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Being an Extra


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How to Be a Movie Extra
How to be a movie extra? I asked Actress Noelle Hannibal for the scoop.

"First of all, it's not as glamourous as people think it is. Being on a movie set is not glamourous in any way, shape or form. There's a lot of sitting around and waiting. And the days are long."

Photo courtesy of Noelle Hannibal
May 10, 2013 | by Evelyn Reid - Nabbing movie extra work is easier than you think. It just takes a little guidance. So how does your average Joe or Jane break into background performing? I sat down with Montreal resident and Hollywood veteran Noelle Hannibal to find out, a singer/actress/L.A. transplant who's gotten her share of roles in the Star Trek franchise and who's scored speaking parts as well as extra, stand-in and photo double work on a whole variety of Hollywood blockbusters, TV dramas, sitcoms and cult Sci-Fi shows, sharing set space with, among others, Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Carrey and Robert Downey Jr.

We get into the nitty gritty of what to expect on set, Noelle shares a slew of anecdotes on everyone from Ben Stiller to Viggo Mortensen to Al Pacino and finally, we pinpoint the one quality essential to achieving success and longevity in one of the most cutthroat, competitive industries in the world. Showbiz.

Evelyn Reid: So how does one go about getting work as a movie extra?

Noelle Hannibal: First of all, it's not as glamorous as people think it is. Being on a movie set is not glamorous in any way, shape or form. There's a lot of sitting around and waiting. And the days are long. You're looking at likely a 12-hour day minimum. I worked for a long time, in L.A., as an extra and as a stand-in, and the very first time I was an extra, my cousin and I had dyed our hair pink out of the same bottle. We both had fuchsia hair and we were walking down Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and somebody came up to us and just asked “do you want to be an extra in a movie?” And we were like “okay!” We were in our first year at university and it was this movie starring Robert Downey Jr. I was supposed to be in one club scene but we ended up getting six weeks worth of work out of it. We were getting paid like $40 a day at the time -- I wasn't part of the Screen Actors Guild yet so it was non-union rates -- but it was summertime and we were college students so it was great! And I think I did one other movie after that where I did work for like a day, and then I didn't really do much for a while. And then, I got a regular extra gig on The Ellen Show, Ellen DeGeneres' sitcom.

Evelyn Reid: a regular extra gig?

Noelle Hannibal: Yeah. A sitcom is a little better than a movie or a dramatic TV show in that they film for one day in front of an audience. Well, back then they did. They were all taped in front of an audience. So you show up at 9 o'clock in the morning and then you rehearse and then the audience comes in at like 7 p.m. and you film the show twice and you're done. So it could still be a 12-hour day but that's sort of the maximum with sitcoms whereas on a film, you could be called for 5 a.m. and not get home until 9 p.m. It can be be really long.

Evelyn Reid: And how do you get to the set if it's out of the way or you don't have a car? Does the production company cover your transportation?

Noelle Hannibal: Oh no. Especially if you're non-union. Also, keep in mind I was doing all of this in L.A. and I had a car. In L.A., you have to have a car to get around. It's too vast of a place. But here in Montreal, you would just have to take the metro, find a way to get there if the subway's closed, take a taxi if you have to. But if you're interested in film in the way I was at the beginning, it was an amazing learning experience because whereas a lot of co-worker extras would just sit and read a book because they knew it was long days just sitting around drinking cold coffee and doughnuts, I would watch everything that's happening. I would watch the director. I would watch how everything was working, how filmmaking worked, how loud or softly actors were speaking because it was what I wanted to pursue. See, the thing about training in theatre and having a degree in theatre, we're taught TO TALK LIKE THIS whereas on a film set we're talking softly, like we're having a normal conversation. So if it's somebody interested in acting, it's a great starting point to see what it's all about.

Evelyn Reid: But can you expect to have your big break by being an extra on a film set?

Noelle Hannibal: It's not likely. I mean, if somebody looks at you and thinks “hey, I want that person,” I mean, yeah, it could happen, but the odds are no.

Evelyn Reid: And how does the pay work? Is it more than minimum wage?

Next: Noelle on Working with Jim Carrey, Stand-In Dress Sizes, and More

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