Be A Movie Extra

Want a fun job as a movie extra? Movie extras get to see the stars and how films are made from the inside.

As Demi Moore approached and passed by, she smiled slightly in my direction. At least that's what I thought. She wasn't as tall, as larger-than-life as she is on the big screen. Since I didn't know then who she was, that didn't bother me: I was glad to be standing outside her trailer anyway.

What was I doing outside Demi Moore's trailer if I didn't know her from Eve? I was a movie extra doing my job, what extras the world over do so well: waiting. In this instance, waiting behind the building to be called back to the set for the nightclub dance scene.

And Demi was doing what actors and actresses do, walking from her trailer to the set to star in yet another motion picture, after daubing on some makeup, adjusting her hair, or changing into a different outfit.

Being an extra on a motion picture is an interesting, but also boring job. Not as glamorous as being Demi Moore I imagine, but it gets you closer to the famous actors and actresses than is possible otherwise. Also--it lets you observe at close-hand how films are made.

If you don't know what a movie extra does, rent a movie at the video store and watch the people in the background behind the main stars. If the scene is in a restaurant, watch the people coming or going, or eating at the other tables. These people are the extras. Just like the main actors, extras are often given some simple "motivation" by an assistant director, such as: "you are eating in this restaurant with an old friend, then you excuse yourself from the table to go to the men's room." This keeps you focused and not so "star-struck."

But how did Demi and I come to this crossroads? Two weeks before, I had heard on the radio they were to film a motion picture in my seaside community and the casting department was looking for extras. All "types" were needed.

A friend had been an extra on a picture about Robert F. Kennedy. He turned up in the final film as a Secret Service agent standing beside the steps of a helicopter on the White House lawn. In that film, the casting department sent out a call for "young people and Kennedy types."

You get a job as a movie extra by showing up at a "casting call." This call may be published in the newspaper or appear in an advertisement on radio. At the casting call, the casting people put the prospective extras in a room, and--depending if they are looking for specific types--they ask one or more prospective extras to come forward and look you over. Occasionally the director is there too, or may appear briefly.

Just like sports team, there may be a first "cut," in which they eliminate some of the prospects from consideration. They may tell you to go to dinner, and ask some of you to come back for a second look.

At this point in the film schedule, you typically aren't given much information about the picture to be made, so who knows what they are looking for? And you may be just the type. In my case they needed many extras, so just about everyone who was available to work was considered.

Being a movie extra pays $45-$75 a day. Sometimes extras are paid by the day, and sometime an hourly rate, say $5.15 an hour. With more movies being filmed on location, outside of Hollywood, it is possible a film company will turn up in your neighborhood soon, The work is easy enough, if you know how to wait well.

As a movie extra, what sort of things do you wait for? For the light crew to set up the lights. For the sound crew to snake various large black cables out the false back of a Ford Bronco. For the actors to do a scene seven times (takes) in a row, and then the director shouts, "Coming around!" This means all the lights and cables and actors and crew and extras move to the other side of the Bronco, and say the same seven lines over again.

For the benefits I have mentioned such as seeing the stars work at close distance, or seeing a hard-working film crew at work, you may enjoy being a movie extra. You won't get rich doing it, though there are those in Hollywood who do it quite regularly for a more or less steady income.

After a while, even Leonardo DiCapprio and Kate Winslet on the film Titanic, tired of the hours sitting in a cold tank of water filming take after take of the big ship sinking. Like all things worth doing well being a famous actor has it's mundane, humdrum side. At least I know being a movie extra does.

Still though, whenever they are showing "my movie," starring John Cusack and Demi Moore on TV: HBO, another cable channel, or even Network TV, people walk up to me (people I already know usually) and say:

"Hey! I saw you last night on TV!"

And that's something worth waiting for.

© High Speed Ventures 2011