Do’s and Don’ts of Extra Work

Fair warning. Once on set, you will see all kinds. I say this not to be snarky, but to prepare you. It’s a different world honestly. There will be some parents incredibly dressed up, breezing into the check in line name dropping and talking only of what their kids have done and how important they are. It can get crazy and overwhelming. Some will talk to you only to ask what your kid has done, and if they don’t think it’s impressive enough, they won’t be speaking to you again for the rest of the day.

True story. We once had a dad ask us what the boys had done. When we named the movie he acted like the boys had done nothing and named like 20 shows his child had been an extra on … and promptly stopped speaking with us. Do not take offense. Count yourself lucky for the day.

You will hear from a good number of parents that they are actors themselves, or that they have been “in the business” for so many years. Know that not every one of them will give you accurate information sadly.

Background work can be incredible to get into being on set and gaining experience. The hours are long though. So long. You may encounter a parent who will tell you they can’t understand why things are taking so long because the last time they were on set it took under an hour. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but I have yet to see that. Chances are you have driven a long way to be on set early, only to sit and wait – and wait – and wait. Yes, the shoot can go till after dinner most times. Which means another late night ride home.

I think it’s important to stress that not everyone who gets selected for extra work will actually be used – even though you were specifically requested. In American Hustle, all of the kids were filmed for the scenes … but one of the kids the boys worked with who had a small part was cut from the final film … as were several of the child extras. When the boys went to NY for last week’s work on a movie, less than half of the children selected to work that day were used.

After going through wardrobe, they took all the children outside and split them into two groups. From the 1st group, which one of my guys was in, only about half of those children were used during filming. That makes it hard when you have twins – and one is filming – and the other is waiting for his turn. Sometimes that turn doesn’t come. The second group was never used at all, and while some were rotated in and out from the first group, not everyone was used there either.

Yes, they will all get paid the extra rate for the day whether you are used or not. And there are snacks and drinks and they will feed you a meal if you are there long enough. (You will be there long enough.) I know it can be frustrating to watch your child be told they should be used later … and watch them wait … and wait … but don’t complain. You will see several parents complaining. This is extra work. You can’t complain and it reflects badly on your child.

When it’s time to eat, hold your child back. Cast and crew go first. Always. They will let you know when the extras can get in line. The reason for that is not to make your kids wait, but because the cast and crew has been working without breaks much longer than you have been sitting and they have less time allotted before they have to be back on set – before your child does. When your child does eat, if they are already dressed in the clothes they need on set, put a jacket or extra sweater on over their clothes first. Spills happen and the approved wardrobe needs to stay clean.

I hate to even say this, but smile on set. Be respectful. Don’t chase down the crew and continue to ask how much longer. Have your kids be respectful. Kindness goes a long way and no one wants to watch you – or your child – be disrespectful or out of control. You aren’t entitled to anything and everyone waits.

Come prepared with several things to do and understand that there may not be a place to charge your phone, iPad or game systems. Have other things to do in case those batteries run out. We bring schoolwork, books, Legos, crayons and more.

Most important? Keep those cell phones on silent, do not take video or photos on set and DO NOT approach anyone you are star struck by and ask for things. I have watched all these things happen and more. It’s a sure fire way to get yourself removed from the set if you are caught. And if that happens, you might not get used again.

Be aware that once you have been used on a show once as an extra, for the most part you can not be used again. For example, if your child had a background scene on Law & Order once and something comes up again? Usually it means you can’t go back. You don’t want to do so much extra work that it puts you out of a bigger role on a show you might want to try for later. You will come across many people who think they are building their child’s resume by only doing extra work. It’s a great opportunity to get some experience, but don’t let it be all you do. The time spent on set versus the pay isn’t worth it in the long run.

And always remember to say thank you when you are done, whether you were selected to work or not. Some people leave complaining … you don’t want that to be you or your child. Last week we were asked to hang back when they were releasing the kids, because they used my other guy as a photo double after. I’m convinced it wasn’t just because he looked like one of the other boys, but because he was so well behaved on set.

This post was so long, we will end this one here! Till tomorrow…

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