Always wanted to be on the set of a major blockbuster? Being an extra might just be the best way to make that happen. But it's not all glamour and movie premieres—in fact, you probably won't be invited to the premiere at all. Read on to find out what it's really like to work as an extra in Hollywood.
The Pay Is Peanuts
They might work near the rich and famous, but extras don't actually make that much dough. If you're in the Screen Actors Guild, you'll earn the most: $145 for eight hours, and $27/hour for the next four hours, then $36 for any work over the 12-hour mark. But if you're not unionized, you're look at California minimum wage—just $8/hour, then $12/hour for the next two hours, and $16 hours for overtime beyond 10 hours.
Scheduling Is Unpredictable
Extras work when the movie's working, so hours could be literally anything. Seasoned extra David Chen (Gossip Girl, Indiana Jones, and more) puts it this way:
I’ve worked days that were 4 p.m. to 9 a.m., 5:30 a.m. to midnight, and even just a standard 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., occasionally. Your hours are completely undefined, meaning there’s no minimum or maximum. Some days could be one scene and only last a couple hours, or other days could approach the 20 hour mark.
It's Pretty Easy To Score A Gig
Since there are always projects that need a lot of people, and you don't need any experience to mill around, it's pretty easy to get hired. Once you start work as an extra, there's a chance you can move up to being a "core"—that's an extra with a backstory, like a student or a bike messenger, that appears in recurring scenes—or a stand-in. Stand-ins do just that. They stand their so that the lighting team and the rest of the crew can mark the set to get ready for shooting while the real actor is off doing something else.
Experience Isn't Always A Good Thing
Directors don't want to bring on someone to play a businessman if he played a pizza guy earlier in the film. Therefore, in order to get multiple days work on the same project, some professional extras fudge their experience in order to seem like fresh faces.
It's Not The Best Way To Meet Celebs
Lizzie Cahill worked as an extra for films like Gods of Egypt and Gatsby. She says some of the stars were really lovely (especially Tobey Maguire!), but on the set of Gatsby, the extras were told to leave Leo alone. She says, "We were told, ‘Don’t look at him, don’t speak to him, don’t go near him.’"
There's A Lot Of Down Time
From those of us who aren't in the business, movie sets sound like mystical hubs of glamor, full of hustle and bustle and bronzer. But in reality, they can be a bit boring at times. Another veteran extra, Ken Miyamoto, says to bring a folding chair:
"You know, the kind you bring to a soccer game that has a cover with a handle to sling around your shoulder. Best ones are those with foot rests that pull out. You'll be sitting in holding a lot, so best to be comfortable and maybe even get some shut eye."
You're Not Going To Get Discovered
There are SOOO many hopeful actors flocking to Hollywood these days. Casting directors don't go looking into crowds of extras to find the perfect face or the iconic voice to play their next big role. If that's what you're after, you're better off getting some good head shots and looking for solid representation.
It's A Great Way To Experience Life Behind The Scenes
So while it's probably not going to be you're lucky break, being an extra is a great way to experience being on a film set. Just being there might give you the chance you need to decide where you fit in the grand scheme of Hollywood. And just think—if the movie is a hit, you'll always have bragging rights.