How to Be a Movie Extra (With Average Salary and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 10 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A movie extra or background actor is someone who appears in a film and remains in the background of a scene. This is to ensure realism when the main characters perform in locations that have other people in the background. Understanding what is involved in working as an extra can help you prepare for your first role and learn the necessary skills. In this article, we define what a movie extra is, provide a guide on how you can become one, list the average salary for this type of profession and discuss helpful skills you can develop before starting your acting career.

Related: 14 Best Jobs in the Film Industry (With Salaries and Duties)

What is a movie extra?

A movie extra is a person who appears in the background of a film scene who isn't part of the main cast. For example, they might walk behind the main character, eat in a busy restaurant, run down a busy street or drive a car down the road in the background of a scene. Most background actors don't speak or interact with the main cast and might only appear in the frame for a second or two. People often work as extras as part of their progression to becoming a professional actor or actress. Others choose the work to earn extra money alongside other jobs or simply because they enjoy the work and the film environment.

Most performances by extras aren't scripted. Instead, the film director usually tells the background actors where to go and how they might react in a specific scene. Some people who work in smaller roles might advance into bigger roles or get a few lines of dialogue if they gain enough experience. If you're interested in becoming a movie extra, it might be worth learning more about this career and how you can start.

Related: What Does a Film Director Do? (With FAQs)

How to be a movie extra

Learning the steps to becoming a movie extra can benefit your acting career if you intend to become a full-time professional actor, or it can help you find a part-time role for extra income. Here's is a simple guide you can follow to help you earn your first background acting role:

1. Get a headshot

Casting agencies typically ask for a recent portrait of actors to determine if they look suitable for the role. This is not always the case when casting movie extras, but having a headshot can show your professionalism as well as your look. It's important to supply the best quality headshot you can manage. If you can't have a professional photographer take the photo, ensure that you can stand in front of a plain background and keep your shoulders and face inside the frame.

2. Research casting agencies

You can research local casting agencies and consider registering with them. Although this is usually optional for movie extras, it can help you find new roles. The casting agency may ask for your headshot and audition tapes to include on their database. This can help directors and filmmakers search for the right cast member according to their age, appearance and acting qualities. You may need to complete paperwork when registering with the casting agency, and provide tax information and proof of citizenship or work permit.

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3. Accept local work

If you're registered with a casting agency, they will contact you if they have work you may be suited for. You can also watch for open calls for extras that may appear on film company websites and social media. It can be a good idea to confirm your availability straight away and ask questions about the type of shoot, where it's located, how long it may take and what contact details you might need beforehand.

4. Build your experience

If you want to progress into bigger acting roles, it might be worth gaining more work experience. You may learn how popular actors work on set and what skills are important for a specific project. This can enable you to develop your own acting skills as well as learn how to improve your background work from more experienced actors.

5. Obtain qualifications

If you want to make a career of being a professional actor or actress, it may be worth completing formal training to enhance your resume. The Certificate IV in Acting can teach you about stage productions, arts administration, TV advertisements, films and presentation methods. This course can last around five months and might improve your employability when approaching film directors in the future.

Another useful qualification for your resume might be the Certificate IV in Acting for Stage and Screen, as this can teach you about digital platforms and how your performance might interchange with technology. You may learn how to prepare for an audition and how to collaborate with performers. This course may provide you with coursework assessments that can develop your written communication in stage performance. Most people complete this course in nine months or less.

Expanding your knowledge of the entertainment industry can help boost your confidence when you apply for the first small acting role.

6. Obtain a degree

When progressing into acting as a career, it can be a good idea to obtain a degree. Completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) degree can help you develop skills such as using body movements and communicating with facial expressions. You might find your passion through an acting qualification, especially if you're new to the entertainment industry. Performing arts degrees usually last around three years.

A Master of Arts (Performing Arts) degree can teach you how to research when creating a new performance piece or presentation in the workplace. This course may also allow you to explore your own ideas and apply unique methods to your acting projects. A master's degree can typically last around two years, depending on whether you're a full-time or part-time student.

Average salary of a movie extra

The national average salary for a background actor is $27.26 per hour, but this can depend on how many projects you complete and what your role might be in the scene. For example, some people might earn more during a shoot if they accept other background performances and remain in the scene longer. This salary might also change because of the location and how many days the actors may appear on the set. It might be worth talking to the casting agency about your salary expectations and what you can expect to earn during the job.

Related: Interview Question: "What Are Your Salary Expectations?"

Examples of acting skills for extras

Most actors develop their professional skills before they register with a casting agency. This can ensure they provide the right talent when approaching new projects. Below are some examples of skills you can develop to improve your acting qualities:

Creativity

Actors often play different roles or characters, and directors may ask movie extras to act a certain part to benefit the scene. Movie extras can use creative skills to imagine themselves in different situations or places. They can also use creative thinking to ask themselves how the character might feel in this scene. For example, a director might ask a movie extra to walk down the street and talk over the phone showing a particular emotion on their face.

Teamwork

Actors usually have strong teamwork skills that can help them discuss scenes with colleagues and find solutions to improve together. For example, two background actors might engage in a conversation in the background of a scene, but the audience can't hear them. They can only use their body language. Before filming, they may discuss how to amplify the scene and what conversation they may act out.

Related: Advantages of Working as a Team

Time management

Excellent time management skills enable background actors to attend multiple auditions on time, manage travel arrangements, set new performance times, schedule professional meetings and keep track of important timetables. With strong time management skills, movie extras can increase their productivity and develop a good reputation in the industry.

Related: Time Management Skills: The Importance of Including Them in Your Resume

Adaptability

Those who decide to work in an acting career are usually very adaptable, able to change their schedule and fit in when required. Professional actors often have to perform multiple takes of scenes until the director is satisfied.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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