What I used to do to pay my bills in 2007

Background work

What is background work?

Background work is basically someone who is hired to work in the background of a television show or movie.  Such as a large amount of people needed to fill up a restaurant or bar to make the scene come alive, and the show appear more believable or real.  Can you imagine an actor, acting with no one else there on location?  How that would look?

What does it mean to be an extra?

Well, as answered in the first question, this is someone with a very small role in a crowd scene (typically), or some people just to fill up the background that are playing the part of the rest of the community that live in that city or town during that year that the story has been written for.

How much can a person make being an extra?(on average)

On average, extra’s earn about $100 per day after the agency fee.  This would pretty much be a guarantee if you at least have a twelve hour day.  Which, there are a lot of those.  Does this sound like your dream job, so far?

Can extra work become a fulltime job?

Yes, work as an extra can become a fulltime gig if you have signed up with more than one agency, and you regularily get what’s known as continuity.

What about the union and union pay?

When I was working as an extra some years ago, I believe that the union pay started at $23 per hour, I think.  And $30 something per hour for stunts or other special skills like stand in work.  “Standing in” for an actor who just can’t be there that day.  Also, once you join the union there are union dues that have to be paid once a year.

You mentioned a fee.How much is the agency fee?

The fee that you pay your background agency is usually 15% from each day’s pay.  There have been a few that have charged 10%.

Why should I do extra work.Why not just become an actor?

Now, this is a good question.  Well, overall you can learn a lot just by being on set.  You can see most of how the process works, how the actors are placed, the different cues that you need to learn, and all the work that goes into making a film.  I stated that you can learn most of the process on set because, by the time that you are on set you would have missed all of the preparation that it takes for an actor to be ready to shoot his or her scene.

Read my blog post ACTING SCHOOL to learn more about acting classes.  Some of the acting classes that I recommend are The Professional Actor’s Lab and The Actor’s Foundry.

So, for some of you out there who have been working as an extra in the industry before…you already know that sometimes it can be fun and other times it can be annoying.  But, for all the new people out there this is for you.

What are some of the good things about background work?

Well, to me some of the good things about doing background work were that it was very social, and most days there wasn’t a lot to do.  Some days it was just hanging out and eating.  I did meet a lot of people, and I made a few friends along the way.  Some of them I still keep in touch with to this day.  The other things that make this work fun are some of the roles that you can get.  I mean role just as dressing up in an outfit and being in a scene that you would of never been in if you weren’t an extra that day.  One of the films I was in, I believe it was called ZOOM.  That may be a working title, but anyway, I got to play a desert soldier and had a helicopter land right in front of me.  Almost at my feet!

Another thing that was pretty cool was that I got the chance to see Robin Williams in action while he was filming one of his movies in Toronto.  I was working as an extra that day, and playing an audience member watching his campaign speech as a politician.  I can’t remember the name of the movie right now, but it was a lot of fun because in between takes he would just come out from backstage to be his funny self and entertain us.  I’ve never seen any other actor do that.  It was a free show.

Another movie that I had the chance to work in was Hairspray.  And that was a lot of fun too.

I was booked for 16 days in a row for that movie, with long hours too.

Take a look at one of my first appearances as an extra here in the movie HAIRSPRAY(around 1:39)

What are some of the bad things about background work?

One of the bad things about background work that almost everyone hates is the early call times.  Just about everyone that I knew back then hated the 5 am start time.  But I didn’t mind so much.  I knew where all the 24 hour coffee shops were.

Basically, it’s anything goes with this kind of work.  You could be standing outside as a pedestrian in the cold winter air for hours, night or day, just waiting to hear the word action so you can cross the street for your scene.  Then it’s back to 1.  First position and repeat.  You could be doing that all day in the winter snow.  And that is what I think people hate the most is the bad weather.

I guess what would also be considered as a bad thing would be the pay.  Considering all this, the weather, and if you are still working as non-union, some people complain that the pay is not enough.  Well, I guess it probably isn’t but I was paying a lower amount for rent at that time in 2007.  So it wasn’t too bad.

Read about some of the success I had later on here. 

Overall, I had a lot of fun working as an ex  back then.  And sometimes I do miss it.  Even though I’ve had some horrible weather conditions, it was good to me.

-Steve Hopkins