Working as an extra can provide you with a wealth of valuable experience. Some of the blockbuster stars of our time started there, working their way up the ladder rung by rung – and no one looks down their nose at a hustle like that. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Brad Pitt and Renee Zellweger. Eastwood, Willis and Stallone. However, no one’s guaranteeing that you’ll miraculously get scouted on set – quite the opposite. Being an extra on a professional production gives you the opportunity to practise a few key skills while you’re invisible so when you get your starring role, you don’t screw it up while you’re standing in the spotlight.
Learning how to work well on set
A set is a complicated, carefully balanced, time-precious bubble. Everyone is trying their best to stick to deadlines, budgets, shot-lists, orders, occupational health and safety, while trying to be fairly paid, while also trying to create a piece of art they can be proud. Most of the time, this is all being juggled on a minimal amount of sleep. As an extra, you learn humility, the power of silence, patience and professionalism. While you may think your opinion or technical expertise will be welcomed, it will 100% absolutely not be. Even if you know the Eureka! solution to a problem, if nobody has asked for your help, do not give it. They may have very good reasons for not attempting your suggestions, or they may have tried it days ago. Either way, while it may sound callous, everything functions smoother if everyone sticks to their roles. The same way you don’t direct your fellow actor, you don’t film-splain the business to the business people. Do your role, and do it so well that you get one take, bother no one, and remain unseen. Show biz is a thankless biz 90% of the time, so if it’s not for you, discover this now as an extra rather than down the track as a lead. It is never as glamorous on set as it is on the red carpet.
Network while off duty
If you’re at lunch, r having some drinks with the crew, driving to or from set, have a chat for sure. But as soon as you hit the ground, utilise this time to shut your mouth and open your eyes. Any time spent on set is invaluable, so familiarise yourself with the environment and the workflow. If you don’t know what’s going on, write your questions down to google later; these people are here to work, not to teach you. If you use this time to gawk and poke around, disturbing nobody of course, then you can get it out of the way now and act like the pro you are when you are the credited actor. Your professionalism will be appreciated, but more than that, your comfort will pay off big time. Even if a soccer player develops skills to rival Ronaldo in their backyard, it’ll still be an unnecessary jolt to transfer them on to a full soccer pitch. Save yourself the discomfort and soak up some ground time on a professional set. It’ll all seem a little less foreign and daunting.
Get yourself on StarNow, sign up with an extras agency (they even advertise on seek.com) and put in some of mileage on set. You’ll have the craft and the business merged in no time.