The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Background Actor
Written by K. Correia | Posted by: NewEnglandFilm.com
For many, attaining a position as a Background Actor (B.A.) is an exciting and thrilling opportunity to gain experience on a working film or television set. Although securing such a position may seem daunting at first, it is not impossible. Especially when one takes the initiative and signs on with a Casting Director like Boston Casting Inc.
Founded in 1991 by Angela Peri, Boston Casting Inc. has steadily become the premiere casting house in the Boston area. If you are not the type to stick around and watch the end credits of a film or have no interest in the casting/acting side of a production, then it is just possible that you have never heard of them. But it is a near guarantee that you have seen one of the films they have cast for or at the least heard of the title. Their credits include such diverse and notable films as Fever Pitch, The Proposal, and the Academy Award winner, The Fighter.
Of course signing on with a casting director does not guarantee one a job or steady work. “It depends on the film,” says Peri, on what the producers and directors are looking for in background actors, whether it be to fill seats or to have a certain appearance. However, once a person is given the opportunity to be a B.A., it is all up to how he or she conducts his or her self on set that will determine whether or not a career is in the making.
Background Actors have one of the most demanding positions on a film or television set. With an average day ranging from 12 to 14 hours, it is not likely to be a viable side gig for someone with a full time job or someone who can’t sit still. Rather, it is “best for those who are retired or students and recent graduates who haven’t found a job yet, but are looking for an addition to their income,” says Peri.
Be on Time
B.A.’s do need to be punctual and commit to the schedule assigned to them. “We don’t want anyone who is going to be late or come to set with an attitude,” says Peri. Anyone turning up late for work or causing trouble is likely to spend a short time on set before getting the boot.
B.A.’s do need to realize that any adverse behavior they engage in on set not only reflects on them, but also the casting director. Boston Casting, like other casting directors, keeps records and files on each person who signs on with them. Any undesirable behavior can seriously jeopardize the chances of a B.A. finding future work.
Dress for Success
B.A.’s do need to remember that they are at work. They have been employed by the production company to perform a task and must do so to the best of their ability. On the majority of productions, this will include having the proper wardrobe, whether it is dressing as a sports fan or for a nightclub scene. B.A.’s “know that lots of films are coming [to New England] and they know it’s important to have the right wardrobe in their closet so they can become what the film calls for,” says Peri. B.A.’s are also expected to ‘do it themselves’ when it comes to hair and makeup.
Be Professional, Not Paparazzi
While the excitement of sharing screen time and even the same breathing room as your favorite movie star may be overwhelming, it is a poor substitute for professionalism.
Do not take photographs of the set. Although the temptation to snap behind the scenes and candid photographs of the set and stars is tremendous, it is a definite way of getting an escort out. “I’ve seen people get their cameras taken away and be asked to leave,” recollects Peri. It is best to avoid the temptation from the start and never bring a camera on set and keep your cell phone turned off and put away. This also helps ensure that the set remains quiet during filming and reduces any distraction the crew might face while preparing for a scene.
Do not speak to the director or other members of the crew unless they speak to you first. This includes asking the actors for autographs. It is wise to remember that this is a day at the office for the main talent and not a public appearance. B.A.’s should know that just as they are there to perform a job, so is everyone else.
Do not wander around the set. B.A.’s should remain in the designated holding area and be prepared to go to set when asked. B.A.’s are required to pay close attention to the instructions given to them by the assistant director. This will include marks, your position on set while filming, and blocking, the movements you will be making during filming. A successful production depends on everyone playing their part and performing their function.
Productions need to know that an area, such as New England, has the resources necessary to get the job done. One of the greatest resources they need is people, in particular, B.A.’s, to fill in the scene. By maintaining a professional and courteous manner, you are contributing to the reputation of the region in having the necessary foundations to host a professional production.
While gaining a position as a B.A. on a film or television set may not be the walk in the park people assume it to be, “it’s fun,” exclaims Peri. “It’s an interesting way to see how things are put together, from the script supervisor to the lighting guy to props and wardrobe.” Just as with any job, if you work well, you can be rewarded with a better mark in a scene and with more calls for future work from the casting director, who will likely remember an enthusiastic team player rather than a moody trouble maker, for next time.
As long as B.A.’s can temper excitement with professionalism, it should be a pleasant and rewarding experience for all involved.
Related Article: Extra, Extra: How to Become a Background Actor