What Does a Movie Extra Do?

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  • Written By: Christian Petersen
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2019
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A movie extra is someone who appears in a motion picture or television show in a minor role, usually in the background of the primary action going on in a particular scene. A movie extra will usually only appear for short periods, often a matter of seconds, and is not recognized in the movie credits. Movie extras serve to create the illusion of a real-life setting behind and around the actors and primary action of the film or television show and have been called "human scenery." Movie extras serve to fill the roles of everyday people, helping the production to seem more realistic.

During the making of a motion picture or television show, a need will often arise for movie extras to appear in a scene. Movie extras are often seen simply performing everyday activities behind the primary action, such as shopping, chatting in a coffee shop, or mowing a lawn. Sometimes a production needs thousands of extras for a scene such as a sporting event or concert. Most extras fill non-speaking roles and never interact with the main characters but, on rare occasions, may have a line or two and appear in the primary action in a very minor, fleeting way.


Roles for movie extras are often unpaid. These types of movie extra roles may be the result of a situation where people in a public, real life situation are filmed, or they may brought in specifically for the purpose of appearing as an extra in a film or television show with the understanding that they will not be paid. Often, people eagerly fill these unpaid movie extra roles just for the chance to appear in a movie or television show.

Depending on the production, some movie extras are paid, and while they do not make the huge sums of money paid to the stars, some actors make a modest living on the wages they receive as extras. Some actors have made careers out of being movie extras. Although rare, an actor may be able to expand his career from a beginning as a movie extra to gradually win larger, speaking roles and even starring roles. This is very unusual, however, as most movie extras never advance their acting careers past these types of roles.


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Post 2

@Buster29, a friend of mine lived in Boston while he was in college, and he actually earned a little money by becoming a movie extra. He said the assistant directors would call everyone to a meeting and discuss the basic idea of the scene about to be filmed. The extras might be asked to walk around a zoo, then react in terror when a cage door swings open. They would spend all day at the zoo either milling around or running away from an imaginary animal.

He said he would occasionally be asked to do something specific, like sell a balloon to one of the actors. He told me that sometimes an extra with the right look or costume will be promoted to "featured extra" and actually show up in the film for more than a few seconds.

Post 1

One important thing a movie extra does is behave like a normal human being under normal circumstances. If a director tried to shoot a street scene with regular pedestrians, the shot would be ruined by people pointing at the camera, walking in front of the principle actors and making obscene or distracting movements. By hiring hundreds of paid and unpaid extras, the director can order them not to do any of those things. They're just supposed to walk down the sidewalk and do regular things, like buy a hotdog or talk to a friend.

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