By Robert Offley
People go to the movies to see their favorite actor, or maybe their favorite director's film that was just released. People turn on their televisions and watch their favorite actor on the small screen. People will sit on their couches and binge watch their favorite show on Hulu, Amazon, or Netflix. We enjoy what we like and spread the word at work, or on social media. These shows are fantastic, but the fact is that none of these shows would be possible if not for the star of the film or television program. The star is not the actor or actress, and it's not the director. It's the unsung hero: the background actor.
The background actor is the person you see in the film or television show walking in the background, sitting at the bar during a scene, dancing at a club, or playing a zombie in The Walking Dead. Without these people, shows and films would not get the authenticity that they need.
We now live in the golden age of television. In New York City, you have television programs always looking for background actors. The Marvel Television shows, Law and Order, Blue Bloods and Power, just to name a few. These shows are constantly searching for background actors and actresses.
How do you become a background actor?
Many casting agencies, such as Sylvia Faye, Central Casting, and Com Casting, just to name a few, look for background actors, and many do not charge a fee. If you google one of their websites, they will go over step-by-step on how to sign up. Once you sign up, that's when the fun begins.
When you are set up with the casting agency and ready to go, you have to wait for the phone call. You get the call that they need you to be a background actor. You receive your ID number and call-time (call-time means what time to show up on set). You also get directions to the set, or free transportation if you need it. When you are on set, your next thing to do is sit and wait. Background actors are there for 8-10 hours. You need to bring a book, and a charger for your phone because you will be on set for a while. Do not make any other plans. It may look like a negative, but the positive is that you get to meet other actors and actresses in the business trying to make it, and you get to network. A plus is the food. I have been a background actor for some time and the best thing is the food. On one show, they had prime ribs, spareribs, and salmon. Plus cookies and cakes. If you are lucky, you will be out in 8-10 hours. If you stay longer, you get overtime. Rumor has it that Martin Scorsese always has long shoots so if you are a background actor or actress for him, you will get overtime. If you are in a union, the money adds up.What does it take to become a background actor?
To become a background actor, you need two key components. Firstly, you must follow directions. When the assistant director gives you directions, you must follow them exactly. The second and most important element is patience. You're going to be on set for long hours and will have to wait. You can't complain. That's what you signed up for. Take the time to network and make new friends. Take the time to learn about the business you want to be a part of.
The next time you watch a television show or film, notice the background actors. Notice how you can have a scene with two actors speaking and you'll see about ten people in the background, acting with others like they are having a conversation. What would happen if they were not there? The scene would not work. The background actors are the unsung heroes of the entertainment industry.