What is being an extra like?
Being an extra is a really unique experience, that requires a lot of patience. It is one of those bucket list activities that if you haven’t checked off yet, you really should. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur and have the freedom to set your own schedule so you can go to weekday filmings without having to beg for a day off work.
You get paid to be in a movie or TV show, usually $8-10 an hour where a lot of the time you’re just sitting there doing whatever you want, plus 1.5X for overtime anything over 8 hours, and it is the norm to work 15+ hour days.
You get free food and snacks constantly, and they’re required by law to feed you a full meal every 6 hours. Its usually yummy food too – I’m pretty picky with food and hate school cafeteria food, but I love the snacks which include veggie sticks, pretzels, gummy bears, candy, vegetables, fruit, and more. The meals are buffet style and include anything from chicken, tacos, steak, vegetarian, cake, brownies, salad and tons more. Plus hot drinks, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and so much more. Being an extra also means constant free food for a day that is actually pretty good.
I almost never watch TV and the only reason I even started being an extra was because I got sick of studying for finals my last year of college at Boston College, and wanted to watch a story to get out of my studying mode. So I went on Hulu, this was back when it had a free option, and watched a few episodes of the currently filming season 5 of Vampire Diaries.
I was so hooked. I get inspired very easily when I see people doing something they are good at. All I wanted was to be on Vampire Diaries myself. I spent a few hours Googling how to get on the TV show and where it filmed, Atlanta Georgia. Then I signed up for every extra casting email list I could find, particularly Vampire Diaries’ ones.
I’m so glad I did because the experience of being an extra is like nothing else you have experienced. It feels like living in a book for a day.
You get to live in a story the writers and producers have created. The props, outfits and setting make you feel like you’re living inside a book. You get to watch and participate first hand as your favorite celebrities and famous actors play out the story right in front of you.
On a cold snowy Chicago day in 2018, I was warming up in the extra tent and look up. Taylor Kinney, Lady Gaga’s ex-husband, was 2 feet in front of me staring directly into my eyes with his bright blue ones, wearing his Chicago Fire firefighter uniform.
All us extras got to watch the Chicago Fire team run up and down the street for an outdoor fire scene. I almost froze to death that day and tons of people left early since it was 18 degrees and we were outside for over 18 hours.
They had little heat lamps that we always surrounded but they ran out of the lamps and the fuel at one point, and we only got to go inside 3 times that day. That was the hardest day physically I’ve ever been an extra and if I could go back in time I would not go that day because I’m pretty sure I was close to getting some type of frostbite. But it’s still a good story and fun to look back on.
I went to a “wedding” at St. Ursula’s church in Chicago for Chicago Med, except they kept hundreds of extras in the basement the whole time, not even letting them upstairs to film the scene. That was the most boring day for me, because they didn’t even have the scene or the wedding they just filmed us sitting in the pews waiting for the groom to arrive.
I made a really funny friend right at the end sitting in the pews, who is still my Facebook friend today, but he made it more tolerable because I was laughing the entire time we filmed the last scene.
I was an extra in the movie Bleed For This, which filmed in Rhode Island and stars Miles Teller, a few years ago when I lived in Boston. I remember I knew my boss was at a company “management” retreat that day so I just didn’t go in to work after getting the acceptance email..hahahah..I put on my bright neon blue contacts because I was obsessed with color contacts at the time and was a little late since I had to drive 2 hours from where I lived in Boston.
Since I was late they ushered me in from check-in and I wandered underneath a huge stadium trying to find where all the extras were. I remember almost running into Miles Teller as I walked in the stadium hallways trying to find the entrance. He was surrounded by makeup artists and directors, in the entrance hallway to the boxing stadium, and when we were also 4 feet apart after I almost ran into him, he smiled laughing at me since I was very obviously lost.
When I almost ran into Miles, he was standing in a very alpha pose with his arms out at his sides since his character is the fighting boxer in that movie. All us extras cheered for hours in the stadium, and he would salsa dance to make us all laugh in between takes. They even took some of us out to film us cheering individually in front of a green screen one by one, which I got to take part in and was an awesome experience I’d never had before.
While filming Bleed For This I met an older lady and someone my age, and we all bonded and stuck together the whole time. At the end they also gave us free movie tickets so we could see the movie when it came out, but I never ended up using mine and I have not seen the movie to this day.
Every extra experience is such an adventure and so unique in its own right.
My all-time favorite extra experience was in 2015 when I got my first booking for the Vampire Diaries for the season 6 episode 3 lake party scene where Elena does a backflip into the lake to impress that new guy.
I was so excited when I was booked for that scene. I took 2 days to work remotely from my job since it filmed on a weekday. My boss was very mad at me. But it was more than worth it.
I also spent a little less than $1,000, and made around $100, but I remember thinking it was for the experience that I had dreamed about for over a year and would be so worth it. It really was. I booked a round trip flight for around $500, and rented a car for $300, since a car is the only way to get around Georgia, and this was pre-Uber. Nowadays I’d probably just count on Uber to taxi me around. I got a hotel room for around $100 I think, and a free upgrade for my room and car luckily.
I straightened my hair, put on a cute bikini and my white short shorts, looking really good, at least I as thinking so ;). I remember driving to the open sandy Georgia lot and getting on the bus thinking I was surrounded by the most beautiful bus of random young people I’d ever seen in my life. They drive us to a holding area and the lady squints at my Minnesota license and asks me what I’m doing in Georgia, since you’re not supposed to apply if you’re out of state. I make up something about visiting my family in Georgia and she says, “Well have a fun day,” clearly not buying it but also not really caring.
We all wait in holding, eating our hearts out for over an hour, until they bus us over to the lake filming site. Then, we all sit with more snacks in a bench area that oversees the filming site, while they pick and choose people to put in various areas for various scenes.
Everyone always wants to be picked and to be close to the action for every scene as possible, making the atmosphere always a little tense and exciting. I usually make friends pretty easily while being an extra, but a lot of the extras at the Vampire Diaries seemed to be aspiring models or actors themselves, and were pretty cold and standoffish.
I didn’t make a friend until a girl and I were standing on a sand volleyball court waiting to be picked for a scene and decided we wanted to play volleyball. Right after we started playing they picked us for the next scene, and then I got to be in a scene lying on a rock with her watching Nina Dobrev backflip into the lake. Then they moved my new friend closer to the action, and she’s actually in the final cut opening credits, lying on the beach with a guy who told us he had 10K Vine followers back when that was a thing.
I got to lie on the beach all day, and I remember an extra director telling me once, keep doing what you’re doing, jokingly as I just lay on the beach. We all held empty red solo cups and pretended to drink. I still have my cup from the day.
People played volleyball, fake drinking games, and played in the lake on floaties. There were around 100 of us total, spread out over the area, and it was really fun to be included in the exclusive lake party of my favorite TV show ever. They used everyone in the shots and we all got to be a part of the party, which was actually pretty fun.
End of the day they put up white Christmas lights and set the scene for a beautiful night party bonfire. The atmosphere was so chill and beautiful like a real party would be, plus the special party guests included Paul Wesley and Nina Dobrev.
When you talk to people while filming, you have to move your mouth without having any sound come out. During the bonfire scene, my group was talking too loudly because you’re not supposed to make any background noise so they warned us, then we failed and they literally took us home early around 1am. I was so sad and frustrated when they did this, but also ended up happy because I had to get up at 3am to drive back to the airport for an early flight so it ended up working out for the best.
Now the Vampire Diaries is over, and Nina didn’t even stick around for season 8. I’m really glad I took the experience over the $1,000 since I’ll remember that forever. If you have a favorite TV show or actor, I would recommend being an extra in their story at least once, since you’ll never forget it and it’s such a fun break from the usual daily routine.
