Extras, Extras, Read all About ‘em

| March 27, 2013 | 7 Comments

The number of experienced background players across the state is growing daily. Being an extra can a be way to have fun and see what goes on behind the scenes on film and TV sets or it can be a way to gain experience and knowledge. Many will even use these experiences, more or less as a stepping stone to a career in the film industry.

Having worked in film and television for over 25 years, the term extra has always meant a little ‘extra’ to me. I can honestly say, I know what it means to be a background actor.  I broke into the film business in the early 80′s and I  remember well, that my first experiences were as an extra. I recall having a beer with the very gracious Tom Berenger who found me and a fellow extra sitting at the Touché Lounge in the French Quarter after a day of filming on his mini series “If  Tomorrow comes”. In an overture not uncommon among more humble actors, he insisted on buying us a beer and making a bit of polite conversation . After I became comfortable on set doing extra work, a make-up artist who I had befriended offered to introduce me to her friend who was an agent in New Orleans and I made the leap into acting, becoming a SAG actor. The experiences I’d had as an extra including the graciousness of actors I’d worked with would follow me through my career as an actor.

Long before any of these experiences when I was a child, I remember always seeing a wooden hammer attached to a gavel that sat on the shelf.  I would learn in later years that my estranged father, who had entered the film industry working as a stuntman for actors like James Arness, Mike Conners, Touch Conners and Jock Mahoney,  had worked for a while as an extra. The hammer and gavel would become a small testament to those experiences and contacts made. He did quite well with the stunt work but with his connections in the film industry in Hollywood in the late 1950′s he was able to get some pretty interesting work as an extra when shows he was contracted to work on were not filming. For a recognisable actor, this would have been frowned upon and was unlikely to occur in the first place. However, for a young stunt performer from Southern Mississippi, it was just a fun way to keep busy and make extra money on his off weeks.

As the years passed my father collected fun and interesting stories. In later years he would joke about his many jobs as both stunt man and extra or how many ways he had died on film. He had been shot and fallen from parapets on western sets, blown up as a German soldier by hand grenades, stabbed by pirates, eaten by monsters and so on. Through his contacts he was able to book some interesting extra work as well. I remember watching tv in the 60′s and 70′s and my mother would occasionally exclaim’ “Look, there’s your father!” and for a fleeting moment, I might see my father in an old black and white film, standing behind the lead mobster holding a gun, or throwing down the lit cigarette that would set the town on fire in Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.  We used to have an old 8MM home movie reel that he made, that contained some behind the scenes footage of the iconic “My Fair lady” with Audrey Hepurn  and Rex Harrison. Yes he had broken the cardinal rule as an extra and secreted an 8MM movie camera on set and  stood in the shadows filming the events. The film turned out to be a bit of a family treasure as did the hammer and gavel which was given to him in later years when he became the interim president of the now disbanded extras union, known as SEG or Screen Extras Guild. This interesting turn of events had come about when the standing president was ousted for some mischief or conduct unbecoming. My father who was by then well known and liked in these circles, was inducted and had agreed to stand in his place as president until an election could be held. Goes to show that you never really know where that background road may lead.

Indeed there are many fascinating stories of individuals who have made a hobby or even a career out of working background in film and television and a lot of them are right here in North Carolina and have worked in films dating back  thirty years or more.

Some may think or say that little or no acting ability is required to be an extra but this is simply not true. For any production using extras, where production quality is important, it is crucial that the background performers have good timing and natural behavior & movement. Nothing can be more distracting or scene spoiling than a terribly uncomfortable looking background performer looking as if they do not know what they should be doing or moving about unnaturally.

If you have some ‘extra’ stories, please share  them in the comments below. Or if you have always wanted to be an extra and see what it’s like for yourself, now is the time as “business is boomin’…”  Check out our page for a listing of extras casting directors.

Copyright 2013, Casting Carolina, all rights reserved.

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About the Author ()

Jason Saucier was born in Burbank, California and raised in and around New Orleans which is his family's native home. He began working in the film industry in the mid 1980's and has been residing in North Carolina since the turn of the century.

Comments (7)

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  1. Norm says:

    Nicely written. I grew up, literally, in the shadow of the Warner Brothers water tower, but it was years later and 3000 miles distant before the movie business touched me. While visiting my brother in DC, I joined a group of Georgetown students to be extras in The Exorcist. What fun. Today, I’ll occasionally do background work, but it’s to scout talent to work for us down the road. If these people have gone to the trouble to be extras, then that’s who I want to hire.

  2. Gina says:

    Love this article! Well, I am pretty new to the industry. I’ve always wanted to do some acting and modeling, but never knew where to start until I came across an add on Craigslist for extras in a Hallmark film. In a way, I was thinking it was a sham (being on Craigslist), but I applied anyway, thinking it wouldn’t hurt. It was one of the best decisions I have made! The phone rang the night before the shoot and there was a lady on the end. “Would you like to work as a movie extra tomorrow morning?”. I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep. After dragging myself out of bed and going in for my first day as an extra, I was hooked. Since that first experience, I have been an extra in one other film (I’ve only been doing this type of work for about a month). It’s fun work and you meet many amazing people.

  3. Tamara Norman says:

    Had the privilege of doing background work in Iron Man 3 the past summer 2012. working along side Robert Downey Jr. was an honor as I’m a fan as well. It was a 2 day shoot in Kenansville, NC. It was the highlight of my summer! It was fun to watch, learn & participate in a blockbuster movie + get paid! Also did extra work in Dawson’s Creek along side Katie Holmes, James Vanderbeek & Oliver Hudson. Actually got on film in the last season & episode of Dawson’s Creek. You don’t know if you make it on film until it’s been released, that’s why I’m excited to see if I made it on film in Iron Man 3 on May 3rd! Fun times!!

  4. Mandy Tucker says:

    1st experience as an extra was in the movie “Eddie” with Whoopie Goldberg. My 2 young sons were also in the movie. Fast forward 10 years for my next job with Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights. My son lives in Wilmington, NC and applied to work on “Iron Man 3″, so I submitted for that also. We didn’t get to work together but I did make a scene with Mr. Downey instead along with several other days of work. Meeting new extras and the staff were great as was the food. Even in the rain, the staff made the time much more enjoyable by their actions. Next, was my 3 scenes with Jennifer Anister in “We’re the Millers”. Again, the staff was great. Hoping to do more work but not as many calls for females around the 50-60 age group. Learned alot and have lots of stories of happenings on the set.

  5. Marie Sokol says:

    I’ve had the good fortune to do quite a bit of background work on “Army Wives”, a few of your films in NC and the show we’re filming now in Charleston called “Reckless” this year. In addition to the doors have opened for me, I’d have to say that what I’m most grateful for are the friends I’ve made while on the different sets! Simply amazing and diverse people! SO HAPPY and not stopping here!

  6. Tammy Odel says:

    I can not say I have had lots of experience as a back ground person because I have only been in three films. But I have noticed that the older a person gets the fewer the opportunity there is for them in this industry. That in it self is so very sad. Things have changed over the years for the good. Directors have finely realized that there are more people out here that are NOT a size 2. We over weight people are here and always have been and we can act just as well as the skinner people. And now we need to change the fact that there are more then 20 something’s out here as well and that we can do just as good as them. So just because you and I are older and not a skinny Minnie only means we are a big part of life and we want to see more films and television with older people.

    • Tammy, I have watched you on the on scene and on stage as well, You are sooo funny. We just love watching you. George, for one and my nieces Rosemary and Gina and I. Don’t stop applying. Your GREAT!!! I know your time will come.

      Alivia Clooney

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