Thursday, June 27, 2019

Being Background

A few years ago, I wrote a posted a big blog entry about how to get involved in acting in Utah. You can check it out here, but I've had a few people ask me lately about doing background/extra work and/or getting more involved in film. So I thought I'd share a few more details!

Speaking Roles:
In order to audition for speaking roles in Utah, you need to have an agent. The 2 most reputable agencies in Utah are TMG (Talent Management Group) and McCarty. TMG only takes referrals, and McCarty has an open call every fall...keep an eye on their website and Facebook page for exact dates. I've also heard of Stars Talent Studio, Urban Talent Management, and Elevate Talent Agency, but I can’t vouch for them.

But the best and easiest way to get involved (especially if you don't have much experience) is by doing Background/Extra work! It's usually pretty fun, not too challenging, and it's a perfect way to learn how film sets work.

Background/Extra work: What It Is/How It Works
In every film/TV show/commercial, sometimes you need people to create a crowd…in a restaurant, at a high school assembly, on a busy street. The people who do this are actors called extras, or background.

If a film/TV show/commercial needs extras, they’ll send out an “extras call.” If you fit the description of what they need, you can send them your info—usually a current photo and maybe clothing sizes. If you fit what they’re looking for, they’ll contact you and tell you where and when to show up, what to wear, and anything else you need to know.

Usually this is on a day-by-day basis, and you’ll spend that day on set, then go home and relax.

Background/Extra work: What To Expect
PAY: Standard pay for background work is $101.50 per “day.” (In film, a “day” means anything under 12 hours. Most of the time, if you’re there for longer, they have to pay you extra.) Sometimes pay is more or less, depending on the project.

MEALS: Depending on when in the day the shoot is, many sets will provide lunch. There are also often snacks/water, but be sure to bring your own just in case.

HOURS: Background/extra work is usually an all-day commitment. But it varies hugely from project to project. I’ve been background where I showed up at 6 am and was done by 9 am. And I’ve also been background where I was on set from 6 am to midnight. And you just gotta kinda be prepared for either scenario.

NOTES ON THE DAY OF: Here’s how your day as an extra/background actor will typically work, as well as some on set jargon it’s good to know.

You’ll show up “on set” (the location where filming is happening) by “call time” (the time you have been asked to arrive). You’ll find a “PA” (production assistant) and tell them you’re an extra. If you’re not sure who the PA is, you can just walk up to anyone who looks like they’re involved in filming and they can point you in the right direction.

The PA will usually have you fill out some paperwork and then send you to “wardrobe” and/or “hair/makeup.” These are the folks who choose what you’ll be wearing and make sure you look good on camera. Most projects will have extras bring their own clothes, so it’s usually easiest to just bring a suitcase with options—they’ll tell you beforehand what kinds of things to bring.

Then you’ll probably hang out in “holding” (an area set aside for background actors to hang out until they’re needed). And you will probably hang out here for hours. So bring a book, your phone charger, an iPad, other work, etc. Grab some snacks from “craft services” (food provided by the film/TV show/commercial makers) and prepare to wait forever.

When it’s time to actually get to work, a PA will tell you where to go. Then someone, (the “1st AD”/assistant director, another PA, or the background “wrangler”) will tell you what to do. For example, “Start by this table, then walk down towards the bathroom.”

Here’s a typical run down of a shot. Various people will call out these things, and here’s what each of them mean.
1. “Rehearsal!” = Practice. Do exactly what you were told to do as if it was the real deal.
2. “Picture’s Up!” = Rehearsal is done and we’re ready to shoot!
3. “Last looks!” = Make sure everything’s ready—hair, makeup, props, etc.
4. “Slate!” = Someone will hold a slate up to the camera so the editors know what scene it is.
5. “Camera!” = Is the camera recording?
6. “Camera speeding!” = Yes, the camera is recording.
7. “Sound!” = Is sound recording?
8. “Sound speeding!” = Yes, sound is recording.
9. “Background!” = Background/extra actors begin their work.
10. “Action!” = Main actors in the scene begin their work.
11. “Cut!” = Stop, both the acting and the cameras and sound.
12. “Hold!” = Pause, but don’t stop recording.
13. “Back to one!” = Return to the first place you were at the beginning of the shot. (If your job was to start at the table and walk towards the bathroom, go back to the table.)
14. Repeat.

