Biz Studio sends out a monthly email hotsheet with tips, tricks and inside info. Here’s this month’s feature on Background work (also called extra work). Enjoy!

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Anytime you see people in the background of a movie or TV show—sitting in a restaurant, walking down the street, driving in cars, etc—these are background performers or “extras”. It can be a great summer job, and as a new actor it can be a good way to get onto a film set and see for yourself what it’s like. The pay is typically $8-12 per hour, the days are 10 to 14 hours long so you often get paid additional $$ for overtime, food is provided for you, and most of what you do is wait around until they need you. It’s NOT ACTING, and it’s very rare for an extra to be “upgraded” to a speaking role, but background work is waaaaaaay better than flipping burgers if you’re looking for a job this summer.

To get background work, you’ll need an extras agent. If you have a talent agent, ask how they feel about you doing extra work–it’s normal to have an extras agent and a talent agent, but you should always talk to your talent agent first (because extra work will affect your availability to do auditions). To work on set without a parent or guardian chaperone, you’ll need to be at least 15 years old. Extras agencies need a variety of people of all different ages and types: punky people, beautiful people, old-fashioned people, ballet dancers, baseball players, guys with ripped jeans, and lots more. Call to find out when each agency is taking applications, then dress up a little and show up at the agency with a resume that lists all of your skills and talents. Anything that you can do at a three-out-of-ten level counts as a skill (i.e. yo-yo [basic], skateboarding [beginner], hockey [intermediate], ballet [expert] etc.). Be honest.

Extras agencies look for people with good availability, because extra work happens on very short notice and can run for weeks. “Can you be on set tomorrow?” is a very normal question, so if you’re a student on summer vacation and you can be available anytime, anyday that’s what they like best. Vancouver agencies usually charge a $25-35 fee to sign up, and most agencies will deduct the fee from your first paycheque so you’re not out of pocket. Here’s a few to get you started:

In-Motion Talent Ltd.
#201–109 Carrall Street, Vancouver
Tel: (604) 602-0599

Keystone Extras
#243–515 West Pender Street, Vancouver
Tel: (604) 685-2218
Tel: (604) 683-1190

Talent Co. [Kelly]
#215–209 Carrall St, Gaolers Mews, Vancouver
Tel: (604) 687-0388

L J R Talent Inc.
#202–1290 Homer Street, Vancouver
Tel: (604) 662-3393

Silver Screen Talent Inc.
#207–1836 West 5th Avenue, Vancouver
Tel: (604) 714-0669

Hollywood North Extras
#518-4710 Kingsway (Rogers Cantel Tower), Burnaby
Tel: (604) 430-3035

(more online at



AD, 1st AD: Short for Assistant Director, First Assistant Director, Second Assistant Director, etc. The AD’s coordinate the extras and crew, among other things.

BACKGROUND: Performers used in the background of a shot to make a film set look more real by sitting, walking, driving in cars, riding bicycles, etc. Also called “extras”. Basically human props.

CIRCUS: At an outdoor set, the location where all the crew trucks and production trucks are parked. (i.e. “Head back to holding at the circus.”)

CONTINUITY: Continuity means matching the positions, colours, etc. of things at the end of one shot with the same things at the beginning of the next shot. Can also refer to anything that has to look the same as in the shot before (i.e. “Okay, you extras are continuity so you have to stick around.”) As a background performer it’s important to do exactly the same thing in each “take” of a scene to help with continuity.

Short for Craft Services–the job of providing food, drinks and snacks to actors, crew and extras on set, and the people doing it. On most productions extras will have a seperate crafty from actors and crew–make sure you’re at the right one.

FRAME: The imaginary line around what the camera can see. (i.e. “Step a little more into frame please.” or “Your left ear is out of frame, sir.”) To “cross frame” means to move from one side of the camera to the other.

GB: Short for “General Background”. Refers to non-union extras.

HOLDING: The tent or physical location where extras stay when they’re not being used on set.

HONEY WAGON: At an outdoor set, the truck with the bathrooms in it.

PHOTO DOUBLE: Big stars are too important to be in scenes where only the back of their head is required (or neck, arm, whatever) so they get a photo double—a person who looks enough like the star that you can’t tell from a distance, from behind, the side, etc.

SAE: Skilled Actor Extra—an extra hired to perform a special skill on camera. Can be anything from lifting weights to juggling to walking on very high heels. Technically, according to the Union of BC Performers rules, anything that an 85 year old woman couldn’t do is either special skills or a stunt. Technically, anyway.

STAND-IN: A lucky soul hired just to stand in one spot for hours and pretend to be an actor so that the production crew can set up lights, etc. Never shows up on film.

UPGRADE: Anytime an extra is ‘featured’ or given a speaking role (it’s rare, but it does happen). A study by the BC Labour Commission in 2003 identified “extras constantly seeking upgrades” as one of the reasons that the film industry in BC has decreased in the last several years. So don’t obsess about it, please.

UNION: Usually refers to the Union of BC Performers (UBCP)—the union for professional performers in the film and TV industry in BC. Can also refer to a member of that union, or a production that has registered with UBCP (i.e. a union production).

WRANGLER: The production staff in charge of looking after background performers. The wranglers will tell you when to go to set, where to sit, when to have lunch, when to see hair, makeup & wardrobe, and many other exciting things. As an interesting side note, the term “wrangler” is taken from the word for someone who herds cattle for a living.

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