One thing I regret is not taking any pictures from that day..I really wish I had..technically you can sneak a picture or two just be careful no one is watching and looking back I realize I could have taken a few selfies or pictures while in the holding area without anyone getting angry.
Movie Extra Application Process
The application process itself is a cool process. They need people of all ages and body types for most films so if you don’t get picked for your first submission, don’t worry, and keep submitting because I can almost guarantee you’ll get picked eventually, and it’s always a nice adrenaline dopamine rush when you get the casting booked email, especially when it’s for a movie or TV show you love or for working with actors you follow on social media.
After you send in your pictures, they will send you an email if you are “picked” for the movie or TV show shooting you applied for.
The booking email is really fun and colorful, and they usually make you feel special or say things like, “this is going to be a fun or special shoot”, or, tell you which famous actors will be on set that day.
Later you’ll have to call the number they give you to check in, where they will give you your wardrobe and your call time for the next day when you’ll need to be on set – this time is usually around 5am, so sometimes you’ll have to wake up at 3am or earlier.
I’ve had call times as late as 4pm as well, so it varies. The minimum they’ll keep you is 8 hours usually since they are required to give you a full day’s 8 hour pay even if they keep you for less time. For wardrobe they’ll tell you not to wear bright colors, and to bring around 4 outfit changes so they can pick the best one, and so you have more than one outfit for different scene changes if needed.
You’re not allowed to take pictures while on set unfortunately, because one thing I wish is that I had images from the times I’ve been on set.
You also can’t post about it at all on social media, and they threaten to literally send you home and never hire you again if you ever shout about any part of it to your social network before the movie or episode comes out.
How to be an extra in a movie
Movies and TV shows are filmed everywhere, but you have a lot more chances to be an extra, especially on a regular basis if you so desire, if you live in one of the following cities if you’re based in the US:
- Los Angeles, California
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Boston, Massachusetts
- New York, New York
- Chicago, Illinois
- Austin, Texas
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
The above are all cities that regularly film a ton of TV shows and Movies that need extras, so you have tons of chances to get on the big screen.
Once you’re in a good location, or really wherever you are right now, the next step is to sign up so you’ll be notified whenever there is a filming where they need extras.
- Google ‘your city’ and ‘extra casting’ to find email lists to sign up for.
- Google ‘your city’ and ‘movie filming’ and ‘tv shows filming’ to find movies and TV shows that will be filming in your area soon.
- Then use the information you found on Google and go on Facebook and like every TV show and movie extra casting page for your city.
- Turn on Facebook post notifications and put the pages first in your feed so you don’t miss any. Also add the email list addresses to your address book so you don’t miss casting emails.
- Now all you have to do is send in your picture and information whenever a filming pops up that you’re interested in. You’ll get one eventually, likely sooner than later. And if you don’t, ask an unbiased friend for help choosing better pictures or writing your application emails to sound professional.
Story Time: When Rachel McAdams told me I had a cute fake baby
My most featured experience, and tied with Vampire Diaries for my favorite extra experience, was being an extra in the movie Spotlight.
I applied as one of 3 semi-featured / requested runner extras for the Spotlight movie, which filmed in Boston and stars Mark Wahlberg and Rachel McAdams. I used the pictures of me and my sister below, from when we ran the Duluth Grandma’s Marathon to apply, and was booked as a runner.
We filmed 3 scenes total for this movie, which is more than we usually film when I’ve been an extra. The actual movie actually filmed in Canada, but they filmed all the outdoor scenes in Boston, since that’s where the movie was based and supposed to be set. It was a gorgeous Boston sunny summer day when we filmed, and it was summer, so I didn’t even have to take off school or work. This was before I started working for myself, and the summer before my first year out of college.
I wore my normal running shorts and a running shirt, with the same shoes I had run two marathons that past year in. I still remember gaping in surprise as they replaced my regular running shirt with a very tight, very red T-Shirt I would never consider running in, ever.
