First of all you should know that to be an Extra you don’t need to be experienced, have any kind of acting training or any qualifications. You don’t need to have done anything like it before. You also do NOT need to have supermodel looks or be of a certain age as they need everyone and anyone of all different shapes and sizes from 0 – 99. It would look rather strange if you saw, for example, Beowulf and all Extras in the series were all glamorous, twenty something year old girls with perfect teeth, hair, skin and nails because, lets face it, it’s just not realistic.
Things you should definitely bare in mind before pursuing a career as an Extra. Firstly, most Extras don’t do this as a full time career since work is not frequent, however, with some big productions like Beowulf, there could be regular work for pretty much the full year so you never know how busy you will be. Secondly, probably the most important thing to know is it is NOT all glamorous and not as easy as you would think. You could be doing the same scene over and over for hours, holding the same prop, running back and fourth countless times and sometimes on your feet the entire day. If outdoors you have to deal with whatever weather is thrown at you be it blistering heat or non-stop rain. Which leads me on to another point, the days usually are up to 12 hour days, generally starting at 6/7am. You also need to be aware that a lot of the time work can come in so last minute that it could be the night before, or even on the morning of the day you would be required. So you need to be pretty flexible. If you aren’t a fan of waiting around all day for something then this may not be for you since you could find yourself sat waiting to be used for an entire day, sometimes not even getting to do anything. The last thing that I feel is important to mention, you could be more than one background character in the same scene, so be prepared to be someone running from a big village raid one day to find you are playing a different dead villager the next or maybe on a completely different location, sometimes more than one in the same day.
So with saying all that, why would anyone want to be an Extra? Well all I can say, is it is such a surreal experience when you do it. Every day you haven’t a clue what you will be doing so it is exciting and different. You can see with your very own eyes what it is like on a set and how it is all filmed. You can be filming the same scene as a big actor, maybe one you are a huge fan of. They could be stood right beside you for the entire day. You get to watch them act in real life and if you are lucky see their slight hissy fits when they can’t get something right or something keeps going wrong (guess what?, the actors are humans too!). You can be paid for literally doing nothing, you might not even be used and you have essentially been paid for sitting all day. You may even get a featured role on the day, there and then, maybe even a line to say if you are extra lucky and confident enough. Which obviously means more screen time and also more money!
Depending on the production food is normally provided, and if its like when I filmed Beowulf and Vera, you will be fed unbelievably well. But the best part of being an Extra by far that we all agreed was the meeting new people and making new friends. You will get to meet people that maybe in your normal day to day life you would never have the opportunity to meet or never normally hang out with. You get to know new people everyday, ‘play dress up’ with other fully grown adults and get paid to do it! The confidence being an Extra gave me was just a whole new level. Meeting so many people, spending up to 12 hours a day with people I didn’t know and us creating such a bond really is something I will always love more than anything about this job.
Last year I worked on two productions, both for ITV. The first was for season 6 of Vera which has just recently started on a Sunday night at 8pm. The second as already mentioned was Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands which is on episode 9 on every Sunday also at 7pm before Vera. I only did one day for Vera and I was a police officer, I can’t say much about that yet since that episode doesn’t appear to have been on yet or may have even been cut and although I probably wouldn’t be ruining anything, you should never risk posting photos or talking about the production until you know you are 100% OK to.
Beowulf, I filmed a lot for, roughly 3 months in a row from July, 2015. A lot of people had been filming since January but I didn’t begin until a lot later. I remember the first day ever working on it and it was terrifying but so exciting at the same time. I had to be at the base for 7am and the location was an hour from me so this was a very early start. I was up and out before my toddler had even opened his eyes! Leaving my son was always the hardest part for me but I knew he was having a great time with his Daddy, Grandma and other brilliant family members who helped me out when I got work in last minute. Up until working on Vera and Beowulf in the Summer I hadn’t really left my son’s side so this was a pretty big deal and also extremely hard with my first day being 12 hours, in a location that I soon discovered had no phone signal! I remember coming home the first day after a long day in the heat, walking around just doing the odd thing in the background and thinking, ‘Can I keep doing this? Is it worth leaving my baby to do this?’ But I didn’t feel I could turn the money down with various birthday’s and things coming up.
I went back on day two feeling quite low about being away from my son again but this day was nothing like the day before and I can honestly say it was one of the best days I’d had in a long time. We did a big ‘raid scene’ in our village where lots of rather scary looking people came running in to our village with swords and various other weapons, it felt so real and whilst running from them the terror in our faces was pretty real too. I got selected for a featured scene by the director which I was so excited about and whilst all the other extras sat down I got to do a scene on my own with one of the main actors. I got dragged from a tent by my hair screaming, it was shown for literally seconds in the episode but we filmed it for ages and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I had the director telling me what to do, saying, ‘That was brilliant, well done, you were great’. You never expect to hear that from a director when you aren’t one of the actors and you are just an Extra. So it is definitely exciting when you get a more featured role.
