Why do they call background actors ‘extras’? What’s the extra bit?
Seasoned player, Faouzi Daghistani, has no doubts about the ‘extra’ background actors bring to a set.
‘Extras play a very important role. The producers and director have a vision of what their production is. You could have a scene ….Keanu Reeves talking with Leonardo DiCaprio in a restaurant… but if you don’t have the background people making it look real, then it doesn’t look great.’
Bringing the director’s vision to life for an extra is as simple as doing precisely as you are told.
‘If you get out of your chair just two seconds too early, you could cut off someone’s whole line or stand in their walking path. Man, that’s trouble for them. Time is big money in this industry’
Extras who work as told are the ones who probably have the least amount of pressure on a set. Faouzi really enjoys it. Meeting fascinating people, sharing great food and always having lots of fun characterise his experiences, even the unpaid ones.
‘You can find on the online forums a real thing about “should I do paid or unpaid work”. This is the wrong argument. A lot of the benefits are the experience gained, the contacts you make and the networks you create.’
Adding value to a production, building networks and having a good time while you’re at it. You want in? Faouzi has some valuable tips.
Turn up, Be Present!
‘You have to come in and let it all work flawlessly for them – without them worrying about what they have to do to make you work right.’
He has a shopping list of hints. They seem basic work sense but some newbies break every rule, and sometimes even all the rules on the same production set.
1. Read the call sheet in detail- address, arrival times, parking, wardrobe requirements, contact person, your scene and character
2. Arrive at the time stated in the call sheet (often 7.30am)
3. Pay attention to all directions on set and do your role exactly as asked. When they call for silence, shut up. Keep your mobile on mute all the time
4. Be easy to get along with
5. Let the main cast and production crew eat first, they are normally required back on set long before the extras
All of these courtesies help the production to finish on time. They have commitments with crew, equipment and venue costs and you won’t be popular if you add to the worries.
Ditch your comfort zone
‘The number one sin I see is telling the Director what you think! There was this woman once who refused to wear the wardrobe because it was not her colour… she was more a red person, she insisted!
Wardrobe didn’t care, they just wanted her to wear the wardrobe.’
‘As an extra you must understand that you are going to be asked to do things to create a vision that may not necessarily fit with the way you live. That’s show biz.’
Production sets can be tense but if you can be someone who makes others comfortable and accepts them in that space you are on a winning path. If the director asks you do something impromptu, don’t hesitate.
So in summary it’s about being helpful and committed for the hours
you are on set.
As more and more highly experienced people work in the Australian industry, a change is happening.
‘Independent films are being made by people with real runs on the board.’
Extras will be expected to keep up with the ultra-professional expectations on set. But it does not have to be about acting.
‘Being an extra you could quickly find out that it’s not in front of the camera that you’re interested in… maybe lighting or sound is for you.
If something triggers you… wait for a quiet time and speak to the crew about what’s involved.’
If you’re curious about the screen industry, being an extra is a good place to start. Faouzi is registered with an agency but if you cannot say yes to almost every job offered due to other commitments, then registering yourself on platforms such as Star Now allows more flexibility. Extras are important and bring real value, so keep applying for jobs and learn quickly about the industry.
Words: Linda Carr