What is a Movie Extra?

Movies and television shows very often use people like props to create a background which seems like a real environment. The people who are needed to participate in such roles are known as background actors, background performers or most commonly movie extras. Movie extras are used in an attempt to make scenes in films and TV show appear fuller, richer and natural.

So what does a movie extra do in a movie or on television? The movie extras provide the rich tapestry of background performers in almost every scene. Regardless of the scene, location or time period, movie extras are used play the role of background fillers. You will see them as crowds at sporting events, students in the school hallway, patients in hospitals and diners at restaurants. Movie extras are the soldiers on the battle field and even the criminals in jail cells.

What makes movie extras different from actors, is by definition, movie extras never speak. When a movie extra is given dialogue, even if it's just one word, then the extra becomes an 'Actor'.

Jobs are available for movie extras in films or television shows whether they are a part of an acting union or not. Extras get paid in the range of $7 per hour for an audience job or $50+ for a 12 hour job for a non-union film to whatever the employer may decide to pay. All union jobs have to abide by the SAG agreement. SAG (Screen Actors Guide) has launched a new section called Background Performers. Therefore, if you want to be part of the union, then SAG offers some helpful information to becoming a movie extra.

SAG has sanctioned the New Entrance Requirements for Background Performers. Additionally, the National Background Actors committee has also approved replacing the three-voucher eligibility rule with a brand new points-earned system. According to this, there shall be two options to becoming a member of the Guild via movie extra work. The two options are: 1) Union (Covered) or 2) Non-union (Non-covered) work on SAG Signatory projects. The movie extras may also be eligible for earning membership points by being a part of other designated activities aimed towards raising the professional standards and supporting the basic aims of SAG.

Now that you have understood how to be a member of the Guild, you need to understand about how to get work and what to expect once you have work as a movie extra. To get work, you can visit any of the online sites which offer casting in movies. Other option is to approach the casting agents in your city for work.

So if you think you'd enjoy being in close proximity to your favorite actors and want to see yourself up on the big screen at the theaters or on a episode of your favorite television show, give the motion picture industry your best shot!
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Aimee Mitchell is an acting coach, short story author, community theater director and playwright. She has spent the better part of her adult life working with young actors and actresses. Copyright © Aimee Mitchell. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. Not to be reproduced or distributed.