The second day I remember not wanting the day to end and It was like something just clicked, I went from being a nervous mummy who never wanted to leave her son to being confident to do things on my own. I missed him just as much as I did before but I was actually enjoying my time just as myself as well as my time as a mummy. It was the moment that I reminded myself that I am both, which I think was what I needed. It is so easy to lose your identity after having a child. I certainly did in a big way but this just ‘fixed’ me. I can’t explain it, I just started believing in myself. It made me appreciate every minute with my family but made me feel like I was doing something I could be proud of.
The village that I spent most of my time filming for was called ‘Bregan’ and was a salt and fishing village. It was filmed at Derwent Resevoir and it was like my second home. We were so lucky filming there as it was just the most beautiful location. However I did do one day on the big main set at Eastgate, County Durham and also filmed by a river near Barnard castle.
Most Extras had the same costume on the entire time they filmed however I got to play 5 different villagers in the Bregan Village and at Eastgate I was another different villager and also a smelter (which meant being covered head to toe in horrible black stuff). Getting to wear all these different costumes and experience the different locations/sets was really such an experience. One that I will never forget, and will always remember. It was primarily what started my journey to pursuing a career in acting.
Have you ever thought about being an Extra? Maybe to bring in some additional income or maybe it is something you have always wanted to do. Well you can do it too and guess what, it’s actually rather easy, granted there is work near to you or that you can travel too. Being able to drive and having a car is an advantage as you will find a lot of locations can be in the middle of nowhere and public transport is not possible. So unless you have a willing family member you may struggle to get to and from locations. To begin a career as an Extra you need to do the following:
Sign up with an agency. Now this is the most important one as this is where you will hear about all the work. Some agencies do charge and some are better than others but it is worth doing your research. Beowulf and Vera were both filmed in the North East and I got this work through a fantastic agency called NE14.tv. They are free to sign up to and I would highly recommend them. Make sure to search online for other agencies that cover your area and the more you sign up with the more opportunities you will get.
Join Facebook/social media groups. Join groups where people post about productions requiring Extras on Facebook and follow any agencies on Facebook and Twitter as often they will announce work on there when they are desperate to find people quickly.
Get a headshot done. You need good clear photos of you for the agencies and it is recommended to get some professional headshots done. You don’t have to fork out lots of money for this as you often find photographers are looking for people to work with for free for their portfolios. Especially photography students at your local University.
Get a basic DBS check done. This is pretty important as an Extra because you won’t be allowed to work on set if there is a child there even if you aren’t actually anywhere near the child. It costs £25 and will usually take 2 weeks to come through. Although you don’t need to pay to sign up to the likes of NE14.tv they will require you have a DBS otherwise you are limited to what work you can do.
Create new email address. If you have a pretty busy personal email address I recommend creating a new one as you generally receive all possible jobs by email and a lot of the time it is whoever replies first or whoever responds by a certain date or time is put forward for jobs. Make sure if you can you get your emails to you mobile/tablet so you don’t miss them and check them regularly. I use mail.com to create a free account and you can download the app on your phone/tablet too.
Keep profiles up to date. When you are with agencies it is very important to keep your profiles up to date and update any photos whenever you can. If you change your hair at all, get a new tattoo/piercing etc. you must make sure you update your profile or tell your agency. Briefs can be very specific and although you may be a perfect fit generally, that one new tattoo or that slightly different hair colour could make a huge difference as to whether you are suitable or not.
Learn the ‘rules’ of being an Extra. Although being an Extra is fun, it is also a job and you must be professional. There are a few obvious no no’s, one being that you don’t just start up conversation with the main cast, if they speak to you that is fine, but don’t start asking for autographs or photos. You should not have your phone with you on set and if you do, keep it hidden and out of sight. You may find that when you are sat around for a long time you can take the odd photo of things but if you do this make sure that you DO NOT post anything on social media until after the series/film has been shown and you know it is ok to do so. Some crew may see you taking photos as unprofessional and therefore I suggest you don’t do this on set unless you have worked on the same production quite a few times and feel that it wouldn’t cause a problem. Another ‘rule’ you should follow is that all cast and film crew should get their food first and all Extras go second. This may seem a bit mean but think about that 12 hour day you just did and think about the Main cast and crew who have been working doing even longer days on occasion for the full time of filming. They also have a lot to do and have to be back on set ready to go again as soon as they can.
Make a survival kit. With jobs coming in last minute it is always advisable to have a pre packed bag that you can grab when going to a job. Because you don’t know what you will be doing, what the weather will be like and what you will be wearing it is best to pack things for every scenario. Pack things like nude coloured socks, some thick socks, some plasters (these have been particulalry useful for blisters when running in costume shoes), snacks, a rain coat, blanket, sunglasses, hayfever tablets, paracetamol, water bottle, nude coloured underwear, tissues, makeup, hair brush, hair bobbles, mirror and baby wipes.