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.
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.
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.
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, head to your local ACTRA membership office and provide the following:
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:
After 200 days of background work, AABP members can then apply to become ACTRA Apprentices, and work towards being a full member.
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.
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