When I tell people I’ve been an extra on Orange is the New Black, the first thing they ask me is, “OH MY GAWD, DID YOU SEE THE STARS?” And I tell them, “Yes…after waiting in Holding for seven hours.”
See, being a TV extra is about as unglamorous as the actual neighborhood of Hollywood. All those people you see (or don’t see) in the background of TV shows and Hollywood blockbusters? Yeah that’s me. Working as that inconspicuous passerby in a park or that person eating in the restaurant for a mere $8.00 an hour. But hey, when you’re living as a broke twenty-something in New York City, you put yourself through a lot of crazy things to make your rent that month – which explains why you might see me dropping it low in a “Paris nightclub” circa 2003 dressed like a Backstreet Boy on the latest episode of Orange is the New Black.
To date, I’ve been a TV extra five times through Central Casting. One time on set for a British reality show, I just ate dinner in the back of a restaurant and got paid double for it because it was after 11pm. Another time, on Law & Order, I had to fake-laugh over and over to a comedian making rape jokes. Another time, I played a high school student on The Big C and I “bought” cupcakes from the school fair. On Beat Bobby Flay, I clapped for four-hours straight for Bobby Flay’s contestants; My hands still hurt from that day.
Isn’t it just like living the dream of an A-list Hollywood actor!? If you want to get in on all this goodness, pay attention:
Registering to be an extra will be the easiest job interview you will go on. They literally take everyone (because they need short people, tall people, skinny people, fat people, white people, black people – all in order to mimic a real-life scenario). All you have to do is go to the Central Casting office, either in New York City or Los Angeles, for registration where you’ll fill out an I/9 and W-2 and get your photo taken. They’ll go over the rules and repeat approximately 1,000 times that you absolutely cannot take pictures on set or say one word to the main actors (like, let’s put celebrities even more on a pedestal, why don’t we!). They’ll explain how being a TV extra is just as important as a big role because it’s you who really sets the scene for the main actors to be able to perform more naturally.
The people I’ve encountered who have worked with me as extras range from school directors to college students, with the majority being actors, who are in need of a flexible day job to afford rent in New York or LA. Psh, I can say that again. If you have any inkling in your soul that tells you you want to be a TV extra, try to have some kind of self-awareness or just like 1% of acting ability. It’s honestly not that hard, although some actors/people you work with tend to think it’s their big break.
What is actually really great about being a TV extra, though, is that you’re completely in charge of your schedule, meaning you submit to the castings Central Casting emails you, and if they think you fit what they’re looking for (based on the photo you took at registration), they’ll give you a call. Either that, or they’ll just call you and ask you if you’re available to work for a certain show.
Booking a gig
Once you’re chosen for a show, you call a hotline the night before the shoot to listen to a recording with the details about wardrobe and call times. The hotlines tend to be an extremely-long message explaining the same thing every time: that you must bring a change of clothes, that you must have all-day availability, and that you must arrive on set at the given call-time. The recording will last about ten minutes and will probably sound a little bossy. And why they’re still doing it all over the phone beats me!
1. Bring something to do [because you’ll be bored]. Your call times are early and you’ll probably sit there for hours waiting till the production is ready for you on set. Last time, my call time was 9:30am and I literally sat there until….2:30pm! Not to go to set, but to go to lunch! When we all came back, I waited for another two hours. Bring your laptop, your homework, or a book you’ve been wanting to finish. Getting paid $8 an hour is pathetic when you’re working, but it’s pretty nice when you’re sitting down doing nothing.
2. Be prepared to be treated like cattle. I’ve had great experiences where the production crew is super nice and helpful and even lets you eat craft services [huge buffets of food for the actors], and then I’ve had other experiences where the crew treats all the extras like we’re all teenyboppers annoying them.
3. Don’t be shy. Talk to your fellow actors and ask what they do besides being an extra, or what they do when they’re not working. I’ve found some awesome coffee shops by doing this. But as for the shy thing, yeah you can’t be. One time after an hour lunch break, they roll-called out 201 numbers to make sure everyone was back, and you had to yell, and I mean YELL out your number.
You’ll definitely get to be on set and see what it’s like to be on set…without all the pressure (…or the pay).
Feel free to comment below, if you’ve got any questions about being a TV or Film extra!
[photo credit: hollywood]