I’ve Always Been Extra, But Now I Get Paid for It

I've Always Been Extra, But Now I Get Paid for It

As part of my adventures last year, I decided to become an extra on movies and TV. I couldn’t film it, or even take photos, so I didn’t include it in my weekly list. I will consider this another bonus to my 50/50 project, but maybe a better bonus than the biopsy.

Because my life is crazier than running with the bulls, I’ve only been able to say yes to two of the calls for availability. I hope that I will be able to do more this summer and beyond because I’m not going to lie, it is a kick!

My first day on set (OMG I sound so cool), I was on a shoot for Schitt’s Creek. If you don’t know this show, you should. It is the brainchild of Eugene Levy and his son and they lose all their money except their investment in this obscure small town known as, you guessed it, Schitt’s Creek. Big city family meets small town and you have comic genius.

I shot three scenes, one of which was left on the cutting room floor (again with the cool). The one above I was in line for an autograph and below I was a casino patron.

To be an extra there was not much to do. I had to register with an agency, post my profile on an online casting website including pictures of myself in different ‘looks.’ I did not have to become an ACTRA member but that means I’m the lowest on the totem pole for the lunch line and I get paid less, but it doesn’t really matter.

You spend a great deal of time during the day just talking to other extras. One scene I shot (not on Schitt’s Creek but I can’t tell you where I was, yet), I was put in a grouping and between shots, we got to chatting. All of us were writers. One of the regular extras in my group said he does this to get away from his desk and get real-life conversation and experiences he can bring back to his writing. Makes sense and provides me with a reason to keep the fun going. So I am.

Four simple rules for being a background actor:

  1. Extras, generally, wear their own clothes and do their own makeup (unless it is specialty clothes and makeup.) There are people in costuming who come around and tell you which of your clothes to wear for which scene so bring a selection. The number of extras who did not read the email before going was astounding. They always say no large logos or dominant prints. You are background people. You are not to stand out. RULE: Read your email before going and come with more than one costume option.
  2. Props are not for your own use (this one should have been self-explanatory but was apparently not to some). At one shoot, we were at an airport and we had luggage props to carry around. One of the other extras put her coat in a prop bag and then forgot about it until later in the day (they are 12-hour days at least). If you are ever an extra, don’t do this. It creates a great deal of stress and havoc on set. Also, don’t eat the prop food. They tell you they spray it with something unedible (not true), but they are props and the food is placed there with a purpose. I was asked to eat part of my prop because it was too perfect, but the woman next to me who ate part of her muffin was almost thrown off the set. RULE: Respect the set.
  3. Be nice and pay attention. The crew are working insane hours and having that many extra people on set is stressful. They will shoot many ‘extra’ scenes in one day if they can. (The two for Schitt’s Creek were shot the same day and appeared in different episodes). Listen when the crew come around and you will have more opportunity to be on set. Raise your hand to participate otherwise you will be doing a lot of reading. Of course, if you want to sit around and read there are people who do that as well. I think that is ridiculous because, as much as I like to read, I’d rather be part of the action. RULE: Remember you are there to work and be nice to your co-workers.
  4. If you are thinking of being an extra, it costs little to register and you can easily say no if they ask you for a day you are unavailable. My agent (I know, stop with the cool talk) texts me with opportunities and I say yes or no via text right away. Do that ASAP because they move quickly too and have a job to do to fill positions. They are generally given less than 24 hours to fill a set, so answer quickly so they can move on. If you don’t, you might miss your chance.

That’s about it. Now go and practice your pantomime laugh, chatter, anger, and distress. Be set-ready and be an extra special extra.


  1. Wow! Two in one day! I’ve been an extra on movie sets before. It’s fun for a while, but when your husband is the sound engineer and has to stay there until wrap (see, I can be cool too), it can get incredibly boring. Especially when they don’t call it quits until 2:00 AM! Yeah, he was getting paid ‘golden time’, but all I wanted is to go to sleep!

  2. You were in Schitt’s Creek?????? I’m so jealous! LOVE LOVE LOVE everything about that show. I think being an extra sounds like fun and your tips are great.

  3. Ummm…as if your cool factor wasn’t already at an 11. This sounds like so much fun! Love that you are having a gas but respect the work environment. Can you give us the heads up next time so we can keep an eye out for you?

  4. Holy mackerel, Schitt’s Creek is not only hilarious but so perfectly cast there are times when I’m watching it that I can’t even believe it really exists. And I get this feeling that Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara are really nice people, but even on set with them I wouldn’t bother them–I assume that’s another rule of being an extra, or maybe it just fits in with #1, be unobtrusive.
    Now I’m gonna have to go back and rewatch episodes to see if I can spot you. It’s a hardship but I’m prepared to do it.
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  5. Well that sounds EXTRA fun and not a SCHITTY way to spend the day at all!
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