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Extra, extra! How to become an extra on TV

Maria McCarthy / 13 April 2017 ( 24 April 2019 )

Flexible schedule and the right attitude? You could work as an extra!

A clapboard and vintage film real to represent working as an extra

Wouldn't it be great if as well as enjoying your favourite TV shows and films you could be paid for appearing in them too? 

Maybe you fancy wandering through Eastenders’ Walford Market, lying in a hospital bed in Casualty or wearing historical costume as a villager in Poldark?

If you've got a flexible schedule and the right attitude then it's a real possibility. You could become an extra – or a supporting artist, as they're known these days.

‘The UK film and TV industry is booming and there's a demand for reliable supporting artists,' says Rosena Robson of Mad Dog Casting. 'And we are keen to recruit people from all around the UK, not just from London and the surrounding areas. Just like acting, it’s hard to make a full time living from being an extra, but it can be a fun sideline and a good way to earn some additional income.'

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How do I apply to be an extra?

Don't feel you have to look like a supermodel to be a supporting artist. There's lots of work in scenes set on the street or in pubs and shops, where if all the people in the background looked glamorous and youthful it wouldn't be realistic.

The main route is to register with a reputable casting agency such as Mad Dog CastingThe Casting Collective  or Phoenix Casting. These agencies all have plenty of information about the casting process on their websites.

Typically, the first stage of the application process can be carried out online. You have to fill in a form giving details about yourself, your background,  and proof that you're eligible to work in the UK. You'll be asked to provide your measurements and upload a photo or photographs of yourself – these can be taken on a smartphone, there's absolutely no need to splash out on professional photos.

Your best chance of being chosen to come in for an official registration is to fill in the form as thoroughly as possible, especially the 'special skills' section. 'Authenticity is key in making a film work,' says Rosena, 'and having supporting artists with particular skills can help with that. So an artist with hairdressing training would be perfect for a scene set in a salon, for example. We're always looking for supporting artists with police and army experience for dramas.'

The next step is normally to be called into the office for an official registration where your documents will be checked and professional photos and measurements are taken. If you don't get a call don't be disheartened. The agency may have its books full in your area. Making online applications to several agencies will help increase your chances.

Agencies also do 'urgent castings' when they need supporting artists in a certain location or with particular skills. Their websites have news sections flagging up these opportunities and you can also follow them on social media.

Do I need to pay anything upfront?

Casting agencies normally take a  registration or 'book fee' (which can range from around £40-£70 ) but this is taken out of your first day's wages. If you don't get any work from the agency, you're not left out of pocket. 

If your online application is successful most agencies will then require you to visit them to be officially registered. You'll have to cover the travel expenses for this yourself. However, agencies often have branches throughout the UK - for example, Mad Dog Casting has offices in London, Cardiff and Manchester.

It's also advisable to have a Basic Disclosure Certificate- this is a criminal record check and costs about £25. Casting agencies will have details on their website advising on what stage of the registration process you should apply for one and how to go about it. 

How much does working as an extra pay?

Pay rates can vary and the casting agency will take 15% plus VAT commission from your earnings. Current pay rates at Mad Dog Casting are £88.20 for an nine hour day. But that can be increased by additional payments. 

For example filming in 'inclement weather' can attract an extra £19 a day, whilst 'wearing a uniform' is worth £25. Travel expenses are covered in some circumstances.

What makes a good TV or film extra?

You need to be flexible, reliable,  patient and willing to take direction.  Filming involves a lot of hanging around and if it's out of doors you may have to be stoical in the face of cold or wet weather. 

Scenes are often shot repeatedly and you'll have to stay alert and follow any instructions you're given. Having a positive, can-do attitude will very much count in your favour when it comes to getting more work. 

But film-making is a fascinating business and as a supporting artist you'll have the chance to be part of it, get paid – and look forward to spotting yourself on-screen!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.