With the Oscars soon upon us, everyone is going to the theaters to see the movies that have been nominated. I have a personal interest in one movie up for multiple Oscars – Jojo Rabbit. Not only was it filmed here in the Czech Republic, but I was in it.
I wasn’t an actor, however. I was an extra. Most of us don’t think much about it, but extras are essential to any movie. And just as the actors need direction, so do the people appearing in the background.
It’s almost like a choreographed dance, with two people entering from one side and exiting from the other; a group going from background to foreground; someone riding past on a bicycle. A bevy of assistants keep the extras in line, choosing certain people to appear in certain scenes. It’s hard work.
And, it’s not easy being an extra. You get up much earlier than anyone who has a regular job. You arrive at the meeting point and find other barely-awake extras waiting there already. The person in charge of the extras takes roll to make sure everyone who signed up to be there that day is actually there. You’re loaded on a bus and shuttled to the set. Once there, you’re put into costume and your hair and makeup are done.
Shooting takes all day, and most of being an extra involves sitting or standing around until they’re ready for you. You’re served three meals a day, in a tent or (if you’re lucky) a building, with all the other extras. On cold days, you want only to stay in the tent, where they’ve put a heater. I learned quickly to bring my own food, as the caterers didn’t always provide meals that I could eat.
Toilet facilities are often pretty grim. Eventually, shooting will wrap up for the day, and you change back into your own clothes and climb aboard the bus back to Prague. All this for approximately 1,000 crowns per day, plus meals, and a little extra for coming in for the costume fitting.
On the other hand, you get to see a film or TV show being made. You see how they make a set look like pre-WWII Poland, or a medieval village, or an Austrian city in the late 1970s. You get a peek at the main actors doing what they do best. You watch them setting up a shot, and you see all that goes into making the final product.
And you get to meet new people; the extras have a strong sense of camaraderie, and I’ve had some good conversations with them. During one shoot, an extra had a seizure, and several other extras helped put him on a stretcher and carry him up a dangerous staircase.
So, how do you become an extra on one of the many foreign productions shooting here?
You sign up with one of the casting agencies. Often, a casting agency will put out a call on Facebook for people to sign up with them. They also post when they need specific types – ethnic, athletic, height, weight, age, you name it.
Following these agencies on Facebook is a good way to learn what’s coming up. When you sign up with an agency, you fill out a form detailing your physical characteristics. You also put down any skills you have, such as playing a musical instrument, being adept in a certain sport, or knowing how to knit. You are photographed and entered into their database.
You can also do it the easier way, online, uploading your own photo. And that’s it, until you’re chosen by a casting director for an upcoming production.
I’ve signed up with several casting agencies, and I now get a text message when they have a potential job for me. The message contains the days when I may be shooting (often, it’s not yet known which days they’ll need me), and the payment per day.
It also states that, if I’m able to do it, I need to send back a message in a certain format – for example, the name of the production, plus my surname, plus OK. We then agree on a date and time for me to come in for a costume fitting. And then, I just have to wait until the shooting day.
Something to remember: Shoots don’t always take as long as you think. I was on a shoot once where they did all the scenes involving our group of extras in a single day, so they didn’t need us the next day. The day after that, we were all shooting again. Conversely, you may be asked to come in again and again for extra scenes.
- Bring something to read. You’ll spend a lot of time doing nothing, so you’ll need something to keep you alert. Some extras bring crafts to work on while they’re waiting.
- If you have dietary restrictions, by all means, bring your own food. This also allows you to snack if you get hungry between meals.
- In the winter, bring heavy clothing. Often, the assistants will hand out blankets, but if your costume allows it, wear something warm underneath. Extras are usually allowed to put their own coats on between takes.
- Shoe inserts are a good idea. You may find yourself wearing horrendously uncomfortable shoes.
- A small carry-on suitcase works well for everything you need to bring – food, books, etc.
Here are some casting agencies around town: