Bet you’ve all wondered what life is like for an extra! You haven’t? Oh right..well I’m going to tell you all about it anyway.
Ever watched BBC Extras written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Marchant? Well they pretty much nailed the life of an extra, trying to make the mundane exciting, waiting for the next phone call about the next job and awkward encounters with celebrities and ‘real actors’.
I’ve had a few of my friends ask me what it’s like to be an extra? Who have I met? What exciting places have I filmed? I kinda have to fib slightly because when I tell them the truth they end up looking abit deflated.
Being an extra is not a glamorous job. It’s a normal job, it has it’s perks but at the end of the day your starting from the bottom and hoping to work your way up. Most extras are actors secretly hoping that this will give them the break they need to crack the acting business by meeting the right contact on this job or by being given two lines to speak to a leading actor. 99.9% of the time, this is not the case.
You can work some odd hours, especially if you’re on a location, you usually have to work around the business that is renting the space to you, so if your filming in a shop your most likely there once it’s closed and the customers are gone, same for pubs your usually there early hours in the morning before it opens.
Part of the job criteria is waiting, a lot of waiting. You are either waiting in the green room, waiting for transport, waiting on set to be told what to do/where to stand etc, waiting in between takes while they reset everything, like I said a lot of waiting. So you either have to keep yourself busy with a book (nothing that involves headphones otherwise you might miss something important) or you have to be an incredibly social person and make the group of people you’re working with your new best friends.
Being an extra/Supporting artist/Background artist is exactly what the title suggests. Our purpose is to fill the screen, make situations look busier, look normal, create an atmosphere. Unless you do get given a line or two your face probably won’t even be on the screen, I’ve seen my arm a few times and the back of my head, only really seen a quick glimpse of my face a couple of times.
And yet I love doing it! I like to use this as practice. Practice of working on a set without any of the pressure, the main thing I need to worry about is continuity, whatever I do on the first take, I’ve just gotta repeat that several times over until I’m told to stop or do otherwise. With this practice maybe when I do get the chance to be a lead being on set won’t be as daunting because I should know how everything works and the rhythm of filming.
I also use this time to speak to the other extras to learn about what agencies there with, who they have worked with and take any tips that they offer me. I would do the same with the main actors but we’re usually not allowed to talk to the leading actors, unless in a professional manner, there’s probably been one fangirl who was an extra that hassled an actor for pictures or an autograph and has spoiled it for the rest of us, I am usually quiet good at keeping it cool, but if I meet someone ridiculously famous I can’t guarantee I’d be able to control my inner fangirl xxx