I Was an Extra in a Drew Barrymore Movie
Maybe you're an aspiring actor ... or you just have some free time on your hands and want to earn a bit of "extra" money. Either way, there's a gig you may not have considered. We caught up with a theater major who's going behind the scenes and making cash as an extra while looking to get her big break.
How did you decide to apply for extra work?
I graduated with a degree in theater. One of my friends who's out in L.A. told me about a company that she'd gotten work through -- Central Casting -- and said they had a New York office. I did some research and thought it would be a fun thing to do. It's great because you can earn Screen Actors Guild (SAG) vouchers through some of the jobs. If you earn three SAG vouchers, you're eligible to join SAG -- which generally means you'll earn a higher pay rate for any work you do.
What did you have to do to register?
I went with a friend to sign up with the company. There's a $25 sign-up fee, and they ask you for some basic information -- name, age, weight, height, etc. -- to type you. They also take a picture and ask for clothing sizes for wardrobe.
Several days after I signed up I got a phone call from the company. They said that if I could guarantee them the next six days of work they'd give me six SAG vouchers. Usually it's not that easy to get SAG vouchers! It was a movie set where they needed tons of extras, so it worked out.
Do you work elsewhere?
I have a part-time job in retail as I try to do the acting thing. Fortunately my employer was really nice about it and let me take time off to work on the movie.
Why be an extra?
My dream job is acting. I've done some theater work, but the extra work was my first film experience. It was great to be on set and learn the terminology and what happens behind the scenes. I now know what it means when they say "we're going back to the top" or giving directions to walk across the set. Being an extra is not challenging from an acting standpoint, but it gets you on those sets, meeting people in your desired industry and learning.
How much money can you make?
The SAG rate is about $180 per day for the first eight hours. You're guaranteed that if you show up. After that it's time and a half, and after 8 p.m. you get a night rate, which is like 20 percent, and then double overtime, and so on. The scenes we were shooting were in a bar, and they used a smoke machine, so we got smoke pay -- an extra 20 to 30 percent. If they ask you to bring a change of clothes, that's wardrobe pay. These are all union benefits.
What exactly do you do?
Basically, you look like you're talking but never actually talk when they're rolling. The mic picks up everything in the room, so if two extras are whispering, they'll have to stop and start again. Someone on the set had done work on a Scorsese film and said you can hear a pin drop -- if any extra makes even the slightest noise, he or she is gone. So it's a whole bunch of people pantomiming to each other; there was one time where we were just mouthing watermelon, watermelon. Every once in a while it strikes you how ridiculous it is.
What were the other extras like?
There were definitely aspiring actors, but there were others who were just doing it as a job to earn money. One girl I met had recently been let go from her full-time job, and she was doing extra work as often as possible. It's a good option if you have the time, but you can't really schedule it in ... if they have enough women who are 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-11, for instance, they don't need me.
Tell us about the Drew Barrymore movie.
It's a romantic comedy called Going the Distance, with Drew, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis from SNL, and Charlie Day, the guy who plays the Green Man in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia -- he's fantastic. The company tells you you can't ask for autographs or take pictures on set; you'll be fired for that. If the actors talk to you, you can say hi, but that's about it.
Will your family be trekking to the theater to catch a glimpse of you?
Well, in one scene I'm standing behind Justin and Drew and holding a beer. At least from my shoulders down I'll be seen! Of course, you don't know what will end up on the cutting room floor.
What's next for you?
The retail location where I've been working is closing, so I'm going to use that as opportunity to do more extra work. I'd like to network and get more knowledge in the industry. It's a great chance to work (and get paid) in the field you're looking to be a part of.
Resources for Aspiring Extras