Most major film productions need extras or ‘background artists’, non-speaking characters to play, for example, the onlookers at an orgy (Eyes Wide Shut), customers in a street market (Notting Hill) or the audience at the Coliseum (Gladiator). 

And you don’t have to look like a supermodel of have the thespian capabilities of John Gielgud. Movies need people of all ages and shapes and sizes. Acting experience, even in school plays or amateur dramatics, helps but is not essential. 

Would-be extras need a copy of Contacts, an annual directory which lists extras casting agencies (published by Spotlight and available from some branches of Waterstones or by mail order for £9.99 plus postage and packing). Phone 0207 437 7631 for details. 

There are dozens of agencies dotted around the country. Some will not charge for putting you on their books but take 15% commission from your earnings. Others will deduct just the normal 11% commission but charge a registration fee, which may be around £100. {3}

They will generally want you to send in a CV, outlining any experience and any special talents or features you may have – you’re six feet six inches tall and you can juggle, for example – a good quality photograph, and a stamped addressed envelope.

‘A good, reputable agency will not sign anyone up without conducting a face-to-face interview,’ says Tony Gerrard, general manager of Ray Knight Casting which has provided extras for Notting Hill and the last three Bond films, among many others, and is currently casting for Dinotopia, a fantasy mini-series being shot at Pinewood Studios.

‘Remember that anyone can set up an agency and claim to be casting for all sorts so beware of sending money off to an organisation you know nothing about,’ adds Gerrard.

‘The hardest thing is to identify a professional and competent agency,’ agrees Spencer MacDonald, national organiser for the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU).

‘Ask how long an agency has been established, how much work they’ve had over the last few months and carefully check their terms and conditions.’

‘When you do get on the books of a good company, you can expect an average of one job a fortnight. Most successful extras treat it as an unusual and interesting hobby,’ adds MacDonald. 

An extra is typically paid £64.50 for a nine-hour day, inclusive of lunch. Thereafter they get £12.09 an hour. There are extra payments for utilising special skills and often travel expenses are available.

Paul Kirby, 54, who is on the books at Ray Knight Casting, first worked as an extra in 1966 on The Dirty Dozen. He has been in hundreds of productions since, most recently working on Dinotopia.

‘Most of the stars are very courteous and will always give you a ‘good morning’ but you must remember that that’s not an invitation to start a conversation,’ he says.

‘I think of the job as being like going to a party without the booze: you know a lot of the people there and most of your time is spent standing around chatting to them.’ 

DO Treat it seriously Be prepared to be available at short notice Turn up on time Switch off your mobile Be silent on set Look after your costume 

DON’T Fail to show up Breeze up to Johnny Depp, fling your arms around him and say ‘Fancy a kiss, gorgeous?’ Take a camera Take criticism/out-and-out abuse personally Make ‘helpful’ suggestions to the director

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