In between shots, you may be told to go back to holding, or you may just stand around while they move cameras/lights/other equipment.

At the end of the day, you’ll return any wardrobe items that aren’t yours and have a PA sign you out. You’ll get your check in the mail a few weeks later!

RULES/EXPECTATIONS: Be professional. Be quiet. Follow directions. Don’t ask for autographs or photos with any of the other actors. (You will not be asked back if you do.) Filming costs tens of thousands of dollars BY THE MINUTE, so don’t waste anyone’s time.

Anything else, you’ll learn as you go! It’s usually pretty fun to make friends with the other background actors, talk shop, and hang out.

Background/Extra work: Where to Find Background Calls
There are 2 main sources for getting info about background work in Utah. Signing up for emails is the best way to get notified about extras calls.

G&G Casting
These guys are almost always working on something. Gayle and Gumby have worked everything from High School Musicals I, II, and III to "127 Hours." You can join their email list on their website and follow their Facebook page.

Utah Actors NING
This page is maintained by Jeff Johnson, who is Utah's main casting director. You'll need to register to use this page, but it's definitely worth it. Once you've registered, go to the settings tab, and then click "Email" on the left side. Make sure you're set up to receive emails from Utah ACTORS. Calls for background/extras happen almost every day during busy times.

Good luck, and happy filming! 

Monday, June 24, 2019


Beckah is in Europe on a choir tour. I'm not, but I'm extending the terms of her blogging hiatus so that it also applies to me.

We do HAVE to write regularly because otherwise what is the point, but choir tour in Europe is a valid excuse to be excused.

See ya in two weeks, lovers.

Monday, June 10, 2019

A short play, based on a true story

A short play by Liz Whittaker

JOANNA. Manager for the Rocky Mountain region of Manifestation Fulfillment, Material Desires Department. Extremely capable.

PHILLIPPA. An employee of the Material Desires, Convenient Disposal Department. A little quiet and reserved, but creative and compassionate.

HARLEY. An employee of Joanna’s. Ambitious, rough around the edges, efficient as hell.

Lights up on the bustling “Center for Manifestation Fulfillment.” Phones are ringing, people are walking back and forth between cubicles. White boards filled with complicated graphs, tickers and countdowns, etc. Think the New York City stock exchange meets the offices of The Washington Post. A sign reads “Manifestation Fulfillment: Material Desires, Rocky Mountain region.” Joanna sits at her desk, writing notes while she takes a phone call.

(on the phone) Uh huh…uh huh… no, sorry, apartments are handled by the Living Situations Department…even if they want a furnished place, it still falls under that department…okay, no problem. (Joanna presses a button) Manifestation Fulfillment, Material Desires, this is Joanna speaking…yes, of course…(she snaps her fingers, and a post it note pad zooms into her hand, and she writes something down) Uh huh…yes…is there a timeline on this one? All right, I’ll see what I can do. (she hangs up)

(HARLEY enters, holding a stack of papers)

Afternoon, Joanna. I’ve completed the reports for last week’s unfulfilled manifestations.

Thank you, Harley. Have a seat. (Flipping through the stack briefly) Hey, we’re doing a little better nowadays. Your numbers are looking good.

Thanks. I think coordinating with the other departments has been helping.

Agreed. We’ve got a new manifestation to work on, just got the call. Are you interested?

I’d love to take it. What are the details?

Let me grab you the client’s file. (she snaps her fingers and a file folder zooms into her hands)

God, that’s convenient.

God’s in a different department. But yes, having telekinetic privileges is one of the best perks of being a manager. (opens the file) Liz Whittaker, Salt Lake City.

