Extras Work Guide
The following is a guide to better presentation in the film Industry and is based on discussions I have had with production staff, agents, and years of business experience. While I am not an expert in the film industry, how you present yourself is the same in any field to promote success. If you are interested in just making extra money then stop reading now and enjoy the fun, if not..read on
The key to any job is to examine the rules, take a positive attitude and put your best foot forward. The difference between this job and others is that you are always in interview mode. Look is as important as qualification. Always remember that their is no negative..only oppertunity. For every obstacle there is a resolution.
The first step is to have pictures taken that best represent your look. Most extra performers take snapshots or use existing shots. While these are excepted, they are not a positive step forward. Most of you reading will now say "Sure...How can I afford that". Its possible to create a professional promotion package for under $100. This is were a bit of sacrifice comes in. Some photographers charge up to $300 dollars for shots. Speak to others you work with and see who they use. I have heard of Photographers and student photgraphers that are willing to do shots for as little as $60. Some work I have seen is exceptional. Look at their work and if your satisfied go with it. Black and white head shots give the best representation.
Samples of what to do and what not to do:
The above are examples of what not to submit. Don't submit pictures that are too far away angled, or with more than one subject.
The 2 shots above are professional and represent framing. The picture on the left is a nice picture but is to distant, oddly angled, and will not show well on fax transmissions while the one on the right gives far better detail. Both shots are actually the same picture. Remember that black and white is what is normally requested by Casting Directors, and no extra points are given for artistic merit in photography. Its a tool..nothing more.
Since you will be submitting lots of these shots, try and arrange a bulk price over time. Again a student that has the equipment may be able to produce the shots cheap. Get 2 sets of negatives as a precaution. Submit 8 X 10 prints. Protect your investment. Keep them in a bottom dark drawer..less chance of deterioration. DO NOT submit pictures printed on a computer printer unless there photo quality and on photographic paper..
Once done you have an obligation to maintain the look as best as possible. Submitting a picture with long hair or allowing it to be distributed after you cut it short is stupid. There is nothing wrong with change but you must keep things up to date. You should also update your photographs at least twice a year regardless. Its also a good idea to discuss changes with your agent as they will know what is in demand.
Your resume should reflect your Stats, qualifications, education, and credits.
If you have access to a computer fine. If you don't find one. Everybody knows at least one person that can help here. You can also go to a stationary store, an internet cafe, the library or a computer store and rent access, Charges are generally around $10/hour. Bring a disk and back up the data to it. Do Not keep a paper copy only. Don't make copies from copies
Remember that your resume should be short and to the point. Forget dates and info about your hobbies unless there usable -viewable skills. Dancing is a skill..Fishing is not. Include a small picture in the resume preferably the same one as your 8 X 10. Include your measurments and sizes as well as wardrobe. Casting Directors don't like wasted paper and ink and fax machines are not good at printing large pictures. Too little info is as bad as too much so don't be modest. Use Arial or Times New Roman 14pt font size on white paper. Don't use fancy graphics, borders or anything else that draws the eye away from the information.
Your Agent is your cover letter so unless your doing this on your own, don't bother including one. If you do persue jobs on your own, include a cover letter( and be specific), your resume and an 8 X 10. Tell them what you want. Make sure you direct the fax or letter to the right department and to the attention of the right person. If your faxing, just fax the cover letter and the resume. Print your resume on a laser printer with adequate resolution. If you don't have one, save the file and find one. I will explain promotion later. More and more casting directors are restricting faxes sent to there office or desk. If your access list indicates no faxes..Don't Send Them..Do it in person.
The following layout is a sample of what to present:
If you are reading this then chances are you have representation. There are lots of agencies and there mandate may range. A little research can go along way here. Find out who others are using and make your desicion based on your findings. Remember that your agent makes money on you so if you work ..he eats. It is ludicrous to assume that your agent won't try and find you work. You must be available. Take the work given as much as possible. If you don't have a cell phone get a pager. Adapting your film career to your job rarely works. Your job must adapt to your film career or find a job that gives you that freedom.
If you plan on taking your career to the limit choose an agent that represents both extra and principle performers. Many of you that are reading this that are in the business and have representation..listen up. Your agent is your partner. If you belong to more than one agency, tell them. Be up front and honest. They may not like it but they can't stop you but they can pass you by on selection.
Agents really have the same problem you do. They need to eat and pay bills. They have to present people to the industry and deal with very busy and demanding clients. A mistake in the wrong direction can mean the loss of future income. If you belong to several agencies and you are booked by more than one, this will cause problems all the way down the line. OK so maybe your smarter than that and turn down one agent one day to go with the other. The films accounting departments don't know or care about who your with but process your pay according to their files and this can cause logistic nightmares as well. The smarter bet is to choose right the first time and stay there. When you get into principle work you will have to sign a contract to prevent this from happening.
Your agent is responible for finding you work but he doesn't generate it. This is just the role of the dice. Casting Directors have their own favorites and politics are abound so this can effect your chances as well. In order to make it you must do some promotion on your own. Keep your agent informed and if you get work on your own DON'T CUT HIM OUT. He gets his commission anyway. Its better to just let him handle the details. If you don't your cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Also remember that some films don't need extras. You may work 4 times a week or you may work once a month, again its the role of the dice. You may not have the look that is required and thats nobodies fault least of all your agents. Phoning your agent and giving him heck for not getting you work is pointless. Negotiating a salary with your agent on extra work is also pointless. Your agent will attempt to get you permits when possible, pushing the point merely gets you passed by.
