The Ins and Outs of Being an Extra

While I was waiting for Bar results and without full-time employment, I picked up odd jobs to replenish my ever-depleting bank account. Being in Austin, there were a ton of opportunities for contract work that still gave me the opportunity to look for a full-time job. I don't know if I just hadn't noticed before or if it's been growing in recent years, but the film and television industry is taking (or has taken?) hold in Austin to the point where it's not impossible to find relatively common odd jobs. Be it crew, cast, or something in between, these film and television companies are waiting with open arms to feed you and pay you.

Over the past few months, I had the chance to get pretty regular work as an extra for ABC's American Crime. I got to meet incredible incredible people who are all out there hustling and making their dreams come true. I got to meet such talented cast and crew who's vision makes this unbelievable thing possible. And mostly, I got to get dolled up as a high school student and do completely random things I wouldn't get to do in normal life.

I know that before I started doing this time of work, I literally never noticed the people in the background. I never wondered how they got there. But it turns out, it's pretty easy. Basically....

You find a casting agency in your area. I think there's like, 4 or 5 in Austin and I know that there's an equally as strong if not stronger market in areas like Atlanta, New York City, LA (obvs), and Nashville. You can find them on Facebook most of the time and they'll post casting notices there. (Just make sure they're legit! Look at what type of projects they've had before and if you can, find people who have worked with them.)
Sample legit casting notice from a casting agency in Austin
If you look like what they're looking for, you submit your picture and contact information and wait. Most of the time, they'll get back to you in a few days and send you the call time, location, and any clothes they might need you to bring.

So you show up and on most major projects, you get a bomb breakfast buffet. Then you get sent to wardrobe. They inspect the outfits you brought and in my case, scrunch their noses and ask if I brought anything else. When I say "no," they roll out these big racks of clothes and I try things on until I/they stumble into the right outfit. Then hair and makeup.

Depending on the project, they might trust you to do your own. But if it's a period piece (Like this one J and I did!), they'll spend hours working on your hair and makeup. If it seems like this would be a super time consuming process, it is. Especially for the larger scenes where maybe 50-100 people are all lined up for their turn.

When you've been satisfactorily spruced up, you get sent to set! Sometimes you get to walk, but most times, you end up riding in unmarked white vans (super alarming the first time).

Set is a very quiet, chaotic place with about a million people trying to get their piece of the project just right. An Assistant Director puts you in a place, gives you an action and sometimes even an entire back story for your character. Again, if this sounds like a ridiculous extent to go to for the people who literally just stand in the background, it is. It is but I guess it works. Extras, as far as I've seen, take their work seriously. Partially because we sign a contract that says we will, partially because some want to become actors, and partially because we don't want to be that one person who messes it all up for everyone.

When "Background" then "Action" is called, we start doing our thing. Sometimes we do our thing for hours and hours and hours. Then we move to another scene. Sometimes we do our thing in buildings without AC or at 1 in the morning while we pretend it's really noon. Sometimes we do our thing bundled in winter clothing when it's 90 degrees outside or alternatively, in summer clothing when it's 30 degrees outside. But each time, it's a blast. It's almost as if that day's wrap makes you forget all of the annoying parts.


  1. Hahaha, this is so cool!!! Such a different opportunity, the opposite clothing to the actual weather would have definitely started to get annoying after a while :P How fun will it be when the movie comes out and you can find yourself in it!


    1. It definitely was super inconvenient! We did cold weather clothes when it was really hot, but I wonder how annoying it'd be to do hot weather clothes when it's cold!

  2. That's probably one of the coolest experiences ever!! I want to be an extra once in my life, ha!

    xo Jen
    Skirt The Rules

    1. You should! It's usually only a day long commitment so it's not too bad (Though it can be a reallyyyy long day!)