Movie Extras

What would a movie look like without extras? Most likely you would see a handful of actors interacting in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world devoid of any other human beings. Extras are critical to making any film or television show look realistic. And yes, it is a thankless (translation: low pay) job as the charming documentary, Strictly Background (2007), points out. The documentary, directed by Jason Connell, lifts the curtain on the world of extras and highlights some of the most determined and patient wanna-be actors in Tinsel Town. Some of the highlights from the realm of movie extras:

There are 45,000 active extras working in Hollywood.
1,000 new extras sign up each week hoping to work on a film or TV project.
90% of newly-signed extras quit within the first year.
Union extras earn $154 for an 8-hour day.
Non-unions extras earn $118 for an 8-hour day.
Each movie requires 45 union extras. The rest of the jobs are filled by non-union extras.
Each TV show requires 17 union extras.
There is a non-spoken rule that extras do not make eye contact or speak with the principal actors on set.
Many film or TV projects require extras to bring their own wardrobe to a set.
Ageism is alive and well in Hollywood younger extras (25-35 years old) get most of the work.
The extra must perfect pantomime acting.

Although the number of extras working in Hollywood can be quantified, ascertaining how many actors are actively working in Los Angeles is very difficult to determine, since the Screen Actors Guild keeps very tight-lipped about its numbers. Scott Frank, an anthropologist with a focus on Hollywood, has spent many agonizing hours just to arrive at an educated guess. Out of perhaps 108,640 actors in Hollywood, Frank surmises only 21,728 are actually working actors. When you consider A-list actors, that number should presumably drop to double-digits, like 70 or 60. Regardless of the final number of working actors, their number is dwarfed by the army of hard-working extras who provide the context for the actors’ performances.

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