extra tv

How to be a movie and TV extra in Toronto

Total Recall, Suicide Squad, Mean Girls, Handmaid’s Tale – those are just some of the many epic movies and TV shows that have been shot in Toronto. I mean, we're called Hollywood North for a reason.

With a number of movie studios and the ability to transform into any North American metropolitan – with the right budget, of course – Toronto is a hotspot for film and TV crews looking for extras to fill up the scene.

Whether you're pursuing a career in background acting or just doing it for fun, all you need to do is get your foot in the industry to land a job that lets you choose your own workdays and pays relatively well.

Things you need to know:
  • No specific skills, acting abilities, or previous experience? Perfect, background acting doesn't require any of that – just professionalism and some patience. 
  • Union actors get paid $29.75 an hour, non-union actors are paid $15.
  • A lot of background acting is just hanging out in the holding area until it's your turn to be on set, so bring something to keep yourself entertained. 
  • Some days you'll have wardrobe and stylists provided. Other days, you'll be required to bring your own wardrobe, depending on what the director is looking for. (i.e: warm tones only, business attire, etc.) Make sure to bring extra options. 
  • Food provided to non-union background actors suck (sometimes for union actors too). Bring your own snacks. 
  • Expect long hours; average shoot times run between 8 and 18 hours.
  • That being said, good news: union sets have an eight-hour minimum, which means if – on the off chance – you only have to work three hours (even if you're a non-union actor), you'll still be paid for eight hours-worth of work
Join an agency or extras service

Sure, you can go agent-less and try to score some gigs through Facebook posts, casting websites and Kijiji. But if you're new to the business, it's recommended your first step is to apply to an extras service or agency, since they'll have the plug for all the city's hot new gigs. 

Along with offering way more opportunities, agencies will handle all the fine details so you can concentrate on the job.  If you fit the description of a role, your agency will send you the info on where, what time, and what to bring to your shoot. 

Average annual fees usually range between $75 to $150 a year plus a registration fee if you're a non-union member; not bad since you'll usually be making more than $100 a day. 

Some services will require a headshot, while others will help you take the headshot for you. Either way, it's important to choose an agency that's right for you, since you'll have to sign a contract and pay an annual fee plus commission. Watch out for scams. 

Some background actor agencies/services:
Finding castings yourself: 
ACTRA vs. Non-Union

After finding a good agency or service, the next step if figuring out if you want to be part of the actors' union. With some work under your belt, you can decide whether or not you want to join ACTRA, Canada's English-speaking media labour union.

There are two tiers of ACTRA memberships: apprentice and full member. Apprentices need to gain credits before becoming full members, which then require a $1600 initiation fee plus an annual membership of $195.

It sounds a little complicated at first, but the ACTRA website details the process pretty clearly. 

At the end of the day, becoming an ACTRA member is ideal for people who want to make acting their full-time job and already have a portfolio built up. Having somebody at your agency walk you through the process will make things easier. 

ACTRA Additional Background Performer

If you're just at the starting stages of your career, ACTRA offers the option of becoming an ACTRA Additional Background Performer (AABP), which is somewhere between being union and non-union.

Best for beginners, it's one tier below apprenticeship. Although AABP members are still paid non-union rates, they still have access to many ACTRA benefits. In order to apply, sign this application form in advance and call ACTRA Toronto and provide the following:

  • Proof of Canadian citizenship or PR.
  • A current head shot.
  • Proof that you've worked as a background actor at least 15 days in the past year.

Annual AABP fees are much cheaper than regular memberships, at $30 a year. Once you join, you won't be allowed to work on non-union productions – probably the biggest drawback of becoming an AABP member. 

Benefits, however, include more regulations provided to ensure safety and better working conditions (and way better food). Plus, members get access to some of ACTRA's studio facilities, free acting classes, and retail discounts via the Membership Advantage Program. 

AABP members are also allowed to showcase themselves on ACTRA's Digital Self-Promotion Registry and get access to work opportunities that non-union actors aren't allowed to take: 

  • Background work in union commercials
  • Work in Toronto Indie productions 
  • Work in Toronto Co-op productions

After 200 days of background work, AABP members can then apply to become ACTRA Apprentices, and work towards being a full member. 

Non-union members 

With all that being said, most background actors work outside of ACTRA, and that can be beneficial too.

All production sets have an ACTRA count, meaning a minimum number of union actors. Once those are met, it's a free-for-all for non-union actors. Some production budgets may even specifically request non-union actors, as they're less expensive and don't have overtime fees. 

Besides eating crappier food than ACTRA members and often working longer hours, being non-union is the ideal option for those who just want to make the extra buck in a more non-committal setting. 

Background acting do's
  • Bring your SIN card and a form of government ID to every shoot, for paperwork purposes. If you forget these, getting paid will take longer and be much more complicated.
  • Bring outfit alternatives if you're required to bring your own wardrobe.
  • Make sure you follow hair and makeup instructions closely if you're required to do your own. 
  • Be quiet on set. 
  • Turn off your phone completely. 
  • Make sure to tell Assistant Directors when you need to go the washroom or leave for a smoke break – going missing during a shoot looks pretty bad. 
Background acting don't's
  • Don't be late – nothing will get you blacklisted from the background acting industry quicker than tardiness. 
  • Don't get chatty on set, not even a whisper, because the mics on set will pick up everything.
  • Don't take photos on set. 
  • Don't take food from the craft table unless it's your turn. 
  • Don't invite your friends, families and significant others to the set. 
  • Don't fall asleep on set, even when there's nothing to do – which will be often. 
Lead photo by

Wikimedia Commons. With contributions from Tanya Mok.

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