What It’s Like to Be an Extra in Film and Television

 It’s just like the worst first day of high school — You decided you needed money for your own reasons and weren’t really looking for a stable 9-5 job, but something that can probably get you to the club a few Friday nights per month. Well, if you were like me, you never did save up for Friday nights you just went there to observe the environment around you and possibly use it for research in some lame teenage sitcom you can pitch to Hollywood one day. 

Your agent emails you an invite for some work for a film poorly disguised with a title to avoid public’s eye. I never had a sole agent, this group had over hundreds of people on their roster simply to fill in the voids of any given production in the city. 

You agree to it and they said they’ll email you your schedule a day prior. If you cancel after your booking they will find where you live and murder you. Metaphorically speaking, not actually. They will hate you with disgust and give a threatening like email or voice mail or even call you to let you know how worthless of a person you are due to circumstances which may even be an emergency. Yes, booking agents that are public and open as this one will call you at your hospital after you’ve gotten in a car accident and ask, 

“So, does that mean you’ll make it or not? Because if you can’t, can you find somebody who can?”

I do not sugar coat anything in this blog post. 

So without any awareness of what they desire you’ll receive your wardrobe list and realize you practically have no ounce of colour in your closet since you were raised in a city where it rains nine months at a time. Oh, and they email you late at night so good luck at finding a 24 hour thrift shop. 

The day arrives and your eyes are bagged with fatigue. Your set time is a little past seven in the morning, but you don’t check in until eight in the morning but still get paid for standing in the line that is the epitome of customs of July 4th between the US and Canada. Already as you stand in line you can distinguish the people who have done this for a long time, you can see those who have just begun, and those who have done it for a long time but do a terrible job at acting like they have. 

Around you, everybody thinks they are special. They spent days, weeks, even the day itself bragging to all their outside friends how they work in film and television, but it’s hardly any work at all. It’s like when I worked at Tim Horton’s, they called me a graveyard baker when all I really did was thaw out food in the oven from the freezer. 

You check in with one of the wranglers; (yes, they’re called wranglers like they’re trying to control the animals also known as all of us) and then you provide two pieces of ID to prove to the American Hollywood film companies you didn’t hitch a ride from overseas or borders and they tell you to settle in to wait for a wardrobe and make up check. 

Oh, Did I tell you it took an hour to check in? Yes, so this means we repeat that line up three times so three hours, paid, standing and waiting. It’s hell. 

I’ve seen boys and girls harass their agents and yell at the wranglers. They call their agents because they were mistreated because they got their time wrong, or they didn’t get to be the extra role they wanted and they switched them. They bitch at their agents for almost any alteration that may or may have not happened. And most of the time these are union based actors and actresses. 

And how do you think they may resolve this situation? 

Go on Youtube and find a snippet of a show, a trailer from a movie or a series and now behind the leads look for the extras that get more screen time than others. Those people really bitch at their agents to get screen time and most of the time they get nowhere doing so. They forever bitch at their agents to get their face in a quarter of a scene so they can screen capture the moment and brag to their friends how famous they are on Instagram. 

If they get a speaking role then they really flaunt their ego in the same holding rooms as the rest of us waiting for our queue.

Being an extra is basically getting paid to do nothing and be nothing. Imagine what you do on an idle moment and now imagine getting paid? Sounds brilliant? Right? Except, it’s not. It drains you out. As a productive member of society, you’re most likely to be less productive than those who search the organic bin at my restaurant for left overs. 

Oh and sexual harassment happens all the time on these sets not just by extras but everybody. Yes, EVERYBODY. Including the leads and production team members. You see men trying to hit on girls, you see extras going into the RV’s of actors. Flirting, cat calling, racism, just every ounce of bitterness. 

Actors such as David Duchovny has even been mentioned by girls on set and how he requested females from our tents and rooms to join him in his RV. My own extra agency even got their female clients to perform sexual favours if the girls wanted more features as an extra for the set they were on. I feel disgusted to being part of something of this nature. It’s unacceptable and it’s one workplace area where policies and laws are never spoken about and they are never publicly discussed simply because, 

“It’s Hollywood.” 

Four years later of on and off work, I quit. Between those years I value my day job more than being an extra. I make a lot of money per month, I travel on my own terms, I write my own films, my own music. I get to play and book boys and girls to be part of my projects. I much rather grow myself as an individual than an extra and I hope a lot more others follow my footsteps. 

All experiences noted above were mentioned on the following sets*. Film agencies within the province of British Columbia need to be investigated on these acts I’ve heard and also been witness too. I thank those who I listened and kept note of while working. Your stories are not going unheard but I hope you too speak up about these incidents. 

*Fifty Shades of Grey, The Edge of Seventeen, Before I Fall, If I Stay, Step Up: All In

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