How to become an extra
When it comes to fun, flexible work for decent pay, there's no business like show business. Here's how to get in on the act as an extra!
What do wedding guests and dead bodies have in common? Hopefully, not a lot – but when it comes to films and TV shows, they're both often played by extras.
We're talking about the non-speaking background characters that bring your favourite flicks to life – and it can be a nice little earner.
Zaynah Brown works as an extra while studying at the University of Southampton. She says:
The money is incredible and you only need to do a couple of days of filming and you essentially make the same as someone who has a part-time job.
It's that flexibility that makes this a great side-hustle – it's perfect for fitting around full-time studies. Read on to learn how to land the plum roles!
How to become an extra in the UK
Why be an extra on TV and films?
For Amelia Holder, a student at Roehampton University, being an extra is never dull – her first role involved running away from explosions! She says the work can be "tiring, exciting, interesting… fun, vibrant and definitely good for meeting new people".
Ben Hartley, of Leeds Beckett University, agrees:
I use most of my earnings from Supporting Artiste work to support holidays and run my car […] I see it as earning but enjoy the social aspect it has to offer, it's a good balance.
Rates start at around £80/day and up – sometimes with food and travel costs thrown in. And, while you won't always get to rub shoulders with A-listers, spotting yourself on-screen makes for top bragging rights.
Even better, you don't need any qualifications to get started and you don't have to live in London to bag work. William, Marketing Executive at casting agency Uni-versalEXTRAS, adds:
Productions of all sizes are travelling further and further afield in search of that 'special' location, so there's always a chance they might end up nearby, wherever you are!
What's it like to be a TV extra?
Jordan Heath studies at the University of West London and is on the books at Uni-versalEXTRAS.
Inside scoop: "Being an extra pays a decent wage, and definitely helps cover the rent and bills when you get good jobs and regular work. You can accept work whenever you're free so it's convenient … you meet some of the nicest people ever and make some great connections."
Best bit: "Having my costume fitted for being a wizard."
Pro tip: "It sounds obvious, but just do as you're told and people will like working with you more. And make sure you eat well when food is offered, especially as a student."
Is being an extra the gig for you?
Becoming an extra on TV or in films isn't for everyone – keep the following in mind:
- Don't get hung up about your looks – most production companies just want regular people who can follow instructions! There are even modelling agencies that specifically market themselves as accepting people of all shapes and sizes
- "You must be organised and treat the job professionally just as you would a full-time job," advises William from Uni-versalEXTRAS. "Film work can often involve very early starts, so you need to make sure that you manage your time properly".
- You can pick gigs to suit your schedule, but being available on the occasional weekday can help you find more work.
- Be unflappable. Once you're booked for a job, you may have to wait until the night before the shoot to get full details (like what time to get there, what to wear and even what character you're playing).
- "You can be up to 12 hours on set, day or night," extra Ian Barrington reveals. "Once you are signed and part of a scene, you must stay until you are released" – so you'll need lots of patience (and plenty of reading material!).
- While you might be itching to post insider knowledge straight to Facebook, you may be asked to not reveal spoilers or share anything about your work even after launch
- You'll need to hand over some paperwork to secure jobs, including proof of your right to work in the UK (worth bearing in mind if you're an international student).
And finally, as Zaynah explains, you should bear in mind that you'll need to be on your best behaviour at all times:
Always be polite to every single member of the crew – and be punctual and enthusiastic even if it's five in the morning [...] what you put into it is what you'll get out of it.
How much money can you make as an extra?
It depends on which rate card the production company uses. There are a few floating around, including:
- The FFA/PACT Agreement: basic day rate is £96.70 for a nine-hour day including meal break – that works out as just a bit more than the National Minimum Wage
- The BBC Equity Agreement: basic day rate starts at £86.40
- The ITV Equity Agreement: day rate starts at £79.89.
What you'll actually get ultimately comes down to the production company hiring for the job, so scope it out each time you're offered a role.
You can also earn extra on top for things like:
- Overtime, working at night or attending rehearsals
- Being cast in multiple episodes of a TV show, or having a speaking part
- Special skills (think horse riding, playing an instrument or even being able to drive), getting wet or being uncomfortable, or providing your own props or costumes
- Costume fittings, make-up tests or getting your hair cut for a role… or being a look-alike or body double!
