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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box -  Working as a film extra

September 2011

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.




ActingThis week a friend came round for coffee and told me about Geoff, her next door neighbour. He was widowed a few years ago but instead of becoming a recluse, he is full of life and always busy.

Evidently after his wife’s death, he was very withdrawn until a friend suggested he contact some casting agents for work. As he is well into his 70s, he thought his friend was joking but with encouragement, he pursued the idea and now there is no stopping him. He has been on tv five times and in a major film once. He picks up useful payment to supplement his pension and more than anything he is having the time of his life, meeting new people and exploring an area he has never been involved in before.

The good thing about working as a TV of film extra is that age and looks are no hindrance. You don’t have to look like a glamorous filmstar or model. Indeed, in some cases the least star-like people get the most work because normal people are usually exactly what is required to play the parts of extras.

When you start looking at advertising and tv shows, you soon realize there are numerous scenes based in everyday life situations with a variety of people in the background; perhaps hurrying along a street or standing at the side of a bar having make believe conversations.

Starting off is easy as well, you don’t need a host of tv or film credits to your name; you simply apply to go on the books of various casting agents and await the call. There is a downside of course – most people say it can be incredibly boring and also sometimes there is a feeling of rejection when you turn up all eager and eventually are not called for a scene. A big recommendation from seasoned extras is to bring books, crosswords, Sudoku, lots of things to help pass the time while you hang around waiting to be called. But others say it is such fun talking to other extras that you never have time to read.

Often you are asked to bring appropriate clothing for the shoot – anything really fancy will be provided, but for general background scenes you may be instructed to bring holiday clothes or evening bar clothes or walking along a street in the afternoon clothes, and many experienced extras often take a change of clothing with them in case there is a chance to appear in another different shot as well.

Another downside is the time; you usually have to find your own way to the studios or location, and filming notoriously starts really early. It isn’t that unusual to hang around all day and then find you are not needed – the role of extras can be very ad hoc and of course is secondary to the filming of the main names in the cast.

Sometimes you will get full expenses to cover food during the day, or there may be a canteen on site.

Payment is governed by Equity and can be around £65 for a day’s work, which can be a useful top up to a pension or other part time work.

The good news is that you only need to take work that fits in with your timetable, although if you turn down a lot of work the agency might stop asking you.

There are many casting agencies and also casting directors around. Just simple input “film extra” into google and you will get links to lots of useful sites. A book, Contacts by Spotlight, is also useful for giving up to date contact information in this field. While a great deal of the work is done in the London area, there are also opportunities across the country so it is worth talking to local agents in your area.

Finally, just to show you are an old hand at this acting lark and know what is what, the proper name for extras is “background artiste”. However, it probably isn’t quite worth your while to practice your autograph yet – there are hundreds of extras used every year, and however well you play your role, it is not usually a stepping stone to real stardom!


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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