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Answer: Extra work and background work can lead to many things: cash to support yourself, a potential to be upgraded, even union eligibility. But being an extra is…. (continued in David’s answer below)
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Answer: Extra work and background work can lead to many things: cash to support yourself, a potential to be upgraded, even union eligibility. But being an extra is never something you should put on an acting resume – and not just for reasons of truth.
When we first start the pursuit of an acting career, it isn’t uncommon to find ourselves looking at Central Casting with loving kindness – that very institution might just get us on an actual film or television set. Maybe, we take the plunge, register with a background agency, hire a calling service, and step into that world.
There are lots of good reasons to do extra work (just ask Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, to name but two actors who started off that way), including making money, being on set, seeing how different departments operate, potentially get upgraded to principal status, and, maybe, acquire the vouchers needed to join SAG.
Some people are content to make a career out of extra and background work (the two are interchangeable terms). But usually, making the jump to regular work as a co-star, guest star, series regular or other principal position is your goal when seeking paid acting work.
The question is, can you make use of extra work by naming projects you’ve been hired for on an acting resume. The answer to that question is clear.
No maybe you can get away with it, maybe you’re an exception, maybe doing that will work for you where it doesn’t for others.
Don’t do it.
It seems logical that, as extra work is a gateway to principal acting (because sometimes it is), adding those credits with something cryptic like “featured” or “silent” might help you when you step into the casting director’s office and present your resume. But, in fact, casting directors are looking for certain criteria that extra work doesn’t support. Extra work and background work, respectable work though it may be, is more a function of the production design and art department than it is about the script. You’re wrangled, not blocked. You’re there, often completely out of focus, to add depth to the reality of the project.
CDs want to know that you have experience creating a character, can say lines and move at the same time, They want to know that you can be trusted on the set to work as a professional, interacting with sometimes very highly paid fellow actors, and can not only hold your own, but knock it out of the park.
Should you get into a conversation with a casting director about how you happened to be a part of Gone With The Wind II: Tara’s Revenge, the conversation might end abruptly when you have to answer that you were Peasant Farmer #3, but that Steven Spielberg put you up front because of your amazing pitchfork handling.
CDs also want to know that you’re being truthful. And putting extra work on your resume makes them question the veracity of everything else you’ve listed. That’s a bad thing.
There are exceptions that aren’t really exceptions: if you are promoted to a speaking role, that means you’re no longer an extra, but actually a principal. If your scene has lines, you are at least a co-star. In some cases, if you have no lines, but your acting is an integral part of the story line, say, a mime who robs a bank without saying a word, that’s certainly a candidate for your acting resume.
So what non-extra credits does a beginner put on their resume? Theater, student films, indie work – anything principal. If someone doesn’t have those types of credits, I question whether that person actually has acting chops (simply because there’s no experience listed at all), and I suggest they go get them. Student films in particular is also a great networking opportunity for both other actors in the project and for the students who in a year or two will be working in the industry.
As an extra, you often eat different food, sit in a different area from the principal actors, and are directed by a different director than they are. If that’s the case, pocket the money, but don’t put it on your resume.
What’s your answer to this acting question? Let me know in the comments below.
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That all makes sense. What about putting little snippets of you on a reel? Actually, how should you construct a reel? That might be a good article.
What’s your feeling on stand-in work? Is that in the same category as background?
Unfortunately, for me It’s in the same don’t-list-it-as-an-actual-acting-job category, but your experience doing stand-in work can be put in the Special Skills category, as it’s definitely that.
Extremely helpful, thank you!
My husband and are retired and only want to do, and have done, background work. Is there a separate type of resume we should have since some CD’s have asked us to list our background experience?
Just a variation on the typical actor resume – your name and stats, union status and so on, then a long list of “TV and Film” and list the shows you’ve worked. You can also have a separate column for the director and the studio.
Hope this helps!
What about this situation : was originally going to just be background in scene, but then was chosen to come in for a fitting to be a featured non speaking role, in which we were brought in separately to discuss the blocking and action with the director (not AD or 2AD) and cameramen themselves? I have that on my resume as that was a completely different set experience from any I had had prior.
Background actors are quite often given blocking and action notes by the director, especially if the scene involves tricky timing of the action with the principals, like a chase scene that has you being bumped into, or a timed elevator sequence and lots more. That, unfortunately, doesn’t make you a principal performer, and that means it’s not a credit that you should put on your resume. You don’t want to lie – especially when you may someday encounter people who were involved in the production and/or casting of that project, and they look at your credit as a fabrication. Please note that I don’t mean to minimize your contribution to the project, but it still is a background job, and should not be on your resume.
If a person was to have 5 lines through the whole production would they be considered an extra or principal?
It depends on what the production was, if it was union, and if it was daytime or prime time. Soaps have something called “under 5s” which are parts that have under 5 lines. But in general, yes – if you have lines that are part of the script, not just background chatter, you’re considered a principal, not an extra/background player.
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