- Royalties or repeat fees – a bonus you get every time your film or TV show is screened. Some production companies might offer you a ‘buyout' (a lump sum in advance) instead.
How to become a TV or film extra
Registering with an agency means you can be put forward for any suitable jobs without needing to search and apply for individual roles, so that gets a big thumbs up!
Some agencies charge to have you on their books, so always look up reviews or testimonials before parting with your cash. Either way, paying a fee doesn't guarantee you'll get work – so make sure you're happy to cough up.
Casting agencies for extras
There are loads of extras agencies out there, but a few are especially well-known.
- Uni-versalEXTRAS – Started by a student back in 2005, Uni-versalEXTRAS still wears its campus credentials on its sleeve: it's free for full-time students to register (otherwise it starts from £30). They take 16% + VAT commission on each job they place you with.
- Casting Collective – Charges an admin fee of £75 a year to register for jobs in London and the South East, while it's only £20 a year for all other regions. Casting collective takes a commission of 15% + VAT on each booking you get.
- Extra People – Free to join, but takes commission at 20% on each booking.
- Be On Screen – Also free to join, but as it advertises for far more than just film and TV extras, the choice of relevant work can be a little slimmer.
- Mad Dog 2020 Casting – There's a yearly registration fee that's deducted from the pay from your first job, but if Mad Dog 2020 Casting fails to find you work, you won't be charged. They also take a 15% commission on all background work.
Other ways to find work as an extra
Twitter is great for hearing through the grapevine – look for updates on hashtags like #extras or #extraswanted. You might also see ads for 'supporting artistes' or 'background artistes', so factor them into your searches.
If you're after more local opportunities or agencies, try googling "extras agency" + [your location] (e.g. "extras agency Glasgow"). There are also a couple of companies that specialise in niche looks, disabilities, or particular ethnicities, so it can be worth sniffing them out for the extra leads.
5 tips for landing work as an extra in films and TV
Here are our top tips on how to be an extra on TV or film:
Forget pricey portfolios – most agencies will initially just want a digital photo of you standing against a plain or white background.
Make sure it's recent! Sending in a picture from when you were two inches shorter does you no favours – and turning up to jobs looking very different from what's expected can be a deal-breaker.
Ben recommends updating your profile regularly:
Even a slight change could mean you get offered that job you might not have been offered before!
You don't need to be a pin-up to be an extra (and what makes you distinctive might even be a bonus), but you'll need to be accurate. Be prepared to give your measurements regularly – things like your height or clothing sizes.
You might also be asked about your skin tone, any disabilities or distinguishing features – think tattoos and piercings. Special talents (or authentic props/uniforms) can help you land more jobs, so check if there's space to add the deets!
Keep the paperwork ready
You can be asked to provide some or all of these when applying through an agency, so dig yours out in advance:
- Proof of your name and address (think utility bills or bank statements)
- Passport and National Insurance number
- Bank account details for getting paid
- A DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) certificate if you'll be working around child actors – ask your agency if it crops up.
Extras are almost always self-employed. That means it's up to you to tell HMRC (the tax people) about the money you earn working for yourself, usually through an annual self-assessment tax return. Bear these points in mind and you won't go far wrong:
- You only have to pay tax on income above a certain amount each year (and most students never earn that much). Head over to our tax tips guide to see how it works.
- It can wait until you've got a few extras gigs (and some cash!) under your belt, but then you should let the HMRC know you're self-employed.
- Legit business expenses mean lower profits (and less tax to pay), so keep records of anything you spend on your business.
- You can find out more about expenses and how to register as self-employed in our guide.
Make the most of it
The cool part of being an extra is that getting one role gives you a better shot at finding more work. Print out or take a screenshot of our tips on impressing the people that count (that's the crew!) and get chatting to other extras.
Not only does it make the day more fun, but you'll pick up valuable intel about where to find your next role.
Being an extra is a brilliant addition to any uni bucket list – and it doesn't have to cost a penny to give it a whirl. And if you want to earn your acting stripes, use this page to up your chances of finding (and staying in) work. Then just rinse and repeat!
You don't always need the 'big' screen to boost your income. From making money on YouTube to cashing in computer skills, we've got a side hustle with your name on it.