What is a Background Performer or "Extra"?

What is a Background Performer or "Extra"?

A Background Performer, or “extra”, is a person used in a scene to create a sense of realism. Examples may be, diners in a restaurant, people walking by on the street, on-lookers at the scene of an accident, etc. These people are pivotal in films and on tv as “atmosphere”. Background Performers are cast in a production, but have no spoken lines. NO EXPERIENCE IS NEEDED TO GET STARTED!

Background Casting Directors are looking for people to "fill the scene". A Casting Director will know how many and what type of people they need for any given day. Scenes are very specific and they will pick you if you fit the bill! For example, they may need 20 people with business suits to play lawyers in a conference. If you are in the age range they need with the wardrobe required, you may be chosen to work that day. There are no "bad" looks in the film industry. Casting needs different looks for each show and it may be your "look" that they need.

Finding the right agent for you is important. Recommendations from other Background Performers is a good first step. You need to find an agent you can work well with. This is the person who is your direct link to Casting! Because agencies vary both number of agents and performers, make sure you feel your needs will be met. Everybody has different ways of working. Find the one that suits you best.

Keep in mind that you can only have one background agent. All agencies use the same website to post your profile for Casting to access. Under mulitple agencies, your profile would pop up more than once when Casting is looking for you. You may think this will help you get more work and exposure but it does exactly the opposite. Casting may see you as greedy, and they do not like to play favorites. After all, which agency would they give the booking to?

The standard rate of pay for a non-union Background Performer is at least the province of British Columbia's current minimum wage. Non-union Background Performers are paid as per the employment standards set by the British Columbia Government. Vacation pay (4%) is added onto the hourly rate. Lunch is not paid.

There are four types of Background Performers, per UBCP. (Union of British Columbia Performers) They are:

  • Non Union Performers - Performers not registered with UBCP
  • UBCP Extras - Performers with 15 days of background work in the previous 12 month period who have registered with UBCP
  • UBCP Apprentice - Performers who have registered one or two actor or stunt credits with UBCP or have fulfilled the requirements through background work. (200 days or 1600 hours with a minimum 15 days of BG work per year to maintain UBCP Extra number)
  • Full Union UBCP - Performers who have registered 3 actor or stunt credits with UBCP

For more information on these categories or how to apply, please go to the UBCP page How do I Become a Member?

You may have heard about different rates of pay for Background work. Unless you are a Full Union Member, you should expect to be paid the non-union rate. Permits, a higher rate of pay, are reserved for Full Union Members. They are only given out to other performers if casting has exhausted all efforts to fill a spot with a Full Union Member. At that time, a permit must be offered to an Apprentice Member. A UBCP Extra has priority over a non-union member. So if you are given a permit, it is privilege. 

Another pay category is Special Ability Background Performer. You may have heard it referred to as SAE. This category is for Background Performers who have a skill that would be considered “specialized”. Examples may be, firing weapons, horseback riding, nudity, ect. These are skills that go beyond a normal range of behaviour. SABP work is determined by UBCP.

Working as a Background Performer, you are considered to be self employed. Your agent provides a service, for a commission from your gross wages, to promote you and submit you for work. Please be aware that for income tax purposes, payroll companies send Revenue Canada T4A slips to all Background Performers. You are responsible for keeping all time report summaries, receipts and records.

Keep in mind that working as an extra is considered casual work. Not many people are able to do background work as a full time profession. The film industry in Vancouver is not steady. Strikes, time of year, and the current rate of the Canadian dollar all factor into how many productions will shoot up here. At Christmas time, most productions take a hiatus and shut down for the holiday season. No year is the same. Don't count on extra work to pay your bills.