With the close of another TIFF this year, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about film in general, but also specifically of my own experience making some extra cash as a background artist and the nature of extra work in general.
I’ve done a bit of extra work ranging from large film productions, to television series. My first job right after theatre school was actually on set at my school pretending to be a theatre student in a television series, which was a rather surreal experience to say the least.
For my friends and I, extra work was usually pretty fun. Long days and sometimes less than comfortable filming conditions aside, it was decent pay and an interesting experience. Never for a second though, did I have any delusions of grandeur at being “discovered” on set while performing in the capacity of a background artist.
This wasn’t the case for everyone however, and if you try your hand at it, you’ll be quickly inundated with people’s grand plans of stardom through extra work.
I tended though to use the long hours on set between shots to work on my own theatre projects or read. It was pretty awesome actually and I got a lot of work done in that environment on several different shows of my own.
If you’re thinking of becoming a background artist at some point, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Find a decent agency that specializes in background artists. Do your research and make sure they’re reputable. Some agencies will have a small one time only fee to be put on their books (normally between $20 – $50).
Don’t feel pressured to have expensive headshots done! You don’t need this if you’re just doing extra work! There are a lot of unscrupulous agencies and individuals who will try to get you to pay hundreds for what amounts to a Krusty the Clown comp card. Always, always read the fine print and if you have any doubts, hold off.
2. Be on time! No matter what you do, this is paramount. If you want to be booked in future – be reliable, be on time, and be prepared to work and follow direction.
3. Don’t be afraid to give full disclosure for any tattoos, body mods, extensive wardrobe or different hair you might have. Unlike conventional casting, tattoos and mods can actually go in your favour if they’re after a certain look. And you can make an additional bonus for special costumes if you provide and wear items from your own wardrobe depending on what’s called for.
4. Don’t be a primadonna. I was on set once with a girl that flipped out over how she’d been styled by wardrobe and makeup. She accused the team of trying to make her look ugly and was promptly sent home.
I’ve had to wear some pretty ridiculous things, but whatever – be professional, you’re being paid! However, use common sense, if at all you don’t feel comfortable doing something, don’t do it. Be polite, but firm. This is especially important if there’s any suggestion of changing goal posts in regards to nudity.
5. Be prepared to sign a confidentiality clause. Resist the urge to take photos while on set* and make sure your phone is off when filming!
*I admit to being very naughty and breaking this rule and the rule of leaving the talent alone when filming Shaun of the Dead. I was a lot younger, and was volunteering my time as a Zombie through the most excellent Spaced forum. That said, still no excuse, and I was lucky that the cast, crew and team were as relaxed and gracious as they were to my fangirl self.
6. If you have any type of food allergy or preference, bring your own snacks and food. Some sets can have amazing catering available to all, some, you’re looking at cold hot dogs and veggie dogs in stale buns.
7. At some point, you will most likely be bored. Bring paper, pens, a book! Make sure your iPod and phone are fully charged. Resist the urge though to bring your Mac Book Pro. You never know who’s coming and going on set, and chances are there will be long periods when you’re away from your possessions. Never bring large amounts of cash. Always keep in mind before bringing something whether it’s an item you could never live without if stolen.
8. Layers! Bring a hat, a hoodie, gloves. Some holding areas can be a lot colder than expected, especially if in an odd location or a night shoot.
9. Have a sense of humour. Don’t take yourself so seriously! You’ll probably be asked to wear something idiotic, to do something ad nauseum and be surrounded by some pretty odd people. Expect this and you’ll have an interesting experience at the very least!
10. Go watch ‘Extras’ if you haven’t already. Particularly because everyone needs to see the episode with Patrick Stewart.