Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What is a background actor or extra?

Answer: A background actor or extra is a performer in a film, television show, stage, musical, opera or ballet production, who appears in a nonspeaking, nonsinging or nondancing capacity, usually in the background (for example, in an audience or busy street scene). War films and epic films often employ background actors in large numbers: some films have featured hundreds or even thousands of paid background actors. Likewise, grand opera can involve many background actors appearing in spectacular productions. On a film or TV set, background actors are usually referred to as "background performers", "background artists" or simply "extras"


Question: What is the casting process?

Answer: Casting criteria for background actors depend on the production. Becoming a background actor often requires little to no acting experience; punctuality, reliability and the ability to take direction may figure more prominently than talent. There are several casting agencies that specialize only in background work. When hiring background actors, casting directors generally seek out those with specific "looks" that will contribute to the ambiance desired for the film, for instance, "high school students", "affluent senior citizens", etc. Casting directors may also look for background actors that possess special skills needed for the scene, such as rollerblading or dancing. In addition, as background actors are often required to use their own wardrobe on the set, casting directors may seek those who already possess specific costumes or props, such as police uniforms or musical instruments. On smaller productions or student films, background actors may be hired en masse with little formality. The length of a background actor's employment on a production largely depends on the needs of the director and the scene(s) being filmed. Some background actors are only needed on the set for a day or two; others may remain with the film for extended periods of time. On James Cameron's film Titanic, for instance, a group of 150 "core background actors" were hired to play the ship's passengers; these background actors were employed throughout the entire length of filming. However, they were not given any credit in the film's titles - a common practice.


Question: Will I be hired for permanent positions or is this temporary work?

Answer: The length of a background actor's employment on a production largely depends on the needs of the director and the scene(s) being filmed. Some background actors are only needed on the set for a day or two; others may remain with the film for extended periods of time. On James Cameron's film Titanic, for instance, a group of 150 "core background actors" were hired to play the ship's passengers; these background actors were employed throughout the entire length of filming.