around $1495.00).

Currently, there are three ways you can work: Union SAG, Union AFTRA, and Non-Union. If you’re not SAG eligible, then you’re back at square one with the rest of us. The crazy Chutes & Ladders game we have to play is to start out working Non-Union and try and become eligible to join SAG.

You do this by accumulating three SAG vouchers and then going down to the Guild, filling out the forms, and paying your fifteen hundred dollars. But herein lies the rub: how do you get your three union vouchers? Well, any number of ways, all involving being in the right place at the right time. You could replace a union extra at the last minute, or impress a director or A.D. and be given an upgrade, you could switch vouchers with a union guy, you could ask for a voucher and have pity taken upon you, you could be called to do reshoots and demand union pay for it, you could receive a SAG voucher by mistake, or the most common way, you could make friends with someone in a production and have them give you one, two, or all three.

It's irritating, but practically everybody gets SAG vouchers if they work at it long enough. In fact, some folks get upgrades and even lines of dialogue (which pays one heckuva a lot more than real work, let alone extra work). And, as I've said before, if you're pretty, you'll succeed quickly. And what are you doing in Little Rock anyway, with a face like yours?

You don't have to be beautiful to be an extra, though. If you have an unusual look, or are very tall or very thin or very ugly or are albino or are twenty-three but look thirteen, then you will probably get lots of work. Long hair, short hair, dark skin, light skin, beardless or facially hairy, there are casting agents looking for your look. The people who get the most work, in my opinion, are average-looking young adults that can pass for teenagers (since, as Wes Craven pointed out, there are no real teenagers in Hollywood).

I’d be the last to tell someone not to do extra work. I’ve been making my living that way for the past few months and have enjoyed it a great deal. Sure, sometimes the conditions aren't perfect, and often I've gotten up earlier than I would've preferred, and yes, you'll find pretentious, irritating and/or evil people out there, but that sort of stuff happens in most jobs, and you may make friends, obtain a cool story or two, and get to shake Dick Van Dyke's hand in this business. I'd probably do it indefinitely if I hadn’t made mistakes and enemies in the past and burned some bridges. Oh, and I plan to eat in the summer too, otherwise I’d still be doing it.

But if you know what you’re in for and want to go ahead, I’d advise you to get a calling service. They’ll book you on jobs (for a fee that usually amounts to one or two days of work) so you don’t have to do it yourself, and have contacts the average person doesn’t, to get you commercials and the like. If I could go back to the first day I tried extra work, I would have used a calling service from the very beginning. It would’ve saved me a lot of headaches and worry, as well as many empty wallets.

Otherwise, get yourself down to Central Casting, at 220 S. Flower Street, Burbank, CA 91502. They’ll take your picture, get your stats (height, weight, shoe size, inseam, hair colour, eye colour, texture and size of last bowel movement, hat size, jacket size, girth, etc.), and get you in their computer. After that, you can work as soon as the next day (I seem to remember that I actually booked myself the day I registered, on “The X-Files”). There are many, many casting companies, but Central is the biggest and baddest, and if you're not using a calling service, they're the one to hit.

Hope that helps,

Rish "The Human Database" Outfield

Coming up next: So You Want To Be An Adult Film Janitorial Staffer!

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