How to Get Work as an Extra (and Be Great at It)

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Photo Source: Illustration: Jordan Sondler; Taurel: Courtesy Douglas Taurel

Q: How do I get work as an extra in film and television? How do I make sure I’m a good extra if I do get the job? —Imran K., L.A.

Being an extra, or “background actor,” is a fantastic way to make money, get on set, and learn a ton. It requires a certain skill set, patience, and endurance. I first started doing extra work back in the 1990s working on the original “Law & Order,” changing costumes so I could be both a cop and a skinhead in the same episode.

Though I no longer work as a background actor, I have many students who do and know how it all works these days. If you’re looking to get into extra work, here’s what you need to know.

First things first: Register with Backstage. Talk to every actor you know; ask if they’re doing background work and where they found it. If you ever pass a production on the street, kindly ask anyone with a headset if they know who they hired their extras from. I did this once, called the agency, and was on the set as an extra the next week. If you know any production people, ask them for a referral.

When registering on casting sites, you’ll have to provide your physical description and give a recent photo or headshot. Fill in all of this information honestly. You’ll get hired based on what you look like, not what you want to look like.

READ: The Perks of Being an Extra

When you do get hired, it’s crucial to be a good extra. Show up on time (which really means 15 minutes early). Have identification. Be patient. Dress cleanly and simply. Smile. Remember people’s names. Be patient. Take nothing personally. Bring something to read. Be patient. Bring your phone charger or power bank. Stay away from anyone with a negative attitude. Have great conversations with those who have a positive attitude. Be patient. Listen to directions. Follow directions. Be patient. Listen. Learn. Be grateful.

These same rules apply to being on any sort of set, so remember them. They’ll serve you well as your career advances. Being good at background work is a sign of a future great actor.

*This post was originally published on July 3, 2017. It has since been updated.

Bill Coelius has been in numerous television shows including “American Horror Story: Hotel,” “Parks and Rec,” “The Office,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Law and Order,” and many others. His movies include “Taking Woodstock” directed by Ang Lee, and “Brave New Jersey” with Tony Hale. He has also booked over 50 national commercials which have allowed him to visit Buenos Aires, hang out with James Gandolfini, and get naked on 43rd Street. He also teaches acting in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Detroit. To sign up for his FREE ONLINE TASTER CLASS on July 13th, visit to learn more.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Bill Coelius
Bill Coelius has been in numerous television, movies, and over 50 national commercials. He also teaches acting in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Detroit.
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