You, our awesome reader: *gasp* "An advocation for extra work?"
The Dojo: "Yes, but alas, not for the reason us actors hope for."
The reality is this: it's highly highly highly unlikely that working as an extra will lead to our vision of success — or getting seen/spotted/noticed, if that's more our vibe. It's not impossible, stranger things have happened, but highly highly unlikely.
That said, we believe there are other super valid reasons to consider working a day (or five) as a background actor, which is what we'll jam on today.
But again, just to be crystal, if we're looking for the highest probability path to our vision of success or 15 minutes of fame, this ain't it. You can dance on over here for our offer on attaining the former, and wiggle on over to... somewhere else for advice on the latter 🤷🏼 (Apologies, but the fast track to fame isn't our wheelhouse).
Getting there before you get there
Our numero uno reason for encouraging actors to spend some time extra-ing is to get low-pressure exposure to large-scale productions. As extras sit at the very bottom of the food chain, this is the best intro we could ask for.
Some people ask whether a short gig as a runner or production assistant does the same thang. While taking on a crew job has its own host of benefits, it's not the most ideal avenue for pure exposure. Extras have few to no responsibilities, with ample time to observe and note how massive productions operate. Runners will be piled with responsibilities, with zero time to do anything but run and remember to breathe.
As we'll soon be at the top of the call sheet on one of these giant sets (if we so choose), it can be a godsend to have familiarised ourselves with one from the sidelines before we're expected to take centre stage. Some handy and empowering takeaways include:
- Shooting vocabulary
- The roles (and importance) of the gazillion crew members
- Best practices of the leading cast (we'll want to model this in future)
- The rhythm of a shooting day
- Whether the reality of blockbuster life is one we'd actually desire (helpful to know sooner rather than later)
We've jammed with several Dojo actors whose first experience on a major set was when they were #1. All wished they'd spent a day or two wading in the shallows before being thrown into the deep end with a (metaphorical) eighty-tonne weight vest on.
As always, you do you. We simply offer this as a safeguard against metaphorical drowning.
Often, the first and only perk of extra-ing suggested to actors is the chance to "network". Which makes sense, right?
Not quite. We know directors, producers, and other crew members who'd readily tornado-kick the people spouting this. What this "advice" has bred for them is film and TV sets overrun with well-intentioned but misinformed actors believing this is their moment to get seen/spotted/noticed. To circle back to where we started: it isn't.
In any other circumstance, these people would probably love to meet a fellow storyteller and hear all about our Ambitious Ass Goals. In this circumstance, however, they're likely battling time constraints, last-minute changes to scenes, and technical malfunctions. Us running over all, "Hi! I know I'm just an extra today, but I'm actually a real actor too!", ain't doing anyone favours.
So what's the alternative? To keep our head low and pretend we're a humble dentist/lawyer/archaeologist who took a day off real work for shiggles?
The approach to "networking" we recommend — here and across the board — is simply to show up as the best version of ourself. That is, a) showing up as generous, respectful, warm, and b) showing up as authentically us.
Model respect and warmth in the extras holding area. We don't have to become everyone's best bud, but we can smile, say hello, and treat everyone as equals ('coz, shock horror, we are).
If the 3rd AD needs a hand setting out chairs or the makeup department needs someone to come through even though it's still coffee time, volunteer as tribute. From first-hand experience, that's the shiz that gets you rehired and builds working relationships.
And if there's downtime between shots and the lead actor strikes up small talk, by all means, answer "What do you do?" with "I'm an actor". Leave it as a plain ol' fact, no strings attached. In fact, when it comes to human interaction, we'll come across waaay more interesting and attractive by asking others about themselves. So, ask your new actor friend about their life, their ambitions, their favourite band/football team/flavour of ice cream. You know, normal human conversation.
"Networking" has unfortunately become all too associated with "What can I get from others?" On the flip side, however, this gives us an incredible opportunity to shine by asking, "What can I do for others?" Magic happens in light of this shininess.
Muggle Job life
Finally, it's worth giving a shout-out to extra work for fulfilling the three criteria that define optimal Muggle Work: alignment, flexibility, and high ROI. Speaking from a purely financial point of view, my days as an extra paid twice as much as my minimum-wage casual job. Which isn't nothing, you know?
The caveat here is that agents can be a little funny about clients working as background actors. Most will be forgiving of a day or two, but it creeping into Muggle Job territory can make agent folk twitchy.
If you sense this is a conversation you need to have, have it. More often than not, your agent's main concern is that the industry will come to put you in the "extra" box, not the "actor" box. Fair, given our industry still (unfortunately) uses a shed tonne of boxes.
Be a nice human, but never forget this is your career and life. If taking on extra work will ease a financial burden, tell them. If dressing as a Wookiee will provide a masterclass on how you'll lead the next Star Wars franchise, share this aspiration. People appreciate clear, open communication.
And yes, that last example was super specific. To each their own vision of success, no? ✌🏼
Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.
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