Every now and again, I’ll stumble across an ad for Austin visitors that will slip in the line “You can be an extra in a big budget Hollywood film!” between the suggestions of yakking up on 6th Street, or frolicking in the buff around Hippy Hollow. They make it sound so easy, like you just form a queue, and the next thing you know you’re mouthing “apples and grapes” behind Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock for a quick $50.
Third Coast Extras is the Austin-based casting company used for movies and commercials. A friend of mine who is an actual actor had invited me along to two projects: A Verizon Wireless commercial (yes, I was a hard hat guy), and a Bank of America commercial. If you haven’t been an extra before, I’ll try and explain the process the best I can.
First step: Get on their e-mail list, or better yet, add them on Facebook. They can be found under “Beth Sepko Casting & Third Coast Extras”. One day, you may see this: “Seeking paid extras for The LYING GAME to work this Wed. 7/13. All ethnicities, m&f, ages 18-22. Local AUSTIN only. Please email contact info, height, weight, and current photo,..” etc.
Follow their instructions to the letter. Sometimes it will say “do NOT call”, and you’ll be amazed how many aspiring starlets will call anyways. Professional head shots aren’t needed in some cases (I happen to have some from my real estate career), but they certainly help. You will only irritate them if you contact them regarding a spot that you do not fit as described. If you are a petite Asian female in their 20′s, you will not fulfill the role of a muscular African American male in his 40′s, no matter how desperately you want in on the gig. Again, you’d be surprised how many people will attempt to fill a round hole with a square peg. The employees are all VERY professional and sweet, but have a very low threshold for people who can not follow instructions.
You also MUST be able to work the entire day(s); there are no partial gigs or leave-and-return privileges. Clear out your schedule, and prepare to possibly stay late.
So, you’ve got the gig. They all vary, but I’ll describe the Verizon experience. Filming usually starts early…like 6 AM early. For this gig, I had to wake up at 4, meet my friend at 5:00, and drive to Bastrop to be on the set at 6:00. Third Coast reps will be there to check you in and have you fill out your pay/tax papers. Another key word for extras? Waiting. Waiting can mean sitting, eating, smoking, gossiping…but you will wait for roughly 80% of the 12-14 hour day you’re slated for. That’s why I went with a friend; it can be a long day.
Repetition. We had to do the same thing over, and over, and over, and over–dozens of times. To this day, I can’t see how it takes 14 hours to make a 30-second spot, but it does. It may seem ridiculous at first, but be prepared to do the same damn thing until you feel like screaming. You also have to reshoot if one of the principles (or a fellow extra) screws up. That’s always fun.
You will be fed. Craft services will always be there to provide you with as many meals or snacks as it takes to get through the shoot. For the Bank of America shoot at Auditorium Shores, we got a particularly nice boxed lunch from Central Market. Stay hydrated, especially for an outdoor shoot. Unfortunately, this means you’ll have to tinkle, and I still have PTSD from all the port-a-potty use that’s inescapable on the set.
Your fellow extras…here’s where it gets dicey. A lot of the people already know each other in what is obviously a pretty tight knit community. “Yeah, I landed the Johnson & Johnson commercial” and “I got face time in that new Disney movie” are common conversations. However, some will be loners. And some are more outgoing, and naturally through such an adventure, you’ll make friends and have a fabulous time. You can also make enemies, especially among those who perceive you as a threat. Competition is FIERCE. I was rudely called a “little bastard” by a washed up old broad who took my seat; when confronted by a Third Coast rep, she denied it, claiming I lied and that she’d “always been professional on a set.” Yeah. Prepare for that shit.
Then there’ll be the guy who claims to have taken Hollywood by storm, and yet you have no idea what his name is. He’ll regale you with stories of being given free luxury condos, limos, and casually mention hanging out with Ryan Phillippe “who’s really a pretty chill guy”. Ask him what movie he’s been working on that affords him such goodies, and he’ll answer: “It’s a working title.” The only people who believe him are the girls at his feet staring in awe who are even dumber than he is.
Pay is approximately $150 for a commercial shoot. If you fit a certain type that gets more camera time (the ultimate goal), it will be more.
Think you got what it takes? Give it a shot! And if you make it big, I get a cut for spurring your acting career. Read it–it’s in your contract.