Ever wondered what it would be like to work on a movie set or even give acting a chance? One of the best ways to begin and get free paid training is to begin working in the background. You can gain professional experience working on set by being a background actor (BGA) or “extra”.
Never underestimate the power of being a BGA. You will learn first - hand how everything works together while working in it. BGA's work long and sometimes boring hours which can give you plenty of time to learn.
How can you turn those boring moments into learning, you ask? Well, in between your shooting on screen you can watch first - hand how everything is set up, how the team works together, learn the lingo and learn from others like you.
When I was on set with other BGA’s I would learn from their experiences and where the next job may come from. I would bring a book with me that pertained to what I was interested in such as auditions, practice my script from my acting class, etc. I would also make new friends and we would keep in touch and give each other info on what’s going on in the business.
You can also learn quickly if acting is really what you want to do or maybe you will find out that you are more interested in working behind the scenes like I did or even bring your business cards to see if you can bring your business into this industry. For example, I met several make - up artist that would work as a BGA just to meet others who may be looking for a make – up artist and hand out their cards. Yes, it works if you handle yourself professionally and discreetly. So here are a few tips for starting out:
Register with casting companies. Most are free to sign up with and they will call you when you fit what they are seeking. You will need a headshot and many times even a full length body shot, your measurements, your clothing sizes, your skills and a resume’ of previous work if you have any. TIP: Don’t worry if you haven’t worked before they will call you if you fit the look or age bracket. Don’t underestimate your skills, list things like rollerskate, bike ride, horse back riding, these will be helpful in placing you for even better scenes where you can stand out.
Be Professional. Sounds easy enough but you would be shocked to learn how many BGA’s show up late or are even a no call / no show. That is the best way to have your file torn up and never called again. If you are late, call ahead and keep them informed. This way, if they still want you they will tell you to come in and if not they will tell you never mind but they won’t throw your file out due to your courtesy and professionalism. Once on set, be quiet and follow directions exactly as your told. TIP: Be careful of what you discuss on set. Gossiping about cast and crew can land you in hot water. You never know who you are working with as a BGA. I have seen a director that brought a niece to work as a BGA and you can bet anything that was being gossiped or complained about was being reported later on.
Hurry up just to wait? Time is of the essence in film making. Time is money. In order to make money they have a tight budget and they move fast. When they say, “places everyone” or “back to one” or “reset” you need to move quickly and follow instructions. Then once the scene is done they will rush you off, back to holding many times and you will wait and wait and wait some more until called back on set. Use this time wisely. Like I said earlier this can be used to learn, take notes, build relationships, pass out business cards or even rest.
Be prepared for long hours. Nothing goes as planned. It’s rare if you have a short or even regular scheduled day. The first time I brought my teenage daughter and son on set they arrived for three p.m. and we were signing out at 4 a.m. the next morning due to unforeseen circumstances. They did send many home after ten hours but asked them if they were interested in staying because they fit the look and they of course were paid overtime.
Bring a snack. Especially if you are diabetic or have other needs. Most sets have a craft table and will serve breakfast, lunch and / or dinner if working over a certain amount of hours but always be prepared. I have worked on set where there was very little or nothing but water due to a low budget. It’s rare, but it happens. TIP: You will already have plenty to bring on set so bring mints or snack bars since they take up little space.
Many may tell you to set a limit on these types of jobs but I have seen many actors use it as an income in between auditions and it worked for them. Some BGA’s enjoy it so much that they decided to stay as a BGA instead of seeking acting full time. Others use it to supplement their retirement income or in between career changes or job searches. Whatever you decide is best for you just remember to be professional, courteous and willing to learn and work hard, long hours.