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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Go behind the scenes of Hollywood North

By Anita Malhotra
Special to The Toronto Sun

Want to work on the same film set as Michael Douglas, Mandy Moore or Meg Ryan? Interested in seeing first-hand how movies and TV shows are filmed?

If so, you might consider becoming a film extra. Thousands of people work as "background performers," as they are officially called, on the more than 200 movies and TV series shot each year in Toronto.
Anne Marie Iatesta worked as an extra in Against the Ropes, an upcoming boxing film starring Meg Ryan.

Working as an extra might mean playing a high-school student, a runner in a marathon or one of several thousand spectators at a baseball game.

And although the pay is low and the hours long and unpredictable, the work has its perks.

"You have a chance to meet other people, look at what goes on behind the scenes and see what it's really like," says 23-year-old Jeremy Durgana, a computer science student at York University. He started doing part-time extra work after he made a short film for a school project.

"I've learned so much about the technical aspect of shooting movies," says Durgana, whose productions have included Get Over It with Kirsten Dunst and the TV series Soul Food.

Adam Gray, 19, began working as an extra last summer after graduating from high school. Now, he's starting to get speaking roles.

"Ever since the first day I got on set, I knew this was what I wanted to do," says Gray, whose more than 30 productions have included How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The In-Laws with Michael Douglas and How to Deal with Mandy Moore.
Are you extra Material?
 "We need a lot of different looks depending on the shows. We just started a horror movie for the summer, so for zombies you need a lot of interesting, 'charactery' people, but there are also shows like Mutant X where you need a lot of good-looking, model types."
-- Kyle Christie, talent booker at Y-H Acting Division
 "A lot of the work in our business depends on the kind of wardrobe you have -- if you've got an upscale business wardrobe and basically look good on set. The usual routine is one business, one casual outfit, depending on the time of year."
-- Karen Clifton of the Karen Clifton Agency
 "It always helps to have a professional extra, someone who understands how the whole film process works, is punctual, responsible, pays attention, and is there for the long haul."
-- Donna Dupere of Dupere Casting

"It's an amazing way to break into the industry."

And you don't need to look like a model, he adds.

"A lot of people think you need to have the Hollywood look to be in this business, but it's open to everybody."

Extras get work by signing up with background talent agencies. These agencies usually ask applicants to provide snapshots, pay a small fee and/or a commission if they get work, and have a wardrobe available. Casting directors then select extras from the agencies' banks.

"They'll want a certain age group, ethnic count or type of person like business person, upscale restaurant patron, theatregoer or farmer type," says Yvonne Heiter, owner of the talent agency Y-H Acting Division.

Most extras earn $8.50 an hour, but those who use special skills or belong to certain divisions of ACTRA get paid more.

Extras usually get only one day's notice to work and start times range from early in the morning to late at night. An average day lasts 10 to 12 hours.

"A lot of the time you sit in this huge room with all the other extras until the assistant director calls you onto the set," says Anne Marie Iatesta, 47, a copy editor who worked as an extra last summer. "It can be very boring."
How to Find a Talent Agent:
You can choose from dozens of talent agents and agencies, but not all are reputable. The Entertainment Industry Coalition (EIC) has developed a code of ethics specifying how they should operate. ACTRA Toronto (416-928-2278) publishes The Guide, a free booklet listing talent agents and casting directors who have signed on to the EIC code of ethics. Similar information is available on ACTRA's Web site at AMIS (Acting Modelling Information Service) at publishes The Agents Book, which lists EIC-member agents and contains other information on acting and modelling. It costs $15 and is available at Theatrebooks and Theatre Ontario. AMIS also has a hotline (416-977-3832) listing the names of EIC-affiliated agents who are looking for new people.

But sometimes the wait is worth it, as Iatesta discovered while working on Against the Ropes, an upcoming boxing film starring Meg Ryan.

"There I was in a crowd scene with 5,000 extras. I thought you were never going to be able to see me, but I ended up being ringside, which was fabulous. Meg Ryan was right there beside us. She was very sweet. Absolutely adorable."

(Anita Malhotra ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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