A background actor or extra is a performer in a film, television show, stage, musical, opera or ballet production, who appears in a nonspeaking, nonsinging or nondancing capacity, usually in the background (for example, in an audience or busy street scene). War films and epic films often employ background actors in large numbers: some films have featured hundreds or even thousands of paid background actors. Likewise, grand opera can involve many background actors appearing in spectacular productions.
On a film or TV set, background actors are usually referred to as "background performers", "background artists" or simply "background" while the term "extra" is rarely used. In a stage production, background actors are commonly referred to as "supernumeraries". In opera and ballet, they are called either "extras" or "supers".
Casting criteria for background actors depend on the production. Becoming a background actor often requires little to no acting experience; punctuality, reliability and the ability to take direction may figure more prominently than talent.
There are several casting agencies that specialize only in background work. When hiring background actors, casting directors generally seek out those with specific "looks" that will contribute to the ambiance desired for the film, for instance, "high school students", "affluent senior citizens", etc. Casting directors may also look for background actors that possess special skills needed for the scene, such as rollerblading or dancing. In addition, as background actors are often required to use their own wardrobe on the set, casting directors may seek those who already possess specific costumes or props, such as police uniforms or musical instruments.
On smaller productions or student films, background actors may be hired en masse with little formality.
The length of a background actor's employment on a production largely depends on the needs of the director and the scene(s) being filmed. Some background actors are only needed on the set for a day or two; others may remain with the film for extended periods of time. On James Cameron's film Titanic, for instance, a group of 150 "core background actors" were hired to play the ship's passengers; these background actors were employed throughout the entire length of filming. However, they were not given any credit in the film's titles - a common practice; However there is The IMDB Database where paying members can list TV, films... ETC.; once confirmed, much like Wikipedia operates.
Salary and working conditions
In the United States, most major film and television productions fall under the jurisdiction of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or AFTRA; background actors are protected and guaranteed the same working conditions as actors with speaking roles. The UK equivalent for actors is called Equity. However, on films in the UK the majority of background actors work under agreements negotiated by the Film Artists Association (FAA Division of BECTU).
SAG-signatory producers are allowed to hire non-union background actors after a certain number of SAG performers have been cast; non-union background actors are usually paid the minimum wage. On productions outside of union jurisdiction, payment for background actors is at the discretion of the producers, and ranges from union-scale rates to "copy and credit" (i.e., no pay). Those producers who do not pay their actors may be in violation of state and federal laws about minimum wage for a job.
Between 1946 and 1992, background actors in film and television were largely represented by the Screen Extras Guild. SEG was disbanded on 1 June 1992 and transferred its jurisdiction to SAG.
In popular culture
The television sitcom Extras follows the exploits of two professional background actors, Andy and Maggie. They spend most of their time on set looking for a speaking role and a boyfriend, respectively.
- ^ Beginner's guide to becoming an extra, Film4
- ^ Be An Extra, Tony Butcher, The Stage
- ^ Titanic (1997) - Trivia
- ^ http://www.bectu.org.uk/get-involved/background-artistes
- ^ Television and movie agreement - collective bargaining agreement; Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, Monthly Labor Review, August 1992
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