accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

The world of extras can be both tedious, exciting

 Extra Cristina Devallescar (in pink) gets sprayed down with sunscreen by makeup artist Duane Sailor (right) before heading out with other extras to fill in the background of a wedding being shot for Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" season finale at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime. BITA HONARVAR / BHONARVAR@AJC.COM

Extra Cristina Devallescar (in pink) gets sprayed down with sunscreen by makeup artist Duane Sailor (right) before heading out with other extras to fill in the background of a wedding being shot for Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" season finale at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime. BITA HONARVAR / BHONARVAR@AJC.COM

Extra. Just the name of the job suggests its superfluous, throw-away nature.

But for the burgeoning business of filming movies and TV series in metro Atlanta, extras are crucial to scenes shot in restaurants, parties and busy sidewalks. Or, in the case of AMC’s popular drama “The Walking Dead,” a field of vacant-eyed zombies.

The job draws a mix of actor wannabes and the ranks of unemployed seeking income to tide them over between regular jobs. The wages are fast-food modest: usually $8 to $10 an hour (though in most cases, you are guaranteed an eight-hour shift with possible overtime.)

Many extras catch the Hollywood bug and start taking acting classes, auditioning for roles and hiring agents in hopes of becoming “real” actors, however unlikely that may be.

Bob Susko, a 64-year-old local personal injury lawyer from Marietta, will sacrifice actual law-related income on occasion to play a fake attorney on “Drop Dead Diva,” a Lifetime drama shot mostly in Peachtree City. The series concludes its fourth season Sunday with a wedding scene shot at the Atlanta Botanical Garden shot on an unusually cool summer day in July.

Susko, who played a wedding guest in that scene, that day, says he can be seen unobtrusively walking down a hallway or wordlessly sitting in meetings on eight different “Drop Dead Diva” episodes. “They need someone with an expensive suit who’s a little older. I fit that.

“Obviously, I don’t need the money. It’s just a relief to get away from the office and the stress.”

But he’s also looking to get into the business more seriously and perhaps nab a speaking role. “I just auditioned for a commercial,” he says.“I have an agent. Being an extra is a stepping stone.”

Extras (from left) Stacy Payne, her daughter Madeline Payne and Sean Richards (far right) play spades as they wait to be called to fill in the background of a wedding being shot for Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" season finale at the Atlanta Botanical Garden taped in July and airing Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.BITA HONARVAR / BHONARVAR@AJC.COM

Extras (from left) Stacy Payne, her daughter Madeline Payne and Sean Richards (far right) play spades as they wait to be called to fill in the background of a wedding being shot for Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" season finale at the Atlanta Botanical Garden taped in July and airing Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.BITA HONARVAR / BHONARVAR@AJC.COM

Hunter Hughes, 50, was in mortgage banking until the economic collapse and is using extras work to bridge the time and make a little cash — very little cash. The Elijay resident tries to look on the bright side: The food is free.

The downside: Hours can be long and waits tedious.

For “Drop Dead Diva,” Susko says he’d often have to get up at 4:30 a.m. for an hour commute, then work a 12-hour day. On shows such as the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” or MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” which require plenty of night shoots, staying up all night isn’t unusual.

During breaks, extras are usually corralled into a room or a cordoned-off area where they read, play cards or fiddle with Words With Friends on their iPhones. For regulars, it’s a mini-social club where they gossip and trade jokes. They scan Facebook for other casting calls and line up future gigs.

Sometimes, they rub shoulders with A-listers such as Clint Eastwood and Vince Vaughn (though it’s recommended an extra only speak to them if they speak to you first).

[Read this first-person perspective about being an extra.]

Tripp West, a radio DJ between gigs, recently did some extras work on “Devil’s Knot,” an upcoming film starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth.

Extras are directed to fill in seats for a wedding being shot for Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" season finale at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. BITA HONARVAR / BHONARVAR@AJC.COM

Extras are directed to fill in seats for a wedding being shot for Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" season finale at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. BITA HONARVAR / BHONARVAR@AJC.COM

“Colin was very approachable. Reese was heavily protected. I got to talk to [“CSI Miami’ actor] Rex Linn for awhile. Not a deep conversation. But we talked football. He’s a University of Texas guy.”

Clyde Cauthen, a 50-year-old accountant from Oxford who does extra work on the side, spent time on the upcoming Eastwood film “Trouble With a Curve.”

“I sat right beside him on the set playing a bar patron,” he says. “He was super nice. He showed respect for everyone around him and made us all feel comfortable.”

‘One big family’

West says it’s fun to see if he actually ends up in the final product — however fleeting. When he watched the 2010 ABC Family film “Christmas Cupid,” he scanned for his face at a party scene and was able to catch himself for all of three seconds.

