Monday, 10 January 2011

Tip #59: Getting extras (background actors)

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Producer/writer)

An extra is someone who appears in a film in a nonspeaking or nonperforming capacity normally in the background and hence also known as background actors or background performers, background artists or simply background.The easiest and proper way to find extras is to approach an agency. There are many around that specialise in sourcing background artists. However for most indie films you won't have a budget for this and you will need to find extras yourself. Here are some ideas for finding them inexpensively -or possibly even for free.

1. Production team/cast/crew members.

2. Family and friends.

3. Interested organisations/drama groups
What we mean here are organisations that have an interest in films in general or the theme of your film, maybe a local theatre group or a community group. For example, in Ambleton Delight we had a village council scene with 12 male councillors. Producer Sinéad approached a local drama group and we could find enough men perfect for the scene. You could also approach model agencies as some models are interested in moving into films as well.

Above: Some of the councillor extras in Ambleton Delight
came from a local drama group.

4. Schools/Colleges/University.
Film students are probably ideal but they don't have to be. I did my degree (nothing to do with films) in New Zealand and while I was there Edward Zwick was filming Last Samurai; We would find ads in our canteen for young lads (of any nationality) who could play soldiers. Thought it was a great idea.

A word of caution....

Although your budget may be limited, you would want to make sure that the extras are right for the scene. Recently I saw an indie film that had a cinema release. There was a press conference scene in the film and the extras playing the reporters were more like grandads in a tweed jacket, mums who had been shopping, and students - nothing like reporters! It's important to find the "right" group of people as well as to dress them appropriately.

What you want to watch out for is that a lot of people who have never been in a film tend to look directly at the camera. Plus unlike professional actors they are not "continuity-aware", so you need to pay extra attention to their continuity too.

Another very important thing to remember is that you need to have everyone sign a waiver, even if they are your friends or family. OK, you probably won't need it but having a habit to take care of the legal side is very important and can save you possible heartache in the future....

Do you want to be an extra? Here are some links to check:


  1. Enjoyed this tip more than most as I've also been an extra several times. I noticed with many new extras, being unaware of the processes of filming, that they (and I mainly mean relatives and friends) need to understand before making the commitment that they will be for the most part standing and waiting direction on set/location. Some find this very tireing and that can effect their performance and cooperation.

  2. A lot of these extras sites are quite frankly scams that pilfer details of castings from other other sources. With regard they seem bonefide, but castings are thin on the ground, and there's even less paid work. They also are terrible at returning communications, and were very slow to respond to an obvious scam by a dodgy outfit called Paramount Media, which remained on their site for weeks after I'd emailed them, and other sites had tipped off their members and informed the police. Universal extras is legit and I've had a couple of interesting jobs from them, but others seem dubious to I wonder whether some are actually the same guys trying to maximise profits by creating different websites, but using the same castings information. Therefore I'd recommend anyone that is interested in pursuing this work avoiding these websites.

  3. As Leroy says, most of the above sites are scams. The legitimate agencies are represented by NASAA (National Association of Supporting Artistes Association):

    Anyone seriously considering work as a Supporting Artiste should consider joining the FAA (Film Artiste Association), the division of BECTU that represents Background Artistes:

  4. Thanks Leroy and Roger Evans for the extra information regarding the links at the end of the article. We have updated the links to reflect the clarifications.

  5. Yeah agree. But i think the number one rule is to not pay for any. If they are that good, then they will make their money when they get you work.