How Much Do Extras Get Paid? Questions About Extras AnsweredNov 11, 2021
Most serious actors who’ve done extras work don’t like to draw attention to that fact. After the excitement and thrill of the extras work is gone—being on set, working around famous actors— reality sets in. They realize there’s nothing glamorous about being an extra.
Yet under the right circumstances, being an extra can be a good way to make money. In today's post, I’ll answer the most common questions I hear from actors about extras work.
Questions About Unions Answered
How Much Do Extras Get Paid?
Extras work pay varies with the type of production you are a part of. Most companies pay a daily rate instead of an hourly rate. Extras on TV and film sets pay $174/ day, while commercial extras get paid $338.40/ day.
Extras with special abilities, or those who can be choreographed doing certain activities like swimming or skating, get paid a bit more. Extras who bring their own wardrobe or props, do their own makeup, or are driving in their part also get pay bumps. These rates, though far from what a speaking role pays, aren’t bad either.
Can I Join The Union With Extras Work?
Despite the pay, the only reason you should want to do extras work is to obtain the SAG vouchers you need to become SAG eligible. Other than that, there's no other reason you should concern yourself with background work if you want to be an actor. You may think the pay is worth it or that you can learn enough on set before landing “serious” roles, but that is not the reality.
Once you get your union vouchers, finish the job and don't look back. Alternatively, If you're not a serious actor, or you're retired and just want to have fun with the experience, it’s definitely not the worst gig. There's plenty of food to eat (and it's usually not that bad), the pay can be decent and, since you're not serious about acting, it can be something to brag about.
"You may think that the pay is worth it or that you can learn enough on set before getting to the serious stuff, but that is not the reality."
Can Doing Extras Work Hurt My Career?
In short: yes, it can.
Here’s the truth: when a director sees someone as an extra, they’re already looking down on them and don’t take them seriously as an actor. If you act like you’ve got something to prove and put yourself out there during work hours, people may gravitate towards you. But there is always a status game that people play when dealing with extras.
The world has, thankfully, changed since the Me Too Movement. Studios have been adamant about distributing and following guidelines on sexual harassment— it’s a very sensitive issue on film sets compared to even just 10 years ago. The days of going to somebody’s trailer are over and people are more confident in reporting shady behavior.
As a manager who has actors playing series regular roles, I’ve been sending out a lot of documents containing guidelines about this topic. I’d advise you to not use background work to meet people thinking the networking will jumpstart your career. None of that is realistic. The experience is better than nothing, but it should not be an end goal.
There are other avenues you can use after you get your SAG card to break into the business. My Mastering the Business of Acting series goes in-depth about these avenues and how to take full advantage of each potential path you choose to go down.
The Bottom Of The Totem Pole
Let me put this another way: on set, extras are at the bottom of the totem pole. So much so, that people like the assistant directors who handle extras will take out their bad days on them. There’s an old joke that shows how much extras are valued that goes, “What’s the difference between a prop and an extra? You don’t have to feed an extra.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are good background jobs out there. For example, if you can get on a steady show and you’re one of the customers that go into a store regularly, that could be a really good job. Sometimes you can shine through with your role and possibly grab the attention of those in charge, which can lead to something bigger down the road. It has happened.
Yet being an extra is a job that I can only recommend for retirees. Although, I could never see why anyone who has retired would want to put up with the BS that can happen on set. I definitely can’t recommend children do extras work, although there will always be a demand for the demographic on specific projects.
If You’re Serious About Acting, Don’t Do Extras Work
As a working actor, who has done many productions in lead and supporting roles in major TV, I've never found going on set, if I'm not in it, to be a pleasant experience. I can only stay in it for so long. After that, like many other actors, we feel like it's boring and question our presence there. I know that many other managers and agents like to go on set, but I don't care for it. I think if it’s not your set, it’s not fun no matter how big the production is. The good experience only lasts about an hour and can get old quickly.
I have very seldom ever heard an extra say that they get a natural high on set like how actors get. The job role loses the luster and one realizes that there isn’t as much glamour as one expected at first. So do background work if you must, but only if you must.
There's More to Acting Than "Acting"
With the right knowledge in hand, you can reach the next level in Hollywood. Purchase "Mastering the Business of Acting" today.
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