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Inside the No Name on the set of Blood & Oil

Late last summer I put in a day as an extra on the short-lived ABC series Blood & Oil. My job was to sit silently for five hours on a bar stool at the No Name Saloon (called Jules’ Tack Room in the series). Most working actors snub their noses at the notion of being an extra, the sometimes hundreds of background bodies required to make TV and movie scenes look real. But for students, seniors, or anyone else with time on their hands, extra work can be a quick way to make a little money and get an insider’s glimpse at filmmaking.

Extra positions fall into three general categories. Entry-level extras are those unrecognizable bodies milling in the background, typically paid $100 per day. Featured extras are the waiters who pour coffee for the stars or open a car door or play dead for the CSI team. They have no lines but play a role for about $150 a day. Finally, the crème de la crème of extra work, stand-ins, are those lead look-alikes (who, ironically, never appear on film) used by the crew to position the lighting and cameras while the stars take a break, all for about $150 a day.

Sure, being an extra can mean long hours (up to 12 or more) standing outside in the heat or cold or doing nothing but sitting and waiting. But the only prerequisite is the right attitude. “Reliability, being on time, listening to directions, and having a flexible schedule are what count,” says Utah’s G and G Casting Director Gumby Kounthong. “It’s fun, but you’re working and your job is to blend in, not stand out.”

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