Confessions of an Extras Casting Director

I recently wrapped extras casting on Terry Linehan’s heartwarming feature debut Don’t Know Yet in Wilmington, NC. When Terry, a former film professor of mine and a good friend, asked if I would work on his film, I happily obliged. I have had plenty of experience with extra work, being an extra and occasional stand-in on the show One Tree Hill during college, as well as doing extra work on various LA shows when I first moved here. I also did casting for student films including background actors, but this was my first feature film working with extras.

As actors, many of us do extra work, whether it be to get some on-set experience, meet fellow aspiring actors, or to make some extra cash. Extra work is a great way to make friends and observe what really happens on a production. It is a great opportunity for newcomers to get a feel for how a film or show is made. There is a lot of waiting involved; it can take hours just to set up a ten second scene of a car pulling up to a stop sign. Thus, patience is key. It is also good as a second income. We all know how difficult it can be to pay the bills as an actor, and while the money may not be amazing, hey, it is something.

I do not want to crush anyone’s dreams, but everyone should know that chances are, your big break is NOT going to come from being an extra. You will usually be in a crowd setting and told to mime talking and hand gestures off camera while the principle actors perform their scenes. You will most likely not have an AD come up to you and ask to recite a few lines leading up to your big Hollywood break. (Though I do actually have a friend that was that lucky one person who did score a line in a film on his first day of being an extra.) Yes, there are the rare golden opportunities, like my friend who scored a line, SAG eligibility, and a thousand dollar paycheck for the day, but again, that is far and few in between. It is also necessary to remember that you ARE an important part of the overall production. What would it look like in a mall without any shoppers, or a street fair scene without any fire breathers or spectators? You are essential to making the production look authentic. However, you do need to remember that (and no disrespect meant) you are essentially at the bottom of the food chain. It is important to respect the crew and actors and follow directions while on set or waiting to be placed.

I had a wonderful experience working on Don’t Know Yet with the talented actors of Wilmington, NC. I did, however, run into a few who made the common mistakes of background actors typical of Los Angeles, New York, or on any production. A casting director’s time is very valuable. When working with extras, we are some times keeping watch over 50 or 100 extras or more. We have a lot to keep track of. It is necessary to remember that we, the casting directors, are working. We are essentially on the clock and are not there to hang out and chat. Therefore, every extra should remember to respect a casting director’s space and time. I had one woman once corner me for thirty minutes talking about an inappropriate subject and continue to ask my advice for which I am not qualified to give. She then proceeded to have another extra hand me a binder full of more personal information and ask that I help her with this matter, which was completely unrelated to the film or my job. This was not only incredibly unprofessional, but also wasted my time. Needless to say, she will never be working on any production in am casting again.

Casting directors love to get to know their actors and extras. We would be more than happy to chat with you during a lunch break or in between scenes. It is wise to get to know CDs so that they are more likely to think of you the next time they are casting a scene and need extras. If you just booked a new role or are taking classes, I would love to hear it. If you want to hand me your headshot, that is perfectly fine. Just make sure you are doing so at an appropriate time. And do not take up more than a few minutes. Keep it short and sweet.

As an extra, you are expected to follow direction well. After all, that is the number one characteristic necessary to being a good actor. Do not goof off, touch props, take pictures, talk to actors or crew, etc. If you have questions related to what you are supposed to do or if there is an emergency, ask someone and they will help you. Certainly do not take any souvenirs from the set. Everything on set is a prop in its exact place and needs to stay there. Talking to actors is tricky. On most productions, it is frowned upon, but on smaller ones it is sometimes allowed. It depends on the production. Nevertheless, ALWAYS ask a CD or crew member before approaching an actor for a picture or autograph. And definitely do not do so while filming. After the day is wrapped and you see an actor talking with extras, that is when you can have your moment. I know it is exciting to be working with actors, but remember to be professional. You are there to work.

Casting directors have very good memories. They will remember not only the people who were a problem to work with, but they will also remember those who were a pleasure to work with. Those are the people that they will make a mental list of and use again and again. Bottom line: if you are punctual, respectful, and follow direction, you will be working with us again. If not, you may find yourself getting kicked off set and sent home without a paycheck.

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lauren began her casting career as an intern for Sarah Finn Casting on films such as Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, TRON: Legacy, and Faster. After her six month internship, she returned for her final semester of college, where she went on to become a casting director in Wilmington, NC on various independent films. She also spent over a year as a casting assistant with an independent casting director and acted in multiple films. She is currently working with Marcia Ross & Erin Toner Casting and also works as an actor and in production.

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