Being a supporting artiste/background artiste/extra can be interesting, lucrative and educational.
You can meet interesting people, work on fascinating sets and in wonderful locations and you can learn a lot from it. You sometimes get great food! It can also be very dull, hard work, soul destroying, badly paid, cold, wet and miserable and in some cases extras are treated like sheep and given very little respect or consideration.
Don’t choose it as a “stepping stone” to featured/speaking/lead roles. Very occasionally a background artist is given more to do and very occasionally a background artist has progressed within the same organisation/soap opera and had a speaking role. This does not normally happen and you shouldn’t go into background work hoping that it will, as you are likely to be disappointed! Not only that, but if you try to get noticed as a background artiste you are likely to make yourself very unpopular.
If you are an adult actor you should not include background credits on an acting CV. Treat the work as an SA like any other part time job, like working in a pub or in an office.
If you are a child actor and you feel you want to mention your experience, just be a bit careful about how you use the credit on a CV and ensure that you make it clear that you understand that it is different from an acting credit.
The reason for this is not really to do with snobbery (well, perhaps a little bit) it’s more to do with how actors and background artistes are chosen/cast. The work you do as a background artist is valuable BUT in most cases the background artists are not auditioned, they are selected and sent along as a “type”. This means that your acting skills as an extra have not usually been assessed by anyone (even though you may be brilliant) and so the work is not regarded as an acting credit. It’s really important (if you are hoping to work as a professional actor) that you recognise that the people you hope will eventually employ you as an actor will not regard SA experience as relevant.
The truth is that you don’t have to have any acting skills to do SA work. Many SAs are actors (some may be brilliant actors) but they could be on set with someone who has no acting skills at all – and they’re both employed to do the same job. That’s why telling someone you’re an SA (or that you’ve worked on some big blockbuster) doesn’t give anyone in casting any kind of clue about your acting ability. Mentioning your SA work when you are pursuing acting work won’t do you any favours . It could work against you, because you will give the impression that you don’t understand the industry (or casting).
Some people get really upset by this, but it’s important not to take it personally. Just keep the two experiences separate and enjoy them for what they are.
If anyone offers you an “IMDB credit” as an incentive (especially if they offer it instead of pay) then they’re taking you for a ride. IMDB credits for SA work don’t mean anything and once you get into acting work, they can do you more harm than good.
I cannot see any advantage in doing extra work for no financial reward – unless you’re helping out a friend.
The best way to get extra work is to join an extras agency – or more than one.
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