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Survival Jobs — Working as a TV Extra

June 14, 2012

TV Background Extra work is a great way to earn some extra money whilst auditioning or between contracts. Let’s be fair, you won’t be winning any Oscars for a background performance and even if you know which scene you’re in, you could blink and miss your moment of glory. However, a set is the perfect place to network with other actors, directors, producers and journalists. There are often a few ‘normal’ people who are extra’s who simply enjoy the experience as a change from the monotony of their banker/ receptionist/ housewife jobs. I even managed to earn my SAG card (which is when you can actually start to make real money and wish for overtime!).

The only requirements are that you are punctual, reliable and can follow direction. It helps if you have an extensive wardrobe of the favored ‘jewel tones’ and have registered with a casting agency such as ‘Central Casting’, ‘Grant Wilfly’ or ‘Sylvia Fay/Lee’  but  the rest is all persistence at applying. Most sets in NY are in Manhattan, Astoria or Brooklyn but they usually supply or reimburse transport if they want you to travel further (eg, ‘The Big C’ is often shot in Connecticut).
The flexibility is appealing for performing artists as you can literally apply the day before filming and do as much or a little as you like based on your availability. Normally it takes a whole day to shoot the appropriate scenes but if the audition scene is quiet, you might as well get paid to hang out on a TV set all day and catch a glimpse of your favorite celebrities. Be prepared to eat a lot though….there’s a fair amount of waiting around between takes and the snack table is always close by, filled with sugary treats!
8 Comments leave one →
  1. California Triple-Threat permalink
    June 14, 2012 1:38 pm

    The best part of extra work is craft-services! So much food for us starving artists to devour! That alone is worth the long and tiring hours. 🙂

    • The British Dancer permalink
      June 15, 2012 1:12 pm

      Background work and catering gigs helped me cut down my grocery spending a lot in New York!

  2. June 15, 2012 9:44 am

    Great screen pic! My husband works in extras casting right now, and he read your post today and said, “I think I recognize her…” Small world!

    • The British Dancer permalink
      June 15, 2012 1:13 pm

      That’s crazy! I did a lot back when I was in New York. However, there is definitely a potential follow up post about how the casting notices require a different ‘type’ in LA!!

  3. June 15, 2012 4:51 pm

    I do background work whenever I can because I hate normal desk jobs and it does provide a great chance to network with other actors. The audition scene can indeed get very quiet for long, scary stretches so it also makes me feel like I still have some involvement with the business even if I’m a blur in the background.

    The one thing I see and caution any new actor about is not to become complacent with background work. I see a lot of people who get booked often, make good money and forget about auditioning because they now have a steady job as background. Not the way to go if you want more out of your acting career.

    • The British Dancer permalink
      June 15, 2012 5:17 pm

      I agree completely. Fortunately, I have mostly used it as a filler job when I am waiting for a new contract to start. I also make the rule that auditions ALWAYS come first. Plus, I am focused more on my stage career, so it really is just a flexible way to make some money and see what goes on behind the scenes.

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