If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing any of the acclaimed local films released within the past year such as “The Fighter,” “The Town” or “The Social Network,” did you happen to look past the stars to notice the people in the background, whether walking along city streets or filling a packed arena? Maybe you were one of them.
Celebrities steal the show, but extras fill the gaps. Without the people brought to the set to occupy space (sometimes hundreds or thousands of them), movies would be conspicuously incomplete.
Extras are used for many gigs, including commercials, television pilots, corporate videos and feature films. I was called to be an extra for a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.) commercial filmed at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. The day was long and the money was short ($75 for 10 hours, $100 for 12 hours and overtime after 12 hours), but the experience was interesting, and lunch was served. All in all it was a good day.
Though most of an extra’s day is spent waiting in a holding room, this time can be well used by getting to know the unique subculture of people who make being an extra a lifestyle commitment. My experience led me to career extra Charlie Alejandro of Lowell.
Alejandro has been doing extra work for almost four years and has been involved in six major productions and 10 independent projects. She loves it for what it is and recognizes that fame and fortune is not likely. “It would be great to get the big roles and accolades,” she said, “but if it doesn’t happen, I really love what I do — I love being on set and the whole vibe.” She knows, too, that being an extra is not for everybody. “You either love it or you hate it,” she said.
Alejandro clearly loves it, having spent 33 days on the set of “Edge of Darkness” and five weeks on “Grown Ups.” Though her time on “Edge of Darkness” resulted in no discernable screen time, she was clearly visible for several minutes in the bleachers of a basketball scene in “Grown Ups.”
Coordinating these large groups is no easy task. Aaron Kahl, casting director at Boston Casting Inc., worked with 300 extras during filming of “The Fighter.” Getting the word out to potential extras and getting them to set on time are the biggest, up-front challenges. Keeping people occupied and contained while waiting adds to the stress of a shoot day. Extras must commit to a 12-hour day and possibly longer. Kahl strongly suggests that extras bring reading material, but cautions that anything valuable should be left at home as belongings cannot be brought to set.
Getting a call to be an extra can be luck of the draw, but it is also very much up to the person looking to make it happen. “If you are really interested in doing it, it is your responsibility to stay abreast of what movies are being shot and what agencies are casting the extras for them,” Kahl said. “You need to be proactive about attending open calls and submitting yourself for work.”
Casting directors do take notice of the extras who regularly submit themselves and are reliable and professional on set. The better they know you, the more likely you’ll be called. However, Kahl said, “Calling us every day is not the way to get to know us.”
Interested in being an extra?
Sign up online, free of charge, with these agencies:
Boston Casting, Inc. – www.BostonCasting.com – (617) 254-1001
South Shore Casting – www.SouthShoreCasting.com – (781) 829-2122
CP Casting & Acting Studio, Inc. - www.CPCasting.com – (617) 451-0996