How To Grow From Movie Extra To Academy Award-Winner?

Extras, or background artists, are the underdogs of the Hollywood industry. Their job is usually regarded as bad and not so interesting, but there are a lot of things that can be learned doing this work.
The first step for nearly any aspiring actor is to sign up with an agency, provide them with high quality pictures and, the most important thing, be available. A professional extra’s phone is never switched off; they never refuse any job, no matter how low it may seem. The only exceptions to this rule are those cases where the pay rate is below the Screen Actors Guild minimum or when the production company seems to be sneaky or shady in any way.

Basic rules of a good background artist

1. Be on time. Film industry is a very small world, and gaining a reputation of tardiness is a sad career killer.

2 . Be polite. Most of the times, when working on a film, there are hundreds of people trying their best to do their jobs. Most of them are naturally kind and friendly, but even the most rude ones deserve professional respect.

3. Be social. The number one task of any actor, or background artist, is to wait. An actor on set usually spends more than 80% of his time waiting. This long hours of waiting can be dreadful, and having a social and polite individual around can be a real life saver.

4. Be professional. Arguing with the production assistants will never get any positive results. If the production company wants the background artist to do anything, the extra’s job is to do that, not to complain.

5. Don’t upstage. Trying to capture the attention of the camera as a background artist is the worst way of getting any recognition.
Producers don’t spend their whole time looking for new faces among the extras; those cases are very rare exceptions, and should not be considered relevant. However, a clever actor who is working as a background artist can learn a lot about how a filming set actually works before entering fully into the professional acting job.

Positive exposure versus unwanted attention

Ironically, if an actor’s goal is to build up a good career in Hollywood, being extensively featured as an extra can be counter productive; if the face of the actor becomes recognizable as a background artist, getting a good job after that can be really hard. There is a middle point, where the actor can get a lot of jobs as an extra without “burning out” their image: trying hard to be part of the background. That involves actions such as avoiding the camera, dressing up and trying to stay out of the main action. It’s possible to do that while still getting jobs and being paid.

How being an extra can help a good acting career

The main thing that the job of a background artist allows is to socialize. It may be impossible to become friends with the big stars, but most of the extras are struggling actors, and some of the technicians may be aspiring directors or screenwriters. A good extra job can be a wonderful opportunity to create great connections with the big names of the future; that guy who is fixing the lights on set may be the next great film director, and you have the chance of meeting him and maybe even getting a role in his next short film.

From extra to professional actor

This leap can be quite difficult, but a good actor never stops trying. With the connections made as an extra, the knowledge about film set etiquette and the meager salary of a background artist, it’s possible to gather a nice book, some good short film credits and interesting contacts with agents and managers. Those contacts are the key to success. Most of the greatest actors of our time are in the position they are because they have shown ambition, respect, talent and because they are, essentially, really nice people.
Once you’ve signed with a good agency, the following steps will be different, and much more complex. Most actors choose to omit their past as background artists, fearing that their reputation may be tarnished. That can be a clever option, but trusting a good agent is always better. After all, they are the ones who know the most about how this industry works.

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