Want to be a freelance movie extra? Here’s everything you should know…

Freelancing often comes with character-building caveats such as patience and adaptability. Creative challenges outside of the traditional work from home comfort zone can only augment your journey on this career path. Becoming a freelance film extra is more than just a gig, it’s an experience.

The reliability quotient…

Movies have a vivid place of prominence in the universal culture of highlighting powerful stories, be they real or fictional. The industry knows how to evolve with the changing, ever-more-digital times. Be it independent or studio-backed, there’s always a movie in production, and most of them need extras.

Although freelance movie extra work can be a reliable source of at least supplemental income for some, don’t assume that you can just start signing up for opportunities and jumping onto movie sets. There are various project standards to meet – something that will probably be familiar to you anyway, no matter your main freelancing niche.

Getting the gig…

The approach you take will have a lot to do with how serious you are about pursuing this kind of work. Do you aspire to act and are looking to add experience to your portfolio and possibly even do some networking as you take the next steps toward your career? Perhaps you’re a freelancer in the truest sense of the word and are looking to do something interesting in addition to the work you’re already used to.

  • On a personal note, I’m on a database as a freelance movie extra to serve as a backup for if/when there’s a drought in my usual work. However, even just being in the proximity of a movie set can be a way to get an extra role:
    • I was on my way to do food shopping in one of the quaint towns that I so treasure here in Massachusetts. There was a movie filming off one of the side streets and I had to walk through a group from their crew to get to the grocery store. The assistant director literally called out to me and said, “Hi! Do you want to be in the movie?” He meant right there and then – it’d be a couple of hours. Alas, it was so last-minute that couldn’t say yes, but it makes for an amusing anecdote 🙂

So, how do you find freelance movie extra work? Search for terms like:

  • Movie extra casting companies in *the name of your closest large city here*
  • Movie extra databases
  • Casting calls in *your preferred location*

When a movie production company is going to be nearby, a representative often has to go before the city or town’s governing board for permits. This will in turn be picked up by local news/social media outlets, and casting calls for extras could also be announced that way.

Register for a profile on a trusting movie extra casting database. You’ll need, at the very least, a professional color headshot (although having an artsy black and white one doesn’t hurt to have, too) as well as a full body shot and measurements for costumes.

Some casting calls are in-person, while others are strictly online, for which you’ll need regular access to email. Notices might come a day, a week, or even several hours before the scene/s will be filmed (like early evening for a shoot you have to be on set early the next day for). RSVP your interest, and you may or may not be contacted further for the opportunity.

  • Due to the confidential nature of movie projects, you might just get a location, hours, basic genre info, and pay information in that initial notice, with specifics shared only upon your selection.

Location and the look…

It’s budgetarily best for production companies to select extras who are locals, though some well-funded projects will transport extras to sets if needed. In the United States, gone are the days when movies were primarily filmed on lots in California. Some states offer tax break incentives to film crews, since their presence can in turn spur economic growth for area businesses and overall tourism.

  • To increase your chances of becoming a freelance movie extra, you actually might want to increase your preferred radius of travel – for example, around 100 miles or so from your home.
  • Sometimes movies will be filmed in the smallest of towns or the most remote of places – never think that you’re too far away!

Extra roles can be very specific in terms of looks. You might get a general casting notice with height, age, nationality, or even hair color requirements. There’s the potential for opportunities to be screened and sent to you based on the profile data you’ve submitted to a casting database.

Other notices could ask for extras who own certain types of cars, or have wardrobe items for scenes like galas, sports events, restaurant scenes, etc. Musical talents, dance, or combat skills might factor in, too. Note that speaking roles are generally reserved for union members (notably, the Screen Actors Guild).

Then again (and this is especially true for modern-day large crowd scenes that aren’t being enhanced through software) they could just have a need to fulfill number quotas and you can come as yourself, dressed according to the season.

  • Of course, there’s the potential issue of having to budget for potential extra work – especially if you’re more interested in being part of a much-anticipated movie franchise than getting paid.
    • Some people are willing to pay more for fuel/related transportation costs if it means getting to spend entire days in close proximity to their favorite actors and actresses, speaking of which…

Be professional and patient.

The psychology of celebrity is such that there’s the image actors and actresses portray to the media, and then there’s who they really are. Most of the time, these are ordinary people with extraordinary jobs that change them for the better or worse. Some celebrities love talking to extras, while others prefer to keep to themselves. There are method actors who might talk to extras, but only as their characters.

  • Don’t be surprised if, when you get to set, you’re told not to talk to the celebrities unless they talk to you first. Sure, it seems very demeaning, but sometimes it’s due to time constraints. Movie productions must adhere to schedules as closely as possible.
  • Be prepared for closed sets (heightened security and non-disclosure agreements) wherein you can’t take photos or talk about the project with anyone who’s not there with you.
    • You might not even be allowed to have your phone with you at all, in which case either leave it in your car, or a film crew member will take it into storage until the end of the day.

Then, there’s the waiting – and there’s A LOT of it in moviemaking – along with repetitiveness. The smallest part of a scene might be shot at several different angles 10-20 times until the director gets enough options to choose from in post-productions. You might be allowed to bring reading materials to help pass the time in between takes.

  • The typical day of filming can be anywhere from 8 to 12 hours, including prep like makeup/costumes as well as on-set breaks with often quite delicious food – yay, catering!
    • As for compensation, I’ve mostly seen projects be around $100 per day. Notices might stipulate that you can be in for just one day in a particular scene, with the only return to the production being if re-shoots are needed for some reason.

Embrace the overall experience, no matter how exhausting it might become – creating a backstory for your extra role can really help. Look forward to meeting your fellow freelance movie extras, and find the fun in each moment. Think of moviemaking like a woven tapestry – everyone has to come together to keep it together, so proudly do your part for the sake of art.

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