Becoming an extra can be a great way to see how productions work, gain a bit of experience on set and make some new friends. Becoming an extra is relatively easy – You don’t need an audition, you don’t need to memorize lines and just about anyone can do it.
If you are looking to get rich, famous or make the big bucks, you may be disappointed since extra work pays very little and the hours can be long, however, it may be worth a try if entertainment is the industry you would like to be in. Also, I know of many people who through their extra work became SAG eligible when they were asked to actually read a line during the scene.
How much work you get as an extra mainly depends on where you live. Some cities and states are known for their production environment and offer great tax incentives for the production companies which keeps films shooting in those areas. Other states have almost no production going on at all.
States like California, New York, Michigan, Louisiana, New Mexico and Pennsylvania normally have a few movies being shot throughout the year. Casting directors will always prefer to get extras from the local population since it is too costly to pay for travel for people who make minimum wage and have no speaking lines.
A extras casting call normally goes out a few weeks before the actual casting date. Large productions that need thousands of extras will have multiple castings throughout the production. To qualify to be an extra you basically have to show up at the casting location on the scheduled date and have the ‘look’ that casting directors are looking for.
Often times, for period pieces, extras casting calls are announced as much as a month in advance to allow people to get the right look. For example westerns normally want people with longish hair and facial hair. The longer time allows for people to grow out their hair and beards.
Some films ask that people have their own wardrobe, this is especially true for films that have formal scenes and need extras who have tuxedos, evening gowns and the proper accessories to look like they belong in the scene. Many production companies prefer not to buy tuxedos and gowns for thousands of people and ask that extras bring their own.
To be an extra you do not need a resume or professional headshot. The only thing that is required is a current snapshot and of course ID.
Casting calls for extras can be found in many places. Production companies want a good selection of people and normally put out press releases both online and in local papers. To find out what is filming in your area and if they need extras you can check with your local film commission. They will usually have a list of productions and the contact info for the extras casting directors. Once you get that info, it is upto you to either email the casting director to get further instructions or in the case of open auditions for extras, just show up.