The Diary of a Background Actor



I wake up at 3 PM, it's day two of a two part night shoot, I have to be on set in 2 hours. The night prior, I was on set until 5 am and rolled into bed around 6:30. I quickly shower and throw on the exact same outfit that I wore the night before - Wouldn't dare mess with the scene continuity. I make myself a coffee and head up to set, prepared for yet another 12 hour day.

Background acting or being an "extra" on tv shows, commercials, and movies can be a thankless job. A lot of people I know always comment on how cool it is that I get to work on all these sets all the time- and a lot of the time it is. It's great networking, it's a decent way to meet new people,  and you basically get paid to sit around. I'm also always thankful for the work, in between actual acting jobs it's a great way to pay the bills and I'd always rather be on a set then working the counter at mcdonalds (no offense to my favorite mcdonalds personnel). But what people who are not in this industry DON'T know is how ridiculous being and "extra" can actually be.

Once I get to set I check in the with the production assistant then walk over to wardrobe so they can make sure that I look exactly the same as I did the night before. Check, Check. After that's over I make my way through the crowd to find the friends that I made on day one.  We know we are in for another 12 hour night- probably leaving while the sun is coming up, yet we all still showed up anyway. After long calls like this one I always ask myself why I do it... the pay isn't great, in fact, I could probably make more in one 5 hour serving shift & yet I still come back. 

A few hours into working and my new friends and I are starting to get hungry, the only snacks out are for members of the "Union" aka SAG-AFTRA or the Crew.... but we decide to try and get some anyway, hey, maybe no one will notice. We walk over to the food tent (aka Crafty) and grab soda and some chips- the second we turn around there's a crew member that looks at us and goes "Hey, are you guys background?" , we nod yes, "Uhhh sooo are you guys union member or uhhhh, what's the status there?", we giggle a little and say no- luckily this time around the guy laughed it off and basically just turned a blind eye but most sets would not have been so easy on us.  You see- being a member of the union is expensive, but the benefits basically mean that you get treated like a human on set, you can eat decent food, hang out in heated areas if it's cold, or air conditioned areas if it's hotter then hell. I haven't joined yet for a few reasons but- that's a whole nother article for another day. 

Towards the end of the night (into the morning) we were all exhausted, looking much more rough than we did when we arrived, and most of us were freezing our asses off (yes I KNOW it's June- but California still gets cold at night, I really couldn't tell you why), yet for some odd reason I felt so fulfilled. I just got PAID (albeit not that much) to be on the set of a show that people all over the country would PAY TO GO TO! And I think THAT is why i think we all do it. Because no matter how shitty the pay is or how crappy the food is- there are people all over the world who would be there in a second for for no pay at all. It really is crazy to think about the people that I've gotten to meet and the popular shows I've gotten to "work" on, and I think we all know it's a stepping stone to greater things, no one ever got anywhere without paying their dues first.

Now, for those of you who have previously messaged & asked me questions about the acting world and doing background I will try to answer as many questions as I can, here goes.

* Are background conversations scripted?

No, in fact no one is even actually talking, most of us are laughing at the fact that we are silently saying the words "watermelon and rhubarb" over and over. 

* How do I start getting background jobs?

Register with Central Casting, Sande Alessi, Jeff Olan, Extras Extras, and any other free casting services you can find. THEN I would recommend getting a call-in service to book jobs for you- you tell them when you're available and they try to match you with jobs. Most call-in services cost around $70 a month OR they take 10% like a manager. I personally am with Face2FaceLA & Virgo Talent.

* What's the best show that you've gotten to work on?

The best SHOW I worked on was Switched at Birth mainly because the actors and crew were all amazing, I got to learn some sign language, & the food was delicious for union and non-union talent alike (they didn't separate us). BUT The most popular show I've worked on is either Teen Wolf or New Girl. 

* Who is the nicest lead actor that you've gotten to meet?

That would be a toss up between Erika Christensen on Parenthood and Courtney Cox on CougarTown. Both SUPER nice ladies.

* How do they film things in airports?

Google Air Hollywood. It's a cool place.

Ok babes that's all I've got for today, feel free to leave comments with more questions or talk to me via instagram or twitter @TheLauraBarrett !