I have worked in the Entertainment Industry as long as I can remember. I have been a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists since 1985. I decided to create and maintain this blog in my spare time to help people who are interested in working as a union or non-union extra. I hope the information on this page can help you achieve your goal of working as a background actor in Film and Television. I post this information absolutely free of charge, and try to verify all details as much as possible. I hope my websites continue to help talent obtain employment in the entertainment industry.
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The Actors Resource Guide eBooks - A must have for both professional and aspiring actors alike!
Comprehensive actors resource guides that include listings of talent agents and casting directors, sample actors resumes, acting classes, headshot photographers, extras casting agencies, work permits, child talent information, and many valuable tips and advice.
Each eBook contains a minimum of the following:
• Casting Directors List • Extras Casting Directors List • Talent Agents List • Acting Schools List • Headshot Photographers List • Actors Unions • Sample Actors Resume • Sample Beginning Actors Resume • Sample Cover Letters • Audition Tips • How To Make an Audition Video • General Talent Agent Information • Entertainment Industry Terminology • Child Work Permit Information • Immigration Work Permit Information • Non-Immigrant Visa Application • Miscellaneous Resources • PDF Users Guides
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More locations coming soon.
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A "Background Actor" or "Extra" is a performer in a film, television show, stage, musical, opera or ballet production, who appears in a nonspeaking, non-singing or non-dancing capacity, usually in the background.
War films and epic films often employ background actors in large numbers. Some films have featured hundreds or even thousands of paid background actors. Likewise, grand opera can involve many background actors appearing in spectacular productions.
On a film or television set, background actors are usually referred to as "Background Performers", "Background Artists" or simply "Background," while the term "Extra" is rarely used.
In a stage production, background actors are commonly referred to as "Supernumeraries". In opera and ballet, they are called either 'Extras' or 'Supers'.
The Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is an American labor union representing over 150,000 film and television principal and background performers worldwide. The current organization is the result of the March 30, 2012 merger of the Screen Actor's Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
According to the SAG-AFTRA Mission Statement, the union seeks to: negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for its performers; collect compensation for exploitation of recorded performances by its members, and provide protection against unauthorized use of those performances; and preserve and expand work opportunities for its members.
The Screen Actors Guild was founded in 1933 in an effort to eliminate exploitation of actors in Hollywood who were being forced into oppressive multi-year contracts with the major movie studios that did not include restrictions on work hours or minimum rest periods, and often had clauses that automatically renewed at the studios' discretion. These contracts were notorious for allowing the studios to dictate the public and private lives of the performers who signed them, and most did not have provisions to allow the performer to end the deal.
SAG-AFTRA is the primary performer's union in the United States. The union is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. SAG-AFTRA claims exclusive jurisdiction over motion picture as well as radio, television, Internet, and other new media. Internationally, SAG-AFTRA is affiliated with the International Federation of Actors.
How To Qualify For SAG-AFTRA Membership
A performer becomes eligible for SAG-AFTRA membership under one of the following two conditions:
1) Proof of Employment.
SAG-AFTRA membership is available to those who work in a position covered by a SAG-AFTRA (or AFTRA or SAG) collective bargaining agreement. Any person qualifying through work as a background actor must have completed three days of work as a background actor under a SAG-AFTRA (or AFTRA or SAG) collective bargaining agreement.
2) Employment Under an Affiliated Performers Union.
Performers may join SAG-AFTRA if the applicant is a paid-up member of an affiliated performers union (ACTRA, AEA, AGMA or AGVA) for a period of one year and has worked and been paid for at least once as a principal performer in that union’s jurisdiction.
All new members pay a one-time-only initiation fee, plus the first semiannual dues at the time of joining. The national initiation fee rate is currently $3000.00 (initiation fees may be lower in some states). Annual Base dues are $198.00. In addition, work dues are calculated at 1.575 percent of covered earnings up to $500,000.
Once you are a member, you must abide by the rules of membership, starting with Global Rule One and the No Contract/No Work Rule. And, whether you are a SAG-AFTRA member or not - NEVER accept work during a Union strike!
Becoming a SAG-AFTRA member is a very important milestone for every working professional talent in the entertainment industry. But you should not be in a rush to join unless you are absolutely certain that you are ready to compete for professional performing jobs. For actors, you should prepare yourself by studying acting and improv, doing live theatre, and perform in non-union on-camera productions in order to build your resume and gain extremely valuable experience.
How do I get three SAG-AFTRA background vouchers?
Excellent question; there truly isn’t a simple answer. The best way is to work as a non-union background actor as often as possible and do a great job, showing up on time and bringing the proper wardrobe.