For a bit more money, some extras become stand ins for big-name actors. For three seasons, Peachtree City resident Jennifer Eden has shown up every day during production to be a regular fill-in for “Drop Dead Diva” lead actress Brooke Elliott while the staff sets up a scene. The time she has spent on set has inspired her to get into the production side of things.

“We’ve all become one big family,” she says. “Brooke takes care of me, always checks on me.”

Decatur's J.C. Long and Atlanta's Maya Santandrea were both stars at a zombie audition for "The Walking Dead" in May, 2012. Both will be seen in the upcoming season of "The Walking Dead" as zombie extras on Oct. 14. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Decatur's J.C. Long and Atlanta's Maya Santandrea were both stars at a zombie audition for "The Walking Dead" in May, 2012. Both will be seen in the upcoming season of "The Walking Dead" as zombie extras on Oct. 14. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Among local shoots, the coolest gig for many extras is to be a zombie. Maya Santandrea says the minute she saw “The Walking Dead” when it debuted in 2010, the Atlanta resident was hooked and told friends she wanted to be a zombie.

So this spring, she attended a special audition for zombies in Senoia where she impressed co-executive producer Greg Nicotero with her extra-scary facial expressions and aggressively pantomimed attacking a fake victim.

“When I think of zombies, I have an image of a ferocious dog. I’m going to eat you!”

Santandrea has since been cast in three “Walking Dead” episodes and rewarded with a “hero” zombie role, which means getting whacked by one of the main actors.

“If you’re a hero zombie, you get prosthetics put on instead of just paint. And you get a little bump in pay.”

How to be an extra

Facebook might be the best place to find work. Four recommended pages: CL Casting, Extras Casting Atlanta, Bill Marinella Casting and Tammy Smith Casting.

Jamie Lynn Catrett, co-owner of year-old, Atlanta-based CL Casting, said extras need open schedules and be responsive to phone calls, texts and emails because schedules can change six times in a week.

Another piece of advice: “Be respectful of everyone on the set, whether it’s a production assistant or wardrobe. Anyone could ask you to not come back.”

Join my Facebook fan page and Twitter.

– Rodney Ho, AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

28 comments Add your comment

SPBBBBMBBSTBarlow

September 7th, 2012
9:45 am

YOMP! Nice work, Rodney!

[...] [Read my broader piece about life as an extra and some pointers on how to get into the business.] [...]

Juan Moreno

September 7th, 2012
12:32 pm

This is so exciting. I remember when I first started as an extra, long hours, little food, and hard work, but some of the best times of my life!!! But that was almost two years ago. I have witnessed a lot of things since I started working in the industry and I noticed that it really is 50% talent and 50% who you know. From finding who is the casting director for the latest movie filming in Atlanta to who to make friends with to make sure you have a few more seconds of “screen time”.

But one of the best things I could have come across since I started as an extra would be finding the website http://www.ProjectCasting.com . They have the latest information regarding casting calls, auditions, and other opportunities for FREE! Unlike a lot of these other scams that are located throughout the internet that charge you $200 a month for ‘fake’ casting calls.

It has been a long time coming since I started out as an extra and it is always nice to see the AJC put together this amazing piece on life as an Background Artist, a.k.a Extra!

Jennifer

September 7th, 2012
12:40 pm

“Obviously, I don’t need the money.”
What a pompous jerk.

Megan

September 7th, 2012
4:27 pm

Jennifer, you’re IGNORANT for judging someone that you do not know, especially since it is obvious that you are oblivious to the fact that, at times, journalist quote individuals out of context. Keep your rude comments to yourself.

dood

September 8th, 2012
9:11 am

the only thing Jennifer took away from this was that line, what an insecure whacko. Surprise, surprise, a 64 yr old professional who doesn’t need money and is looking for something to break up the monotony of law.

LAURA PHILLIPS

September 8th, 2012
9:14 am

I LOVE BEING AN EXTRA WHEN I WAS ONE I WISH I COULD DO IT AGAIN

Jorma

September 8th, 2012
9:26 am

Mooooooooooo

Jorma

September 8th, 2012
9:29 am

The life of an extra can be tedious and tedious and tedious and tedious and tedious and tedious.

I’m pretty sure all that glamour will wash off with some soap and water

Background! Back to one

dojomommy

September 8th, 2012
9:49 am

My 9-yr-old son asked me about all the trucks and equipment outside the Buckhead Target center this past week. I told him about filming movies and also explained what “extras” were. His response? “you mean i could be in a movie, get paid, and probably play my DS all day? That would be great!” A star is born.

