Are you dying to see yourself inside the TV machine? Let's make your dream a reality and get you entire seconds of camera time as an extra. Follow these tips and you'll be seeing stars in no time.
[Fringe episode "Midnight" where a lady drinks guys' spinal fluid.]
First, let's assess your personal situation.
Where do you live?
If you live in New York or Los Angeles, your trail has been blazed.
To be an extra, you need: a phone, Internet access, and proper identification.
You simply need to sign up with Central Casting. You'll show up at the appropriate registration time (which changes, so check the website under the Background Actors tab) and casting person will help you fill out some very simple paperwork, snap your picture, and send you on your way. Soon, you will begin receiving casting notices via email.
When a casting notice matches your description, follow the directions in the email to submit yourself. If Central Casting agrees that you are a perfect fit for the role, a representative will call you with further instruction including costume requirements, possible call times, and locations. Just follow the directions and be on time and you'll be a great extra. In addition to Central Casting, New York and L.A. have many other casting agencies just a Google search away. This kind of convenient dream-come-true-ery makes living in The Big Apple or The City of Angels worth the obscenely high rent and the rest of America's scorn.
If you live near another major city, you may need to do a bit of traveling.
To be an extra, you need: a headshot, an acting resume, a monologue, transportation, a phone, Internet access, and proper identification.
Movies and TV shows are filmed in cities all over the world and, to facilitate these filmings, these cities contain casting agencies. Casting agencies aren't talent agents in the traditional sense so much as talent databases that provide local actors for each shoot. Check online and in the phone book for contact information and call to find out when an agency is holding their next registration or open call. At an open call, you will have the opportunity to audition for future work.
In order to be prepared for an open call, print out a glossy 8x10 picture of your head. On the back, staple an acting resume. Acting resumes list any performing you've done, your special skills like sports or dialects (don't be modest, put down everything you're good at), whether you are a licenced driver, your height, your weight, your hair and eye color, and a phone number and email address where you can be reached. To point you in the right direction, helpful acting resume templates are all over the Internet.
At your audition, you may be asked for a monologue so it's a good idea to learn a couple. If the casting call says you'll be provided with "sides," that means you'll be reading from a script they'll give you when you get there. Give it your best shot! It seems like a lot of hoops to jump through to play a corpse or non speaking prostitute, but the casting directors are probably trying to gauge what larger roles you'd be right for. Every place is different, but even the most strenuous audition shouldn't cause you too much stress. It's just acting; we're not saving lives here.
Once you've attended the open call, you will likely be placed in a searchable talent database and it may cost you some money to submit yourself for roles. If the cost is under $30, it's probably worth it. If it's over $30, look elsewhere for auditions. CW, VH1, MTV, and other networks post ads on Craigslist.org in the talent or tv / film/ video sections. If you have a Mohawk and want to be on MTV, today is your lucky day.
If you live somewhere else, you're going to have to hustle.
To be an extra, you need: gumption.
I'm originally from somewhere else too! My first television appearance was on the nightly news when my neighbor was murdered. Everybody starts somewhere.
There are film studios all over the place and there may even be one by you. I recommend setting up some Google alerts for your location and the words "casting call" or "extras". Also, go ahead and search your zip code and "studio" but anticipate wading through a few dance class and hair salon listings. Maybe something will pop up, like TicTock Studios in Michigan or Silverdraft Studios in Idaho. Then, you can contact the studio to ask for advice on becoming an extra in their upcoming projects.
Until then, you're going to have to get creative if you want to be on TV. Is there a morning show in your neck of the woods outside of whose window you can stand? Is there a college (any size will do) nearby? Colleges are chock full of eager directors-to-be who would gladly cast you in their short film or public access show. You could immerse yourself in your town's artistic enclave hoping for tips on a car dealer or pizzeria looking for a spokesperson. Other possibilities for you are Mandy.com or Craigslist.org which brings us to our next topic.
To avoid scams, you need: a sense of self preservation and pepper spray.
I want to impart some tried and true D.A.R.E. wisdom on you. No matter where you live, there's a Craigslist ad looking to talk you out of your neatly pressed audition attire. Granted, everyone in this business is flaky to a degree, but some people are down right dangerous.
Any ads you respond to should be specific, listing the role to be filled. Generic ads offering money for an unspecified job are most likely scams. If you find yourself in a high pressure audition situation where the casting person insists that you get new headshots and reproduce them in house, it is a scam. Money should never change hands in an audition. Ever. If someone locks the door behind you at an audition, mace first, ask questions later. Before you go on a call, look up the company you're auditioning for, reverse search their phone number if need be. If it's a scam, it's likely that other's have been fooled before and wrote it up online to save you the trouble.
For the love of God, there are no auditions in people's homes. Do not go anywhere with a person you meet at the mall. There is no puppy in his van.
[The orchestra pit at Rockefeller Center for Fashion Rocks 2008, Cupid episode "Live and Let Spy" in which I'm a homeless person outside a wedding.]
To be an audience member, you need: a photo, a phone, and Internet access.
Did you know that some TV shows cast their audience to insure that the camera doesn't catch any, ahem, uglies? They do! For these gigs you will not be paid but you will get to see some exciting performances for free and possibly get some camera action. This option is especially great if you're visiting New York or L.A. because you can schedule events with as much notice as you need and there's no audition necessary. OnSet Productions requires you to make a profile before requesting tickets. Seat filling is another option. Similar to casted audience, seat fillers jog into star studded events when a celebrity leaves their seat. Googling "seat filler" brings up plenty of interesting things but, on legitimate, porn free sites, you can register for specific events.
What to Expect Once You're Cast
Be ready for anything, my shining star! If you're cast as an extra, your only job is to blend. If you're a stand in, your job is to stand very still. If you're a body double, you will wear the character's costume and perform a specific action (Bonus- Gossip from the time I was a body double on Gossip Girl). If you're an audience member, your job is to be entertained. In any case, you're only expected to listen carefully, bring what you've been told to, behave like a professional, and be patient. Soon you'll be lighting up the screen.
Please enjoy this compilation of every time I've been on TV (except for the murder interview) in about a minute.