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Dear Ms. Bubbette: How to get into the acting scene - "Does being an extra help?" Does stage-work benefit an actor wanting film work?"
by Ms. Bubbette
Hello Ms. Bubbette,
I was wondering what the best way to get into the acting scene was...does being an extra help at all? And do you have to start acting in plays before getting on film usually?
No, you do not have to start acting in plays to get into the movie scene. A good many fine film actors have never been on stage, nor desire to do so. Others have been lucky enough to get the acting bug by landing parts in school plays. It is certainly not an 'unwritten rule' that all actors must have stage experience.
Stage and film are two completely different mediums. In stage work the actor must have great discipline in memorizing complete scripts and knowing he has one shot to get out on that stage and do a fine job in front of a live, discriminating audience. He also has to project his voice even when whispering so that every patron in the audience can hear him. His moves are exaggerated so as to be seen by all. Stage acting is instant gratification. The audience either loves you or hates you and they'll let you know!
In film one has only to learn what is being shot that day and then the actor is put through the mill doing one 'take' after another until the director is happy that he has covered every angle of that particular moment. To me it is almost a 'false' kind of acting, albeit exciting. With luck the director will have 2 minutes of the movie in the can after hours of shooting. And with the aid of booms or well-placed microphones, the film actor can merely breathe out a line and be heard by all. The movie actor keeps his moves minimal so as not to look like 'acting'. His energy must come from within. As opposed to theatre, it can be months before the final product is seen and the actor knows for sure whether he has 'pulled it off' or not.
Having expounded on that, let's get onto the subject of being an 'extra'. How many actors do you think just walk out there with lines on their first shot in this business? Ha! No, most actors have paid their dues in full by working on many sets as an extra. They couldn't make a movie without extras (except in an odd extreme case) and so those who do this are very important and necessary. Imagine a busy scene without people on the street, driving the cars, eating in the restaurants, playing in the parks. Extras or background are essential and I advise all my students to get out there and enjoy being an extra. How else can one get to study the stars close-up and get fed and paid while learning the trade? Besides you get to meet lots of other fun aspiring actors.
And here's a plus. You may be lucky enough to be upgraded while out on the Set as an extra. The director just may want you to say a line - or even just one word - which would add to the scene and suddenly you have been elevated from an extra on base pay to a principal with SAG pay (which is in the hundreds per day) and get your name in the credits. It happens all the time. In fact, on a particular movie shot here a few years ago, I saw 9 extras elevated to principal roles in one week! This now made them SAG eligible - which is a whole other story.
Read what I wrote to 'Redhead Goddess J.' in last month's issue. There are important phone numbers there to help you get started. You don't need head shots to be an extra. A recent snapshot will do. After all, you may hate the business of "hurry up and wait" and then you will resent the fact you've spent all that money on head shots for a trade you've decided not to get in.
One parting note: Even though I personally have been lucky enough to land principal roles in film , soaps and TV, I will still consider being an 'extra' on a possibly great movie. I did just that for two days last week and was delighted to find people of such calibre as Mike Judge & Richard Linklater (movie directors) also having fun as 'extras'. You just never know!
Good luck, Akie, in your quest and may we see you one day on the big screen. And that's my final answer!