I’ve recently found that a lot of people have been coming to my website, MoneyMagpie.com, to get information on how to make money as a film extra.
It’s understandable that it should be so popular. You don’t have to be Ricky Gervais to rub shoulders with Hollywood greats. Anyone – young, old, black, white, able-bodied or disabled – can be a “walk-on” and make between £84 to £157 a day while being fed fabulous film food.
I’ve done it myself (and I’d do it again, just for the food!). I appeared as a hospital patient in the Michael Caine film Blue Ice. I was sitting on a hospital bed in my nightie as he walked in to play the piano. I like to think we had a moment, Mikey and I, but he might not remember (sigh).
Some of my readers tell me there are lots of ways to make more money this way. John Random, a seasoned extra, says: “When you sign up for an agency, you fill out a long form and they usually ask how you feel about the full gamut of exposure from topless, rising to nude from the back, nude from the front and even simulated intercourse. In other words, how far are you prepared to go? To which the obvious answer is: anywhere within the M25.”
Mr Random says that the highlight of his career as an extra was having to kiss Kate Winslet while filming Iris. That was a tough gig. And of course, apart from the money, and the food (did I mention the fab food?), rubbing shoulders with Hollywood stars is a big reason why people do this job.
One reader, who prefers to call himself “Anon”, says: “One of my most vivid memories is of working on a 1995 adaptation of Annie with Joan Collins. She must have been getting on for 70 then but looked magnificent. Mind you, she’d been in make-up for three hours and after that amount of work it could have been Norman Lamont under there for all I knew.”
“Nude, topless, how far will you go…?
Any place within the M25”
Even if you’re in a wheelchair or have limbs missing, you can still make money as an extra. Once, when I was on an episode of ITV’s This Morning, I met a marvellous guy who had lost half an arm in an accident. He had turned tragedy to his advantage by making regular money as an extra in battle scenes. It just goes to show that the famous line in the Pete and Dud sketch about a one-legged man – “I’ve got nothing against your right leg… the trouble is, neither have you…” – doesn’t always apply, unless you really are trying to play Tarzan.
With my financial journalist hat on, I have to admit that because of my work as an extra, I have a very faint (very faint, mind you) twinge of understanding for the car insurance companies that have upped my premium in the past because they say (and I quote) “you might have to give that Michael Caine a lift in your car”. Seriously, those were their actual words and I hadn’t even mentioned my “moment” on set with the great man.
But maybe they have a point.
Picture the scene: Mr Caine’s limo is held up by an Italian Job-style paralysis of the traffic lights across Westminster. “How can Mr Caine get home?” wails the second assistant director. It turns out that all the taxis in the whole of central London are on strike because Uber has been given its licence back and there are no Ubers free because they’re all out scooping up the work the black cabs refused.
As luck would have it, the director, assistant director, second assistant director, best boy and the entire rest of the cast have all walked to the studios that day. Even the wardrobe mistress came by bus. There are no cars!
But then, someone points out that “the extra who played ‘hospital patient in a pink nightie’” has an eight-year-old Citroën C1 with a massive scratch down the side and bags of stuff on the back seat that should have been taken to the charity shop weeks ago. There’s room for Mr Caine to squeeze himself in at the front if he doesn’t mind squishing his legs up a bit.
You can see it, can’t you? Highly, highly, highly likely.
So, if you don’t mind increasing your car insurance premiums and you can bear to kiss Kate Winslet, go read up on how to get walk-on work.
JASMINE BIRTLES is a financial journalist and founder of MoneyMagpie.com.
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.