A Day in The Life of A Movie Extra

Ebony Edwards-Ellis
15 min readFeb 23, 2019

Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on October 21, 2015.

I am what is called a background actor, also known as an extra. You know, those people in movies who walk past the protagonists on busy sidewalks, or order drinks in bar scenes where the protagonists get hammered, or gasp in shock when the protagonist has a public meltdown.

I’ve been working in this capacity (sporadically) since 2010. Registered at Central Casting, I don’t belong to SAG-AFTRA, and given my ambivalence toward unions, might not ever.

The work doesn’t pay particularly well and is notoriously unsteady. However, it is good work for a “creative” person who needs an income without the time commitments of a full-time job.

That’s why I agreed to portray a pedestrian for an exterior scene (a scene shot outside) on an untitled cable series.* Because the show is set in 1971, I had to do a fitting for a historically accurate costume.

The account below is the hour by hour account of what happened the day we shot:

12:28 pm-1:05pm

Just arrived at holding, two minutes before my call time.

At check-in, I was told that the folks at Central Casting had goofed with the check-in numbers. Instead of being #80, I was now check-in #79.

After filling out my pay voucher, I stood in the very long line to wardrobe, a curtained off area in the back of the basement where holding was staged. I handed over my pay voucher to one of the young ladies working wardrobe and put on my costume — the ugliest dress known to humanity.

Then I made my way over to make-up. The make-up artists pronounced that my DIY make-up job was adequate — except for the bright red lipstick I’d chosen. The make-up artist wiped make-up remover swabs over my lips and replaced it with sheer light pink.

It looked okay but I still didn’t like it. It brought up a lot of bad memories about my mother’s insistence that I wear light-colored lipstick, never mind the fact that, in the nineties, the era in which I came of age, the dark stuff was in.

1:05 pm

Got in line for a perusal by the hair team. The two extras in front of me, one male, one female, both black and both sporting naturals, were having a conversation with the super-friendly dreadlocked sister in the hair department. Apparently the female extra was…

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Ebony Edwards-Ellis

Author of "Former First Lady" and "Memoir of a Royal Consort." Twitter provocateur, aspiring shut-in, and newly minted Roosevelt Islander.