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How to Act on a Music Video Set: Etiquette for Extras

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If you live in a big city and take any interest in the entertainment industry, you are probably no stranger to open casting calls and the never-ending need for extras. With the instant communication of the Internet, a call for extras can be posted last minute and still yield a great turnout. This has become an easy way for a number of up-and-coming or indie bands to get people in their music videos at a cheaper cost. It’s a fantastic way to get a behind-the-scenes look at your favorite band at work, but do not be fooled. Just because the casting is “open” doesn’t mean you aren’t supposed to act like a professional.

When living in Southern California, I often surfed the net to keep an eye out for casting calls. I happened upon the music website AbsolutePunk, where I read a post calling for fans of the band The Academy Is to come be a part of their new video shoot. After emailing to confirm the time and location, I was registered and on my way to L.A. to be a part of the shoot. It was an incredibly fun day at the King King Club on Hollywood Boulevard. There were around 100 extras there but I, along with two friends, was lucky enough to be asked to come back for more shooting on the second day. Perhaps it was because we knew how to behave appropriately on set.

The first time you read a call for extras in a location you can actually get to, allow yourself to be excited but then take a moment to think about whether this is something you can really take the time to do. There are some factors you should contemplate before committing.

1. Do you have the time? If the arrival time is 8 am, you should probably be there at 7. If they tell you the shoot should last until 5 pm, be prepared to stay until 8. If they tell you the shoot is on Saturday, would you be able to return on Sunday if they need to do any re-shoots?

2. Did they tell you ahead of time that you would be paid? If not, then don’t expect it. If you are happy just getting a behind-the-scenes look, then be content with that and don’t expect a paycheck at the end of the day.

3. Are you fine with the idea of standing around all day? You could wait around for six hours and only be used for 30 minutes. That’s just how it goes. You have to be patient but willing to work the minute the director calls for you.

If you're okay with all of that, then you can make the decision to sign up as an extra, or simply show up if that is what the casting call says. When you arrive, make sure to bring a valid ID with you. Some casting calls require that you be within a certain age range. It would also be smart to pack a few snacks and maybe some water to bring along with you. It’s going to be a long day and the extras are at the bottom of the totem pole.

It’s important to follow the instructions on the casting call sheet precisely. This increases your chance of actually being used in a shot while on set. Remember, just because you show up doesn’t mean they have to use you. If the call sheet asks that you wear cocktail attire, you better not show up in jeans and a t-shirt. It would also be wise to have a pair of comfy shoes on set with you — you could be standing for hours on end.

Once you are on set, act professionally. Don’t act like a member of the paparazzi and start flashing your camera at the band or any possible celebrities on set. This is tacky and totally taboo. Sometimes the band will stick around at the end of the shoot to do a meet and greet, so don’t bother them while they are working. They will come and talk to you if they feel up to it.

If you are chosen to be an extra in a shot, remember you are the extra, not the star. Don’t do anything distracting on screen because you will simply be wasting time and money. The director will tell you if he is looking for anything specific. The number one rule of acting is never look directly into the camera unless the director tells you to!

Following the guidelines above will allow you to do your small part in helping the shoot run smoothly. My friends and I viewed our experience as an adventure, but we made sure to leave a good impression. We showered and tried to look very nice when we arrived. We only talked to the director and the band when they approached us and this left a good impression on them. The other extras, who looked like they woke up and just rolled out of bed, were not used in some of the shots and did not get asked to come back the next day.

Being an extra can be an extremely fun experience and, if handled professionally, can leave you with some great memories. If you are passionate about the band you are supporting by showing up all day and receiving no pay, then it is absolutely worth your time. Then the next time you see that music video playing in a record store, you can think to yourself, “Hey, I was there for that!”

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About Jennifer Stuart