Atlantarama

September 8th, 2012
10:12 am

When I was much younger, I drove all the way from Atlanta to Statesboro to be an extra for three days in “The Longest Yard” with Burt Reynolds. It was sometimes an interesting experience, but as everyone says, it was mostly tedious.

I think we got paid about $15/day; it sounds like things have gotten a lot better since 1974.

Don't forget inflation, A-rama

September 8th, 2012
10:48 am

I just thought I’d point out to Atlantarama that $15/day in 1974 is equal to about $76/day in 2012, according to calculator.net. That would be about $9.50/hour for an 8 hour day, so it’s probably about the same. I saw an old Look magazine from about ‘67 recently and noticed the new Mustangs and GTOs, etc selling for about $3,000 to $4,000, so that inflation’s no joke!

Juan

September 8th, 2012
11:09 am

I did background work for “The Internship” on Georgia Tech campus this summer and from what I learned, there was no such thing as an 8-hour day. It was more like 12-16, so it was definitely more than $76/day. There is a lot of “hurry up and wait” but overall a lot of fun and you end up with great stories to tell friends and family.

Olga

September 8th, 2012
11:19 am

LOVE Rex Linn!!! Nicest funniest guy

Old Man River

September 8th, 2012
11:48 am

I remember being in 3 episodes of “In the Heat of the Night” filmed in Covington. Very tedious and long hours,but don’t get your hopes up for actually being seen in most clips. I think I got 1 second in one Heat scene after 3 weeks of work. It was still worth it as you get to see the production of the movie.

steve

September 8th, 2012
12:11 pm

I’m a butt double for al roker.

Motocross Survivor

September 8th, 2012
12:12 pm

How exciting, being herded around all day just to be seen as one of the herd for one second in some pathetic production that nobody but idiots watch. I’d rather go fishing or out for a run.

Player

September 8th, 2012
3:37 pm

Played an usher in 42, the Jackie Robinson Story this summer, Son was an on camera Baseball Player and averaged about $250 a day plus expenses for bearly 4 mos. Lots of fun and cant wait for the movie to come out in April 2013. Harrison Ford, Lucas Black, Ryan Merriman were awesome!

SmokinFletch

September 8th, 2012
6:21 pm

I met Daisy Duke.
Other than that it was about as exciting as watching paint dry.

belinda james

September 8th, 2012
8:21 pm

FROM CL Casting “Oh dear lord! GUYS.. PLEASE DO NOT START ATTACKING ONE ANOTHER ON OUR FACEBOOK PAGE. If you have something you would like to say, please message one another in private” A very grumpy JAMIE :( – .

Adam

September 8th, 2012
9:19 pm

better than sitting at home being unemployed. and everyone should be an EXTRA once, just to see how boring a life a Real Actor has.
Rock Stars have more fun.

I too, am a butt double for Al Roker.

Big Tee

September 9th, 2012
8:16 pm

I was an extra in a commercial (Dr. Pepper) back in 1991 and all I earned for 24 hrs worth of work was $200 back then. Commercial was shot in Westchester Couny, NY and I had to wear one of my good suits in the commercial shoot and I ended up on the cutting room floor (as did most of the other extras). Funny thing was I was approached on 34th St. in Manhattan on my way home from work by someone from the company doing the actual shooting of the commercial and thought she was wasting my time. Reluctantly decided to take her up on the offer and I was in the scene with the guy who used to do the Dr. Pepper ad then (found out later he was from Westchester County, about a 5-min. drive from the Metro-North station where the commercial was shot). Second funny thing, bus taking us from Westchester back into Manhattan made a wrong turn in Yonkers and got lost temporarily.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution blog has an interesting article about extras for various shows.  The most coveted extra role, of [...]

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution blog has an interesting article about extras for various shows.  The most coveted extra role, of [...]

gunga din

September 10th, 2012
10:30 pm

got to be a race crowd extra in one of the Dukes of Hazard episodes when the filmed in Georgia. lots of sitting around doing nothing but got to ogle Daisy in her tight shorts up close for a day. man, she was awesome !!!

Kathleen

September 10th, 2012
10:39 pm

Being an extra is one of the BEST JOBS around besides being a Flight Attendant. It’s so much fun to meet new people who like to do the same thing as me! There is usually great food to eat, too. The best part is seeing yourself in the movie or TV show you worked. Try it, you’ll like it!

Taanya W

September 11th, 2012
9:54 am

Thanks so much for the info, now I know where to look for casting calls for my son. It can really get very frustrating going through the different websites that led to something that requires payment before giving out info.

The Austrian Brotherhood

September 11th, 2012
11:12 am

And what causes inflation? Buehler? Hint. It’s not rising prices. That’s the result of the cause.