Ive lived in New Orleans since Oct 2017 and one of the 1st jobs I worked was at a festival. I got to know several locals during the long work weekend. My main line of inquiry was what did they do for work after the festival. Several people said they regularly worked as a movie or TV extra on days off. No way!
Its true, I was told about this website where you fill out some info and submit pics, head and bodyshot. Jobs would appear with descriptions of what was needed physically, basic info such as ‘need people to play high schoolers or business looking types,’ as well as stand-ins for the main actors so they can set a scene up before they shoot it with the stars. Some calls required extras to bring their cars boats or other vehicle. Think about the many roles in movies and there are just as many roles hanging out in the back of the scene making it look real. New Orleans has a huge movie and TV industry. Everyday something is shooting somewhere in the city.
It took a bit of applying, making this page a daily activity to respond to calls I qualified for. To date I’ve been on 5 sets. The big one was NCIS New Orleans, thats the one I heard had a lot of regulars as well as a lot of the extras I met had worked on the set too. You could be a regular background actor I discovered. Most were not pros, they just looked like a lawyer or judge maybe a bartender. There is a certain look to a college basketball coach. Admit it sometimes people look like their jobs. I get stopped in life and talked to often because I look like I know something. For sure if I am at Target someone will ask me a question even though I am not wearing red and khaki. I also have not worked for Target in over 20 years.
- The on set requirement is all day or night, literally.
When you sign up for background the 2 rates Ive seen are for 8 or 12 hours. Only once have we wrapped early for a 12 hr shoot which is good. You get paid in full even if the shoot doesnt last the full 8 or 12 hours. You get time and a half if a shoot goes over, which usually happens. You get more if you have to do anything extra like say dialogue or wear a costume. That is the next thing I hope to get do.
2. You won’t make much money unless you are union.
This was pretty startling how little we made per day only about 100$. There are ways to get bumps as they call them, wearing costumes, speaking roles or specialized background roles like a basketball player or referee so those people get a few dollars more per day. I have heard of unionized extras. On the website it has a box to check if you are in SAG. Not sure how one joins an extras union or if it is a part of the actors union. I dont feel like an actor but I guess I sorta am. Maybe theyll pull me out to say a line or walk in front of the camera, have a moment.
3. Meals, snacks are included but guarded.
I must say Ive eaten rather well on set. They usually have bevs out coffee teas or juice. Pasta rice salads and chicken, oh lots of chicken for meals. On my first set I learned there are 2 different food lines one for talent and crew another for extras. My 1st encounter with the dual lines had the crew line with breakfast trays still out. These were full of eggs bacon potatoes etc so I got a plate and filled it up. A lady came over and told me to not eat that food ‘its for talent.’ I pretty much ignored her and just said ok ok Im leaving while I scooped food onto my plate. I watched them throw the trays of food away moments after I had eaten! Why do people care? I dunno but there is always a salty food and bev guard who will insist that you cannot have anything from the tables of food to go over to a coffee maker and water jug.
The crew will also be happy to show you how much better their food options are as well. They all seem to have fancy water sports drinks or carbonated bottles while we get an orange cooler full of ice and water. One set had major chain delivered coffee while we used instant via a coffee maker. These new fangled coffee makers can use both grounds or pods which could have also been purchased at the same place as the premade coffees. I also dont know how the volume discount isnt considered. If crew can only eat 5 lbs of slaw but you get a discount if you order 10 lbs, then open it up to the extras. My latest encounter was the crew had grilled option. Usually fish I understood as I waited directly next to the grill. I overheard several people ask ‘What fish today?’ which I took to mean they had fish regularly. Enough to wonder what type of fish it was they were eating.
3. Not too many big stars around.
I suppose stardom these days is relative. Some TV shows can have more fans than a film. Biggest names I saw so far on set were Tom Arnold Gabriel Bryne Scott Bakula each on a different set. I did have an adrenaline surge moment when I saw them but it passed when I realized what do I say to them? Theyve heard it all by now I am sure plus they are working too. They want to wrap just as much as everyone else. I feel it is best to not talk to or take pics with stars though some do. Its fun playing who is that person with the other extras if you cannot recall an actor’s name or what other films or tv shows theyve been in.
4. You have hours and hours with nothing to do and nothing going on
The most frustrating thing is that you are told to arrive around 3 but they wont start shooting until 7 or so. Yeah it takes over an hour in line to get checked in then employment vouchers filled out finally all paperwork is then checked by another person. Pretty much there are 3-5 people working to get hundreds of extras onto the set. Typically I have to see make up hair and wardrode before I get on set. You always wish they had several more people around to speed things up. I now bring headphones and a book as part of my bag for shoots. Ive read 100+ pages in one go on set and at no point was I needed to do anything. Just hours of uninterrupted do nothing time. I just tell myself I am being paid to read and occasionally do something.
5. You dont have to participate, really.
For the most part 95% of people follow the orders and work a scene. Others sit in the seats or walk around the set. It is completely possible to not work but get paid. Typically you can leave set to step outside for a smoke perhaps hide in the restroom. If you stay seated in the same spot too long youll get called out eventually. Hey fill in this empty seat here. Go join the others please. Of course there are people who are over enthusiastic while shooting. Theyll dramatically emote or pose whatever they can to get on-screen. I guess they get to add that scene to their resume and IMDB page. Things work both ways so put into this whatever effort you want it will be ok.
6. Few of the crew knows what is going on. Especially when we will break or wrap.
For real not even PAs or anyone with a radio knows what is going on. Theyve shot a scene 3x and done the same thing each time only to be told to do something else or why are you doing it that way? One person will say go there another will say stay both have previously given correct instructions before. Sometime a 3rd person comes in and overrides 2 others instructions. ‘Extras listen to me!’ If you ask someone where something is youll likely be told wrong or to go find someone else. One has to adopt a go where told mode. No question just walk in the direction they point you to.
7. Every direction gets repeated repeatedly.
Yes they do yell action, cut and all that. They also yell,
“Quiet! Shhhh! Mark! Sound!
The only thing people really should know about what to do when they are not shooting is to be quiet. Usually the actors and directors rehearse a scene to ensure the dialogue works which angle looks best blocking shadows lots of things to consider. Few things are as loud as crew yelling “Shhhhh! Quiet! Settle down!” 10x. I took notes the last time I was on set and here is what they yell
Back to 1! this means go to where you started.
Rehearsing! this means do not talk the actors are running through the scene with action to see how it looks and feels on camera. If they can get this down quickly everyone can leave.
Sound! Just a sound check for levels usually for quiet dialogue in a loud crowd.
Set! get ready in your 1st position.
Roll Sound! exactly what it means, they are recording the area.
Action! movement. Usually a guy or gal will tell you the direction they want you to move. Beats are important and are used. Wait 5 beats then walk that way is a direction I have heard more than once.
8. Tiny things matter.
There are so many jobs and departments on set I cannot keep up. Makeup hair wardrobe lighting props but yet more. Each one has several people doing things but most of the time they have too many people. Most are standing around thinking of things to do. As a result minor things are noticed and questions posed. Any logos or labels are removed from clothes. No real brands are displayed so they make up fake schools or brands. Ive seen many times wardrobe putting tape on a shirt or cutting off a pant logo. Mind you we are so far away from the camera it is unlikely they could read anything much less a logo or label.
Hair and makeup always are walking around daubing more foundation fake blood or powder. If I have a nice shirt you better believe someone has asked to steam it. Its amazing what some people do for a living. You may think doing nothing is fun but man try just walking around for 12-16 hours 5 days a week. Of course you will figure out little things to do to occupy your mind. On set most everyone is trying to stave away boredom. This extends to and explains the food monitors. The extras who call out other extras for minor infractions or to shut up between takes. I just walk around the set pausing if I near a camera or TV. Sometimes Ive been able to watch them rehearse a scene and work things out. Lighting is by far the largest concern or they make it out to be as they always want to throw up a shade or add a color filter over a light.
9. A lot of extras are strange. Some are clearly on the spectrum.
Maybe this confirms things for some but oh yeah extras are a strange bunch. Some are retired and doing this for fun. Others are college students and are doing this while reading or drawing. There is always 1 amazing drawer on set it seems and throughout the day they sketch draw and shade nearly complete comics.
And then there are the special ones. These often wander off or make loud comments to themselves. The last set I was one a guy just walked up to a group of us talking about old action figures I think it was. To no one he announces his dad builds Star Wars legos and they are cool. Oh ok sure hey that is cool. Also out of context and the group he is trying to talk to is discussing other things. I overhear this sort of awkward exchange at least once per set. I think that is to be expected when these types of jobs, jobs with the only requirement is a pulse and to get to set by a certain time.
10. Overall it is a fun positive day especially if you enjoy movies
Ive always enjoyed going to the movies marking several big life events around certain movie releases. Its pretty great for me to see how they shoot basic stuff like double camera set ups lighting concerns and audio. Also the amount of people needed to make it all happen is staggering as well. Hundreds of people from costumers makeup security catering even medical are all working on what could only be a few minutes of time on a movie or show. Thousands of dollars per day for an eternal moment or the scene could be cut and not used.
Every set was pleasant and happy too. Lots of thank yous and please. Even from the directors though you know they have to be direct so they have a weight to their tone. The last set I was on the director was telling bad jokes on the mic. Hey they were moving stuff around so why not cut loose a bit? Its not for everyone but if you enjoy movies then check into working as an extra. Most major cities have some sort of casting company. I get out to set and work all day while it rains or is 108° so its a better deal than just hanging out inside all day.