Didn’t she do an informal manifestation request for an apartment a few months ago?

That’s the one. We were able to pass it on to the Living Situations Department, and they found her the perfect place. This most recent manifestation is for a bed frame.

That shouldn’t be too hard. What are the details of the request? Was it formalized?

No ritual attached to the request. We got this one through the “Thoughts Sent Out Into the Universe” line. She’s looking for something full sized, not too far away from her home, for under $50.

That last one’s gonna be tough. Does she need it soon?

She wasn’t specific, but it sounds like she’s hoping to have it within the next month or so.

That helps. Any leads?

Let me have you work with someone from Convenient Disposal. (picks up phone and dials) Yes, Miss Thomas? Could you please send one of your agents down here? I’ve got a case that could use someone from your department. Thanks.

(A few moments of awkward silence. Finally, Harley speaks up)

So, Joanna…


Have you thought any more about my uh…my promotion to management?

I have. And I’m definitely open to the idea. How about this? You nail this job and I’ll promote you to team lead. No telekinetic privileges yet, but your metaphysical clearance on earth will expand slightly, and you’d be in charge of six agents, coordinating efforts to fulfill manifestation desires.

Thank you, Joanna! This is fantastic.

Don’t get ahead of yourself. Get Liz a bed frame for under $50 and we’ll talk.

(Phillippa enters, looking slightly lost. She’s wearing a pair of feathery angel wings.)

Excuse me? Can you tell me what floor this is?

This is Fourteen—Material Desires. Are you looking for Heavenly Messages?

What? (Joanna gestures to the angel wings) Oh! I’m sorry. (Phillippa snaps her fingers and the wings disappear) I was just transferred out of the Divine Intervention Department, and I keep forgetting to—well, anyway, I’m looking for a Joanna?

That’s me. Listen, I’ve got a case that I think you could help us with. This is Harley. You’ll be working together. Let me know if you have any questions.

(Joanna exits)

I’m Phillippa. It’s nice to meet you.

Likewise. (hands over the folder) We’ve got a Liz Whittaker looking for a full-size bed frame in Salt Lake City, preferably under $50. Do you have any leads?

(glances at the folder, then peers up and out, scanning a series of invisible scenes that only she can see) Let’s see. I’ve got quite a few people looking to get rid of bed frames. Have you tried sending her to KSL classifieds?

I haven’t tried anything yet.

Let’s have her start there and—

(Phillippa stops, noticing something on that horizon that only she can see. She squints, then returns back to reality)

Do you think a queen size bed frame would work?

(glancing at the file) Yeah, probably.

Have her get on Facebook Marketplace.

Well, her file says she’s not ready to buy today—

Now! Hurry!

(HARLEY gets out a handheld device, something like an iPad. She presses a few buttons, and we hear a swoosh as the message gets sent to Liz down on earth.)

Should I be directing her anywhere in particular?

She’ll find it. Someone just posted. I got the alert ten minutes ago but didn’t realize they would pursue fulfillment so quickly—

(HARLEY’S “iPad” makes a “ding!” noise and the two women look down at it)

Dayum, girl! IKEA Brimnes bed frame with storage?! Slats for foam mattress included? FOR FREE?!

This is an old client of mine—I’ve done work for her and her husband before. It looks like they just want to get this out of their basement.

(looking down at the device) They’re texting.

(Both women gaze intently at the device, following some drama. It’s like they’re watching a sports game… “oh no!” “Yes, made it!” “Wait…almost?” “Score!”)

Boom! Fulfilled! Nice work!

(smiling and shrugging modestly) One of those times when the job was easy.

Well, I’m getting a promotion because of you, so thanks.

Of course. (she starts to leave, then turns back) Oh, one more thing. May I?

(Harley hands the iPad-ish device over to Phillippa, who takes it and enters a few things, then hands it back)

What did you do?

I opened the door for her. For Liz.

Literally or figuratively?

(smiling) Both.