This is touchy and dangerous so proceed with caution.
It is important that you know what productions are being produced and who is doing them. The best way to do this is to goto the Union Office and get a copy of the weekly production list. These lists include the names of the appropriate people handling each department and instructions for contact. I suggest that you submit your photo and resume to the Extra's Casting Directors and the Principle Casting Director's office at each studio. They will place a copy in there own books for reference. You can also find through the Union Office information on courses and casting calls. Make this a regular visit. Do not under any circumstances bother the Casting Directors continually. If you get an interview or selected for work..A nice touch is to send a Thank You note to the casting Director. It shows class and works well for future consideration.
Internet based talent catalogues like "The Casting Workbook " and "Faces" are a must for being selected as more and more casting agents find them easier than the physically heavy books. Enrolement in these services are generally around $35 per year and carry your photo and personal data.
When on set, get to know who everybody is and introduce yourself to the wranglers and Casting Director's only if they are at the sign up tables. Show up early and find out about the shots being filmed but be subtle. Place your self as close to the action where possible. This is also a good way to extend hours and prevent early raps. If you know that they will be filming a section toward the end of the night, work your way towards that point. Leap to oppertunities. Use your head though because if your face is too often in the screen you will be cut for that reason. Remember your face isn't your only angle. Always address production staff formally " yes Sir" and jump to it when directed. Don't worry about pay, upgrades, credits or anything else. Let your agent solve that after the fact. To do other wise is negative promotion. Make no sugestions for filming and be quiet when told. In short ...be a maniquin with your ears open and your mouth shut. At the end of the night, tell your wrangler your available for work if needed. Sometimes this gets you work but don't be pushy. If you notice extras acting stupid keep your distance. If there from your agency tell them to stop and inform your agent. An idiot on set can cost everybody future work.
When your agent calls you for work, they will tell you what clothes to bring. Remember that they are only relaying information. Bring what they suggest. If your unshure and you have the time, check the internet for related information. If they are looking for Kosovo refugees look for pictures on that subject and dress accordingly.
If you decide to try out for a role on your own and go before a producer, this is a potential nightmare. You will be asked to do a cold read in front of a camera and it is expected that you can do it. If you can't, this may hamper your possibilities for future work when you can. Be prepared and discuss with your agent what chance you have to succeed and take proper steps to be ready.
Study reading. Take random pages in a book and study the dialog until you can memorize the part in just a few quick readings. Start simple with comics or romance novels. You must also be able to go to any part of the shot so practise starting the dialogue from different points. Be aware of your movements, and positions. You may have to recreate exactly what your doing over and over. Find a partner on set that is willing to spend free time practicing with you. If you have a camcorder record yourself and get used to watching it. This will reduce the "robotic " reaction tendancy we all have being filmed. As extras this process will also make it easier to react more realistically in crowd scenes. This is funny but the next time your on set (preferably a bleacher scene) look at the reactions of the crowd near the camera, they are quite often rediculous. Depth of Field and camera tricks mask these errors but directors see everything and remember faces. Don't ever forget that.
There may come a time when your asked to do something specific by the directors. There are different classifications by the union for upgrades. Generally casting agents will plan ahead and place several SSE performers (Special Skills Extra) on set to accomodate special skills like hockey players, or dancers etc. Sometimesa particular shot may require a mediary action that completes the scene that wasn't planned. The director may ask you to perform this function and this may or may not be an upgrade. If the picture in question has dance scenes and you are asked to dance, this is not an upgrade, however if you are asked to do a particular style of dance with camera direction, it may be. Conversely if there is a fight scene and somebody throws a punch at you and you move your head that may not be a special skill but if you fall it is. It is a good idea to ask the "A.D." if this is an upgrade at the time. The following may give you a better idea as we walk through an example.
1) A guy grabs you and yells at you (extra)
2) A guy grabs you and throws a punch and you pretend to get hit (SSE)
3) A guy grabs you and throws a punch and you pretend to get hit and fall down (Stunt)
4) A guy grabs you, you speak, he throws a punch and you pretend to get hit (actor)
1) Your dancing on set (extra)
2) Your asked to do a specific kind of dance for the camera (SSE)
3) Your asked to do a specific dance that requires that you fall down ( stunt)
4 Your asked on camera to dance by an actor and you say yes ( actor)
While this is a basic outline the grey areas are abound. If you follow these steps and are denied the upgrade, speak to your agent. Do not go directly to the union or push the point on set.
1) Thou shalt be on time for set call.
2) Thou shalt bring 3 changes of clothes. No Black, White, Green or Blue and no Logos.(unless told)
3) Thou shalt not speak to the actors or other production staff unless spoken to.
4) Thou shalt do what your told
5) Thou shalt not bring a camera, tape recorder, cell phone, or pager to set.
6) Thou shalt not discuss filming or conversations heard on set outside the set.
7) Thou shalt remain on set until rapped
8) Thou shalt return all props and clothing
9) Thou shalt not constantly consume food, or take more than one serving of food at dinner.
10) Thou shalt only eat from extra's craft service
11) Thou shalt not gossip
12) Thou shalt fulfill your commitments