Paul Barlow, 56, of Kennesaw, worked 17 years in advertising and sales, focused on the Yellow Pages. Then the economy went south. So he has spent the past two years as an extra. Here is his take of the job, as told to me:
It’s the earliest you’ll get up to work the longest day you’ll ever work for the least amount of money you’ll ever get. Yet people love it more than any job they’ve ever had.
Rather than sitting at home and doing nothing and making nothing, you can make anywhere from $60 to $150 a day. That’s fine. You just have to look at it that way.
My sales job was going down the drain. I’m 56, a victim of the economy. I’ve had four jobs in five years. So I saw Bill Marinella Casting put up a Facebook post for extras. My first job was “The Change Up” with Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. That’s where the miracle happened. On my first day on the set, they sat me next to Bateman. Then they gave me a speaking role! I ended up being on screen for six minutes.
That was like a 200-to-1 shot. Films will sometimes pluck extras out like that for a speaking role. Your pay goes up from $100 to $800 a day, plus you get residuals the rest of your life. That’s pretty exciting. It doesn’t happen much on TV shows. They have tighter budgets.
Since then, I’ve worked on 60 different projects. There is a lot of work out there.
Being an extra can be exciting. You’re around people you’ve seen, movie stars. But the hours can be long. Sometimes you’ll work to 10 to 12 hours. One time, I worked 22 hours on a shoot. And you’re making mostly minimum wage.
The food is sometimes incredible, like swordfish and shrimp. But sometimes you just get some sort of rice and chicken or some sort of meat that may or may not be steak or pork. Generally, the more extras, the worse the food.
It’s not tough to figure out what to do. Be on time. Don’t take pictures on set. Don’t move yourself around without direction. People who try to set themselves near the stars are called “resetting champions.” Some people want to be seen so badly. You don’t want to be that guy.
But do what you’re told and sometimes you get picked out. Directors like my salt-and-pepper hair and the way I look.
A lot of extras will rush to the front. But often that works against them. They often pick people out from back to front. I was the last guy in for a celebrity dance sequence in “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.” They put me in right behind the judges. I was between Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas and Cheryl Cole making a face.
When you’re sitting around waiting, you’re mostly looking at your phone. You have to spend time looking at casting posts. You never know what you’ll be doing day to day. It changes. Things get cancelled. Call times get changed.
Some extras have their stuff together and are serious about acting. But some are in a dream world and think they’re going to be a big star because they’re in the background of some scene with Clint Eastwood. Some think they know everything about the business and won’t shut up. But for the most part, it’s a great group. I’ve made some good friends.
Now I want to be an actor doing principal roles all the time. I have an agent. I’m auditioning. At the same time, I’ve never been in so much debt in my life. But I’m making some progress.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk