Rage Against Suburban Zombie-ism
Thursday, November 17, 2011

How To Become An Extra in Toronto

After my first gig, I decided to write this guide to help anyone out there who is interested in becoming an extra, a.k.a. in the industry as "background" or simply, "BG".

1. Get some headshots done. This doesn't necessarily mean investing hundreds of dollars for a professional photographer.

Ask a friend who loves photography instead, taking the pics outdoors for the best lighting, with a coupla different outfits for variety! Headshot requirements are less strict for extras, so don't stress too much about it. All you're aiming for is a photo that resembles you...in the best light.

If you've changed radically from photos that you're thinking of submitting, weight loss/gain, different hair, age, it's time to consider retaking those photos!

2. Get an agent. Yes, they all seem pretty sketchy to me, but after talking to numerous extras, the majority of the working extras all have agents. Click here for a list of ACTRA-approved agencies. Note that this list is only from A-E, so do look through the entire list. The agencies that you want to look for have "background" listed right under their name.

Also note that for non-union, i.e. non-ACTRA, actors, a fee of $50-$100+/year is required as a registration fee. (The registration fee does not guarantee you jobs. However, some agencies only require this fee after they get you a job.) Agencies also require a 10-15% commission fee for each gig that you receive as a result of their work, so keep that in mind!

You can attempt to be your own agent, finding your own gigs, escaping from the registration fee + commission, but there aren't a lot of jobs on Craigslist. (Well, according to other BGs anyway, even though Twilight was apparently posted on there.) Apparently, most listings are Craigslist are for porn/scams that get you to give an "agent" registration fee...in cash. <-- Dodgy!

3. Carpool. If you know a bunch of people from the same area who are also going to the shoot, it's a good idea to arrange to carpool. This not only saves money and is good for the environment, but it also makes sense if the shoot is downtown - which involves gas, parking, & other additional costs. Remember that sometimes the call-time can be as early as 4:30AM, so public transportation is not always an option!

4. Show up, on-time. This is especially true if you have an agent as they'll be contacted if you arrive late. Keep in mind the Woody Allen quote, "Eighty percent of success is showing up." ;)

5. Don't be anti-social on set. I've seen this quite a few times, especially with seasoned background actors who literally arrive, put their head on the table, sleep, hide from going on set, and still get paid. HOWEVER, remember what they say about first impressions.

Same unsaid rules applies to people who sleep backstage, are constantly on their cell phones on-set, and people who simply don't give a fuck.

6. Don't be nasty to anyone. One BG told me that he witnessed a disagreement between 2 other BGs and 1 BG never came back to the set. So you never know who you'll be offending and what connections they may/may not have!

There's basically nothing to being a background. The most "difficult" part would probably be getting an agent, having to get up early in the morning, AND dealing with the lotsa 'dead time' when you're not needed.

Obviously, this applies to Toronto as there seems to be a lot of productions that require a diverse cast of background actors which the city can supply! So the how-to may vary depending on what city you live in.

Look forward to my pro/con list of the job!


posted by Stephania at 1:27 pm
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