It’s a great time to be an extra.
If you’ve ever wanted to get paid to appear on TV or film as an extra, no acting or lines involved, now’s the time.
That’s the plea from Cloverdale’s James O’Neill of 4 Aces Talent, billed as Surrey’s only extras talent agency, currently representing about 50 clients who are finding background work in the many popular TV and streaming series, movies of the week, feature films and commercials being filmed in B.C.
Surrey is enjoying a record season when it comes to TV and film production, with 103 filming permits issued by the end of July – surpassing last year’s total for all of 2015.
“It’s going crazy,” a busy but happy O’Neill told the Reporter last week, as Why We’re Killing Gunther, the action-comedy movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cobie Smulders, filmed at various locations in Cloverdale, including right near his 176 Street office.
O’Neill, who worked as an agent for two years before opening his business representing extras in June, says demand for local extras has “been insane.”
“It’s been busy. I’ve got 20 [clients] out on different shows. We need more [extras].”
O’Neil is in constant contact with the various productions hard at work this summer in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, as B.C. enjoys a banner year in film and television production.
The boom is thanks to a low Canadian dollar, film tax incentives for foreign productions, and not the least, the region’s professional, experienced, local crews that are so in demand, it’s made it hard for domestic productions to meet their deadlines.
It’s driving demand for extras, too. “We need more people,” he said.
Cloverdale, he says, is an established location, with crews returning here after positive experiences. The town centre has seen more than a half-dozen productions this summer, with more on their way.
O’Neill says productions are typically looking for extras aged 15 to 50.
The most important qualification for anyone seeking work as an extra he says is availability throughout the calendar year – a flexible schedule that will allow casting agents to slot them into various, ongoing productions as needed.
Those with special skills, such as military, police or fire service training are in especially high demand, says O’Neill. So are athletic people and musicians – people who can do something complicated or skilled and look realistic.
“Skilled” extras can make “huge” money, says O’Neill, who adds he knows of one ex-military extra who is banking $2,500 for a few days work over a two-week span for one recent production.
Otherwise, the jobs typically pay minimum wage, which may not turn heads – but O’Neill is quick to point to other incentives: shoots often go overtime, resulting in extra wages in the form of overtime pay. Fourteen-hour days are not uncommon he notes, although a strict, eight-hour maximum per day is the rule for children.
Extras eat for free, too, at craft services, potentially sweetening the deal by offering meals and snacks throughout the day’s schedule.
One of the main things he’d like potential extras candidates to keep in mind is to keep their online availability calendar up-to-date. Casting agents might be looking for last-minute extras to fill the next day’s filming requirements.
“Once you have committed, it is a job. But have fun. If you don’t have fun, it probably isn’t for you.”
If money, free meals, and the promise of winding up in an important scene in an upcoming TV or film production isn’t enough incentive, then maybe the idea of hanging out on a film set interacting with actors, directors and crew will entice.
“It’s the part I enjoy the most,” says O’Neill, a married father to three kids, son Greyson, 3, and stepchildren Peyton, 8, who found work last week in Cloverdale in a scene set in a diner in Gunther as well as a turn as a ghost in Supernatural, and Marcus, 10, who was recently used in the series iZombie.
In fact, it’s a love the whole family shares: his wife Erin – who does payroll and accounting – was able to bond at the Supernatural set with the wife of one of the co-stars, who is expecting a child.
At home, he and his family can ‘talk shop’ around the dinner table.
“It doesn’t stop!” O’Neill admits. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Tips for extras
The first step is making contact with an agency such as 4 Aces Talent. O’Neil meets with potential clients first to interview them, and counsel them on how to go about being an extra. (Contact him at email@example.com or by visiting ace-talent.ca.)
“We’re like an employment centre. We send the talent off,” he said.
• Make sure you’re available. Most jobs are Monday to Friday. “If you’re planning on finding a weekend job, this isn’t for you.”
• Keep your availability calendar up-to-date with your agency.
• Have transportation: “A vehicle really helps.”
• A professional headshot isn’t necessary to apply, just digital images but do send photos.
“We need basic pictures such as a profile, full body shot and a full back shot,” he said.