Sometimes the movie or TV show will give you clothing to wear if they want you to wear something special or if your outfits don’t make the cut. Usually they try to avoid bright colors, but that day they gave me a bright red skintight shirt to wear while I run, paired with my regular loose black running shorts. It was a strange, yet noticeable, outfit to say the least.
They asked me to run across a street and then down another in the heart of Boston. We reset the scene dozens of times. I probably ran 50 times up and down that street, walking back each time to reset the scene.
At the time, I had no idea who Mark Wahlberg was, until the girl next to me at the start of the scene said, “Wow, you’re so lucky to be running right next to Mark Wahlberg!” I was like, “What? Who’s Mark Whalberg?” But apparently I ran right by him, practically brushing elbows as he walked down the street, about 50 times.
One of my sister’s college friends, who I’d taken a Python class with in college, was wandering around Boston that day with her family, and they accidentally walked onto the set and I ran into them. Funny how stuff like that happens too. They weren’t even technically supposed to be there because the entire area was cut off from the public for filming.
This almost never happens to extras, but they ended up using me in the final cut of that scene, following me on camera for about 8 seconds as a scene change. See the actual movie footage below:
Since I was on camera for so long, and wearing a bright red shirt, combined with the fact it was a high profile film based on a true story filmed in Boston, tons of people texted me and posted on my wall asking if I was in the movie!
Acquaintances at work or people I hadn’t talked to in years were asking me if I was in the movie because they had seen a girl running in the movie who looked like me! It was really fun to go to the theaters after the fact and watch myself on the big screen.
The next scene they almost picked me to walk in the background but then told me to go back because my shirt was too bright, HAHA.
The last scene for the Spotlight movie was set outside the famous Boston Public library near the Copley T stop. The extra directors gave me a green striped shirt that reminded me of the 90’s show Blue Clues Steve’s shirt. They also gave me a baby carriage complete with a fake baby doll inside.
Us extras would walk across the brick in front of the library, while Rachel McAdams rushed past us up to the library entrance. Then we would all reset the scene and walk back to where we started.
This was my favorite scene by far that I’ve ever filmed as an extra because of what happened next.
At this point we’d filmed a handful of takes already. I would confidently walk across the brick in front of the Boston Public library, pushing my baby stroller as naturally as possible and trying to hold my face in a neutral position, and then walk back during each reset to do the whole thing again.
As an extra, you’re not allowed to talk to the actors, but if they talk to you first you can respond. You’re not allowed to stare either, because it would make the scenes unnatural, you have to pretend you are living your life as a person in that story, pretending everyone else is normal as well and that no one is special or a celebrity.
While pushing my stroller and fake baby back on a scene reset, I am walking past Rachel McAdams trying not to stare, and she looks at my fake baby inside my stroller, then looks directly at me, smiles her wide famous smile and says, “Aww, what a cute baby.”
All I could do was smile as wide as I’ve ever smiled and stare directly back at her – I was so surprised I had no idea what to say or do except smile and laugh. It reminded me of when she told that girl in Mean Girls, “What a cute bracelet” when she was lying in the movie, but here she was just making a joke and engaging with us extras. Everyone around us who heard laughed too, since it was actually a funny joke because the baby was so clearly fake.
Don’t watch for me or my fake baby stroller in the library scene, because you won’t see it, but even though I was cut from that scene, it was by far my favorite scene I’ve ever filmed as an extra because of the interaction with Rachel McAdams, who was so kind and funny.
And hey, I’m not complaining, I got an 8 second feature in my tight red “running” shirt, and the set of that movie also had really good, constant food and beautiful weather. That was a fun day.
Just remember that as an extra you’ll be sitting around a lot, and it’s not all as fun or glamorous as some of the experiences I have outlined above.
It’s always a unique experience, however, and you get to live in a story for a day, which is more than worth it do at least once. Fair warning though, doing it once may inspire you to want to be an actual actor and go in every single day to live inside a story.
Good luck signing up for movie and TV show extra casting lists and applying. Let me know your experience and how it goes in the comments below!