So, you’re considering becoming a Supporting Artiste – an Extra – in film & TV. (Well, maybe you’re not – but that’s who this post is aimed at.)
On the one hand, “showbiz” is seen by many as glamorous and exciting; on the other hand, the last couple of decades has allowed those not in the industry to get a more realistic look at what really goes on behind the scenes – and it’s definitely interesting and unique but certainly not glamorous. What are the real benefits of being involved in this industry as someone on screen but not always seen?
Here are seven key plus points:
You get paid: I should probably list this first as it’s the main or only motivator for many. It is work – sometimes very hard work, sometimes less so – and you are rewarded for that accordingly. For some people who do this work, the money is everything and there’s not much interest beyond that. That’s fine of course – but there are many other plus points…
It’s a brilliant insight into the industry: if you’ve always had an interest in TV & film and want to be a part of it, this is an excellent way to be a part of it all. It’s also good experience of the on-set production process if you’re looking to get into full-on acting (but don’t expect to be “spotted” while being an SA). On a practical level, having done SA work can qualify you for some of the unions in the industry.
Every job is different: while the actual process of filming has many similarities across jobs, what you’ll actually do, where you’ll do it, what you look like while you’re doing it and who you’ll be doing it with varies massively. Something will be different – usually a lot – every time you turn up for a new job.
You get to watch true legends at work: sometimes – just sometimes, you’ll be on set when world-class directors or actors are working. Even though you might just be a few metres away from them, you are unlikely to meet them or even get eye contact or a friendly hello. But that’s not the point. The privilege of being able to watch such talent at work close-up – however occasionally it happens – is a real reward for many.
It can be very surreal: on many occasions you are making a real leap – and escape – from reality. Many people like stepping into a world far detached from their own, be that a fantasy world for a family movie or a (pretend) royal palace for a banquet. The work needs plenty of focus but you can get distracted by the scale – and sometimes incredible realism – of where you are and what you’re a part of.
It makes for an interesting talking point: I have a few different answers to the age-old question “So, what do you do?” if someone asks me at an event. The answer involving being an SA usually sparks interest and further conversation. (The one about being in IT, not so much.)
Seeing your work: if you were fortunate during filming, you might just see yourself in the background on the TV or the big screen. Others might do too. Many people really enjoy this, some say they don’t but secretly do and some genuinely don’t care – it’s just work. For those who do like the concept of their work being very visible like this, it’s the icing on the cake of a job well done – icing that in the case of films takes a couple of years to be added to the cake. (I appreciate that by then, the cake will have gone stale. Perhaps I am stretching the metaphor too much.)
So that’s seven possible reasons. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments section.