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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Agents for Background / Extra Work?

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I have been alerted recently to some companies who claim that they help actors get “bit parts” in feature films and on TV shows. So I thought I would dedicated a short blog post to talking about how to get background work and extra work.

First off, you do not NEED an agent to get background work. Getting background work is very similar to temp work. Background casting directors accept headshot/resume submissions and have open calls where they will take your information and keep it on file. When they have a need for your look/type, they will contact you to see if you are available to do background work. If you are available, they’ll book you. If you are not, they’ll move on and find someone else. And much like temp work, the more that you say yes, the more likely that they will call you again.

The main purpose for an agent is two-fold: 1) They help procure auditions and/or jobs for actors that actors do not have access to on their own, and 2) When the actor books a job, the agent negotiates the contract / salary for the project.

Because background casting directors contact actors directly from their database, and because actors are offered only the minimum scale salary for background work, there is no reason to work with an agent to find you background/extra work. There is one small exception, and that is is you are living in Los Angeles and don't have the time to track all of the different background work that is available. Then, perhaps it is worth it to pay a percentage of your salary to an agency, which is more like a headhunter than a traditional agent. But if you are in any other city, there really is no reason to have an agent for background work.

I am not disparaging legitimate companies who provide background work for actors. But I do have a problem with “agencies” whose sole service is getting background work for actors but who represent themselves as helping actors "get break into the movie business- no experience necessary!" I have seen some companies who post "client bookings" and make it sound as though the actor has gotten speaking roles on these projects. Companies that do this are preying on actors who are desperate to get “into the movies” or “be on TV” and it really concerns me.

Bottom line: There is no quick entry into this business- success takes hard work and lots of training. Before you sign a contract with any agent or management company, be sure that you do your research to make sure their services are legitimate and necessary.

Here are some helpful links:

Click here to see my other posts on Background / Extra Work.
Click here for a list of background casting directors who hire actors in New York City.

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out

3 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

Anonymous said...

Hi Erin,
It sounds like background work in NY is completely different from here in LA. I've done 4 years off and on of background work, and you don't need an agent at all. Anyone claiming to be an "agent" for bg is a scam. Out here, you sign up with Central Casting ($20 for 2 years), and you call in, listen to the notices, and submit yourself. There are other smaller, specialized bg casting agencies that have a small list of shows they cast bg for exclusively, and they are selective on who they choose to be on their bg talent roster, they usually charge a monthly fee. There are also booking services (maybe this is what the people asking mean by agents?) who you pay a monthly fee to, they will submit and book you for bg jobs so that you don't have to do the footwork yourself. Here in LA, having an "agent" who takes a percentage of your paycheck for booking you to do background work is ridiculous. I'd be wary of an agent claiming they can get you "bit parts" - That's the job of a real casting director hired by the production company. The CD casts everything down to the one-line roles. You can get cast for a featured non-speaking part through the background casting company, Just my take on it, from an LA perspective. And things may have changed in the 2 years I've been away from bg work.

Erin Cronican said...

Hey, Isabelle. Actually, it sounds like LA and NY are very much alike. I think the only difference is that, in NY, there are no booking agencies. We deal directly with the casting directors. So, I think we are in agreement- "agents" who procure background work for actors are unnecessary given that actors can easily get the work themselves!

crediki said...

Hi Erin,
Here in L.A. there are 2 ways to go about it. You can do footwork your self (I failed), or you can hire a booking service. The bulk of the background work is cast through a single agency(Central Casting). There is a Booking service that is plugged directly into them (Extras Management). They booked me solid for 2 1/2 years and got me my sag vouchers in 6 months. My training as a model and dancer was good enough for background, but not good enough to break out of it. I have since began formal training at the best acting program in L.A....
Livin the dream in L.A.
Mitch R. Anderson

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