Please introduce yourself
My name is Madlena. My primary occupation is implementing pricing and billing software for large companies.
What is your experience in the movie industry?
I have some experience as a background actor or extra in multiple movies, tv series, and tv ads. I found out about the career as extra when I was living in Spain. The job is really popular there because there are shootings happening all the time. I knew people who worked as extras full-time and they were making pretty good money.
However, I started my “career” when I returned back to my country Bulgaria. I took a break of around 6 months between 2 consulting jobs. At that time, I did some freelancing to pay the bills. I had the time and I needed extra income, so that’s when I decided to explore what the movie industry in Bulgaria had to offer to the background actors.
I already knew from my friends in Spain that I had to search for casting agencies. I just went to Facebook and found some companies that were looking for extras. In only a few months I was selected to be in a few American movies such as The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Hellboy 3 to name a few, a Dutch movie, a lot of tv ads, and Bulgarian tv series.
What is the process to find a job as movie extra?
First, find an agency. Like I mentioned earlier, I find them on Facebook or Google. Please keep in mind that not all of the agencies are legit. If they ask you to pay membership, it is probably a scam. In any other job you don’t pay your employer to work for them, don’t you? So, you don’t have to do it working for casting agency either.
Once you find legit agencies, you mostly likely will have to go to their office where a photographer will take a couple of pictures of you for their database. You will also have to fill a form with your data such as your height, any specific body or face characteristics, skills. Add anything that would make you stand out of the crowd and that might get you selected for a cool movie scene.
Once you are in the agency database, the agent will call you every time they have a scene for you.
I recommend you to follow the social media pages of the agency because many times you can see posts around upcoming shooting days. The post usually looks something like “We’re looking for 50 extras of the age between 18 and 50. The filming will happen in the next 3 days in the movie studio. We need you to be available between 9am and 6pm. Daily rate 50 euro”.
What I’ve seen happening is after you’ve done a couple of shootings and you are available most of the days, the agencies will call you more often because they’ve seen they can rely on you. If you are available only on weekends, then, most likely, you won’t get that many calls.
What are the criterias to get selected for a movie?
It all depends on the movie scene. There is a wrong presumption that only young and attractive people get selected as extras. Anyone can be selected if their looks match the characters and the vibe of the movie. For example, if you have a really fancy modern hairstyle, you probably won’t get selected for a role in a movie about the 50s.
Usually, the agency sends pictures of the candidates to the movie director and he or she is who decides who to be in the movie.
A little hint, men with beards get selected more often.
Can you describe your typical working day as extra?
The first word that comes to my mind when talking about working as extra is WAITING. There is a lot of waiting during the working hours.
Your day begins when you reach the filming location. It can be a movie studio or literally anywhere, the city center, a park, a forest, anywhere.
First, you sign an employment contract and a confidentiality agreement. The whole group of extras gathers together and the waiting begins. You might be taken for wardrobe and make-up if the scene requires it. You are told in advance if you will be filming in your own clothes or you will have to change on set.
There is an extra coordinator who explains everyone what they have to do and what the work schedule is. Then you are left waiting until your scene begins. You can socialize with the other extras, read a book, drink coffee, or whatever works for you to kill a couple of hours.
A few hours later, it is show time. The coordinator calls the whole group or a few people only, depends on the scene, and you start filming. The most common scene that involves a lot of people is a street view where your role will be to walk around. So, think of walking the exact same 10 meters 10 times and now you know what your most common activity as movie extra would look like. Another typical scene is at a restaurant or a bar where you sit on a table in the background and pretend to eat and talk to your partners by table.
Then, you go back to the waiting location to wait for the next scene.
At the end of the day, you might have 6 hours of waiting and preparations and 2 hours only or less of actual filming.
What are the typical working hours and days when working as extra?
Again, it all depends on the movie and the scene. The typical working day is quite long – 12 hours is the standard. Each hour on top of the twelve hours is considered as overtime.
Also, a lot of the filming happens during the week and at weird hours such as really early in the morning or late at night.
Do you get food and drinks during the working day?
Yes, if you are contracted for a full day of 12 hours, you would typically get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Also, the production will provide water, tea and coffee. The agency makes sure there are vegetarian options as well if requested in advance.
Usually, I bring my own snacks for in between the meals.
What is not allowed on set?
A few rules that I can think of:
- You can’t film anything revealing about the movie with your own phone or camera
- You can’t reveal any information about the movie to friends and family
- You are not supposed to talk to the actors. You can’t just go to them and ask them for a selfie or autograph. Sometimes, they come to us to chat but again, you are not supposed to ask them for a photo
- Never look at the camera when filming your scene
What are the pay rates? Can you live out of it?
Yes, you ca live out of it if you are fully dedicate to it and if you live near a popular filming location where you gill
Can you get bigger roles while working as extra?
You start as a background actor or extra in mass scenes. You are somewhere in the background, your face most likely won’t show up in the movie.
If you are consistent in your job as extra, the agency will cast you for bigger roles such as special characters or even a small role that requires you to say something. What I mean by special character is a character that is important to the scene and stands out of the crowd of walkers in the background. The special character doesn’t always have words but usually has a special outfit and is doing something different than the mass. Example for a special character could be a police man, a taxi driver, a nurse.
What is your favorite scene?
My most favorite scene I have been in is from the “Hitman’s Bodyguard”. We were filming in the center of Sofia. The scene is about a protest against the dictator. There were more than 100 extras who had to play the protesters.
The interesting part was that a huge truck had to drive into the crowd and explode. On the count of 3, the crowd, us, had to start running in panic. That was a lot of fun because everyone got into character. I could see the fear and panic on everyone’s faces. It felt so real. I loved that scene. Ever since that day, I am always looking at the running people in the movies, you know when tsunami hits the city or there is an explosion everyone starts running. Look at their faces. It is hilarious when the extras don’t put much effort in what they do. You sometimes see a relaxed face on someone who is running for his life.
What do you like most about the job?
I love being behind the scenes. I love all the costumes and that I can play different characters. I definitely love meeting the actors. I’ve met so many interesting people who I wouldn’t be able to meet if not on set.
What you don’t like about the job?
The waiting. I really hate this part. Although, it is not that bad if you are there with friends. Every time I tell to myself that it would be the last time to take a job as a movie extra but then I go again. It is so addicting and fun.