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Using Extras in Your Digital Video Film

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Learn about using extras in your digital video film, which can be a great way to portray a real-life public space.

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    Working With Groups

    Have you ever wanted to create a large group scene for your digital video film? When you gather a large number of people basically to act in the background they are called extras. These are essentially actors who have a smaller pay scale and do not involve themselves deeply in the story or have any lines.

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    The Real World

    When you are trying to establish a geography for your story, or when you are just trying to keep a “real world” feel, you are going to need other people around other than the main focus of the story. It would feel really awkward following the main couple through a supermarket where they were the only patron’s, or working out in a gym that is completely empty. The best, and cheapest, way to do this is to start gathering your friends together and get them conglomerated in your scene.

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    If this will not work, or if you need many more than are available to you for free, then you are going to need to use compensated extras. The Screen Actors Guild does have a pay scale for extras, but since you are working on a low-budget digital video film you usually will not have to deal with paying SAG dues. Put up classified ads looking for extras for X number of shooting days at a small fixed price or volunteer basis. Hopefully you will be able to get enough people to move forward.

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    Eye Direction

    When working with the extras you have to make sure that they fit in the scene perfectly. Make sure that they are dressed appropriately for the scene and the time period. You must never let them look at the camera, which is the most important thing to make clear to all extras. When someone looks at the camera it immediately ruins the take as it does not maintain the illusion of the story space.

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    Photo Release

    Make sure to get the same photo release form from all extras that you did with all of the actors. They may not be getting paid and do not have lines, but it is still important to avoid legal liabilities once their image is distributed in the film.

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    Make sure to maximize the time you actually have the extras available. You will most likely have to provide some type of compensation, so try to keep shoots where they are needed as quickly as possible, and only try to do one or two takes of those scenes. To cut down money even further try ending the scene right before meals, or right after, so you will not have to provide them with food as well. This can be the most costly part of working with extras because even though they won’t get paid the same they will still eat an equal amount, and there are a number of them.

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    Making Them Fit

    Extras are a great thing that really adds to your film project, and for actors it’s a great way to finally see what its like on a move set. Just make sure they fit the scene perfectly and the project can really be taken to the next level.