Seeing Stars: Becoming a Star (for 15 Minutes)

You may not have what it takes to be a big star, but you've probably noticed that virtually every movie and TV show involves many regular folks as well - the "little people" who have no lines to say, but who portray members of the crowd, passersbys or the customers in restaurant scenes: these background people are movie "extras".

Being an extra won't make you a star, but it will get you inside major movie and TV studios, onto real movie sets, often alongside bona fide stars - and if you're lucky, you will get your face on the silver screen - if only for a fleeting moment. (As Andy Warhol said , "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.")

Have you ever wondered just how these movie "extras" get their jobs?

Well, you too can try your luck with Central Casting in Burbank, where all the movie studios go for "extras" (otherwise known as background actors with non-speaking roles). There are lots of scams out there, trying to take advantage of naive wannabes, but Central Casting is strictly on the up & up - it's the largest extras casting company in the United States.

Give Central Casting a call at (818) 562-2755 and then press the #2 button on your phone to go to their non-union Info Line and hear a recording which will tell you how to register as a non-union movie extra.

Here's how it's done:

UPDATE!: As of September 7, 2011, Central Casting is now requiring you to schedule an appointment to register. You can register online
at their website or call them at (818) 562-2972.

Central Casting is located in Burbank (in the Valley), about two miles northeast of Disney Studios, NBC Studios and Warner Bros Studios.

Registration days at Central Casting are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only,

Here are their exact hours (as of May 2013):

Mondays from 9:30 AM until approximately 12:30 PM
Mondays from 2:30 PM until approximately 5:30 PM
Wednesdays from 9:30 AM until approximately 12:30 PM
Wednesday from 2:30 PM until approximately 5:30 PM
Friday from 9:30 AM until approximately 12:30 PM.

If the day falls on or near a holiday, they may be closed. Registration takes about one hour.

(Tuesdays and Thursdays are "visiting days," when actors can make file changes, drop off headshots, and perhaps meet with filmmakers.)

When you go to register at Central Casting, take a pen or pencil with you and some hard surface to write on (such as a clipboard or a book), since counter/writing space is in short supply in their office.

Because of federal law, they require both a valid drivers license and your Social Security card as identification when you register. Or else a U. S. Passport. Or else your drivers license and your birth certificate. (But all such items must be the original documents - no copies.) You must be 18 or older.

If you are a resident alien, must present your current “Employment Authorization” OR “Resident Alien” card (with a current photo of you), TOGETHER with the above-listed documents.

They will shoot two photos of you (one computer image and one conventional photograph), which will be used in their files, from which they select potential extras. They suggest that you "dress to impress." Wear clothes that you own (you usually have to supply your own "costume" as an extra), and dress as the "type" you expect to portray if you get work as an extra. For instance, if you feel you are best cast as a conservative businessman, wear a suit.

The cost for taking this photo/computer image is $25 cash - no checks or credit cards. Bring exact change.

They will also want to know your exact measurements & clothes sizes. For women, that means bust, waist, hips, dress and shoe sizes. For men, it means know your coat, sleeve, neck, waist, inseam and shoe sizes.

(Interestingly enough, child extras earn more than adult extras. Central Casting does not handle minors, but it recommends http://www.kidsmanagement.com - AKA Kids Background Talent in Burbank, at 661-964-0131.)

Warning: don't park in the lot behind the Central Casting building or in any of the parking lots in the area. They're having a problem with illegal parking and they threaten to tow your car and invalidate your Central Casting registration if you park in the lots. Instead, park curbside on the surrounding streets or park at the nearby Burbank MetroLink Station (which is located at 201 N. Front Street, just a little northwest of Central Casting).

Once you've signed up and are back home, you'll have to phone their (Central Casting) hotline every day, twice an hour, to see what work they may have available, and the phone lines are often busy. Needless to say, it's a time-consuming business.

When they answer the phone on these days, they'll ask for your social security number, punch it into a computer, call up your photo on the monitor and decide whether your looks match the roles they're trying to cast. If you're what they're looking for that day, they'll transfer you to a recording that gives you directions to the set. If not, they'll say "Sorry, try again... "

There are several other extra casting offices as well, besides Central Casting. These include L.A. Casting, Cast & Crew, and others. But they may or may not be as reliable as Central Casting. A list of these agencies, with their addresses and phone numbers, can be found in the book, "/Seeing%20Stars%20Website/ShowBiz/Career/index.shtml">Your Film Acting Career," by M.K. Lewis (which is available in most L.A. County libraries).

Register with all of these extra casting agencies. (Legitimate agencies will not charge you fees to join.)

And for pete's sake, don't quit your day job! Extra work doesn't pay very much ($64.00 per day for non-union gigs), and the work is spotty. But if you're lucky, the jobs can become a fun hobby and a minor source of extra income - and the free food on the set is usually pretty good.

When you go to a casting company, dress well; they like an "extra" who has a large wardrobe of his (or her) own. And be sure to list as many special skills as you have (horseback riding, ice-skating, swimming, etc.) that might get you additional pay.

Once on the movie set, try to get to know the stage manager or assistant director, the people who have the final say on extra hiring for future productions. But bear in mind that extras are the low man on the totem poll of acting; don't expect to get much respect on the set. Or much fame. Many experienced movie extras actually try to turn their faces away from the camera during shooting, so that they can appear in multiple scenes. And a rule officially prohibits an extra from talking to a star (unless they talk to you first.)

An additional benefit of extra work, though, is that if you can get an "unscripted line" to read in a movie, you can use it to join SAG, the actors union.

To be an extra in union television productions, you should join AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and also drop off your photo & resume at AFTRA for their "extra" file. Producers, looking for extras, regularly contact AFTRA. And I've heard that you can use the AFTRA membership to get into SAG.

But don't expect to make a living doing this: SAG has the highest unemployment rate of any union in the United States. Over 73% of SAG members had earnings of less than $5,000 a year. One-quarter of the members earned between $1 and $1,000, and 30% of the membership had no earnings at all.. Only 12% of SAG members earned more than $20,000.

If you're still interested, give Central Casting a call, go down and register, and see what happens.

[For more info about breaking into showbiz, click here.]

 Getting there: The Central Casting office is located in upper Burbank, at 220 S. Flower Street, about two miles northeast of Disney Studios and NBC Studios. From Disney Studios, take Buena Vista Street northwest Olive Avenue. Turn right (northeast) on Olive and go about two miles northeast and bear right to Flower Street (just before the railroad tracks). It will be on your left (the northeast side of Flower St.)

Don't park in the Central Casting lot or other surrounding parking lots, or your car will be towed and your Central Casting registration will be invalidated; parking is available only on the nearby side streets and at the Burbank Metrolink Station.

(They are very big on Thomas Brothers maps at Central Casting; they use them as their main reference when they send you out on movie calls - no directions, just addresses and Thomas Brothers map references. So you will want to invest a few bucks in a map.) [Thomas Brothers Map: 563-H1] 


[For more information, you can access the Central Casting webpage at:
http://www.centralcasting.org.]



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Copyright  2014-Gary Wayne
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