Occasionally there will be an immediate need for a certain look or ability on the set and if you are in the right place at the right time you will be offered a SAG-AFTRA voucher. Sporadically a casting director will offer you a SAG-AFTRA voucher if they are unable to locate a SAG member who fits the requirements of the production company.
Can I get an agent if I'm not yet a SAG-AFTRA member?
Yes. Agents represent talent at all stages. Being non-union won't deter an agent from representing you if they are really interested.
Demo Reel Information
An actors demo reel (or "demo tape") is a short compilation of clips from professional acting work on films, commercials, and television shows. It is usually no more than a few minutes in length.
A demo reel IS NOT the same as an "Audition Video". An Audition Video IS a homemade video that you make when casting directors are accepting audition video submissions.
It is NOT necessary to send in a demo reel when submitting for extra roles. Only submit a demo reel if the casting directors request it, or through an agent.
Extras Calling Services
There are companies that are termed "Calling Services" or "Booking Services" that charge fee(s) to obtain extra work for you. These Calling Services are not contracted by production companies as Casting Directors are, rather they are independent services that work for the individual extras that sign up for their service. The fee is usually on a monthly basis, however some use a per-job-booked fee structure also.
Most Extras Casting Directors use these calling services often, especially when they are casting large amounts of extras for a specific production. It is much easier and less time consuming to make one call to a Calling Service and tell them what they need than it is to call each and every extra individually.
Once an extra signs up for a Calling Service, they provide them with photos, clothing size forms, and contact information. Then it is simply a matter of letting the Calling Service know your availability. The booking service will submit their clients based on their availability to all of the extras Casting Directors, and the Casting Directors can book as many or as few of these extras and give the booking service the call times, wardrobe requirements, shooting location, etc., to forward along to their clients. It is then the responsibility of the Calling Service to provide the details to their extras and confirm the booking.
Extras who do not use a Calling Service must constantly call recorded casting lines that the extras casting directors set up, and then call a separate number if they fit exactly what is on the recorded line. The competition to get work this way is extremely fierce. It is a generally accepted reality that extras who use respected and legitimate Calling Services are booked far more frequently than those who try to do their own booking.
The fees that Calling Services charge range from around $45 - $75 per month depending on your union status, age, and the number of days that you are booked during the month. There also may be an initial registration fee that can be as low as $20 to over $100 if they require a first month fee and last month fee in addition to the registration fee.
It is of the utmost importance that you have a good cell phone in order for you to reliably receive your call times. I also recommend giving out a secondary number such as a voice mail service that you check frequently. This is a good backup in case your cell battery dies or connection drops. Casting Directors will go directly to the next person if they cannot easily reach you.
There are many good voice mail services.
I highly recommend the following:
I personally feel that if a person does not have experience, doing extra work is a fantastic way to get used to being on a film or TV set. It gives you an idea of how things work and allows you to become comfortable on a set without risking "burning bridges" if you get nervous and a little stage fright.
I myself did extra work in the beginning of my career and it helped me tremendously. I had terrible stage fright, but I became very comfortable after doing background work for a while.
So the answer is yes, doing extra work will help you. It doesn't pay a whole lot, but the experience you get is valuable.
Acting is like any other job, the more training and experience a person has, the better chance of getting the job. But at the same time, we all have to start somewhere!
Types of Background Actors
General Background: Person of atmospheric business which includes the normal actions, gestures and facial expressions of the Background Actor’s assignment.
Special Ability: Background Actor specifically called and assigned to perform work requiring special skills such as tennis, golf, choreographed social dancing (including square dancing), swimming, skating, riding animals, driving livestock, non-professional singing (in groups of 16 or less), mouthing to playback in groups of 16 or less, professional or organized athletic sports (including officiating and running), amputees, driving which requires a special skill and a special license (such as truck driving but not cab driving), motorcycle driving, insert work, and practical card dealing.
Stand-In: Background Actor used as a substitute for another actor for purposes of focusing shots, setting lights, etc., but is not actually photographed. Stand-Ins may also be used as general background.
Photographic Double: Background Actor who is actually photographed as a substitute for another actor. A General Background Actor who is required to do photographic doubling shall receive the Special Ability rate.
Day Performer: A Performer who delivers a speech or a line of dialogue. A Background Actor must be upgraded to a Day Performer if directed to speak, except in the case of “omnies”.
Omnies:Any speech sounds used as general backgroundnoise rather than for its meaning. Atmospheric words such as indistinguishable background chatter in a party or restaurant scene.
Advice for Child Actors
1. Have fun and enjoy every performance.
2. Learn as much as possible from the professionals you work with.
3. Get your rest, and drink plenty of water!
4. Be respectful and do what you are asked to do to make the child wrangler's job easy.
5. Remember you are there to do a job.
6. Share the experience with your friends and family.
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