As actors, every opportunity must be weighed not just by financial gain but by creative or career gain. One of these opportunities is performing background or "extra" work. Background work consists of the actors who flesh out the background of scenes as restaurant patrons, office workers, or any other supporting crowd work. There are several pros and cons to taking on this kind of work.
- If you are at the beginning of your career and have never been on a film or television set, background work can be a great way to learn the ins and outs. You should do some preliminary research for terms that will be thrown around but also don’t be afraid to ask questions while on set. Take it as a learning experience.
- Background work is a great way to network with other actors that you may not have met otherwise. You will learn more not just about the world of background but who others trust when it comes to classes, coaches, headshots, etc.
- While definitely not guaranteed or very common, there is always a chance of scoring an upgrade and getting a line. This is slightly more common in low to no budget features than the larger productions.
- If you are non-union, pay can be very low for very long hours. Once you have done a couple projects, you can decide if it’s worth joining the union or not. Joining a union is a big decision that should be thoroughly thought out.
- People can become primarily known as background players. While it is a viable way to make a living, it can be difficult to move forward into other areas of a career. It may mean that you have little time to go to auditions for larger roles because you will be on set for unknown periods of time.
- You do not receive credit for these roles unless you are featured in some way. Even then, it may not appear in the end credits or on IMDB.
Overall, taking background work can give you experience that you could not get otherwise and that you would be paid for. Depending on where you are in your career, it could be useful.