If you’re curious about doing extra or background actor work, I hope sharing my first experience will help answer some questions for you!
First, let me preface by saying…
Three years ago when I was just starting out in the world of acting and signing with my first commercial agency, every audition and callback was the greatest feeling in the world. I have to say I got pretty lucky within the first couple of months. And when I say “lucky”, I mean my first audition was landing a Principal role in a Union Coors Light commercial. I mean, it is known that commercials for cars, beer, or phones are the best because…well, have you ever not seen those commercials EVERYWHERE? Residuals, baby! This would be the first time needing to submit a Taft-Hartley form for a Union job that would make me SAG-Eligible. You can read the full experience in my other post.
Flash forward three years later, I am currently in a great full-time job behind the camera, but also still wanting to represent Asian faces onscreen. A casting director (and now friend) I had worked with on a project years ago (never burn your bridges!) was helping her friend with casting a few more background extras for a Non Union commercial and had reached out to me on Facebook messenger. It was perfect to squeeze into my schedule because it was (yay!) on a Saturday–I didn’t have work, so I thought “why not”? Plus, it would be great to meet more creatives in the industry, expand my network, and be on set again. Right?
Now I gave you a preface simply to compare and contrast. While it was a completely different experience, here is a quick overview of the differences between Union and Non-Union work.
Perks of a Union vs. Non-Union job:
Your own/shared trailer
Scheduled hair and makeup
– Catered lunch
Overtime at 4 hours, meaning we got time and a half if we were on set more than 4 hours
Union rate pay
– Network Opportunities
Background work is NOT glamorous. It’s 12 hours of “hurry up and wait” for a whopping *drumroll*… $125 (Non-Union Standard rate). That’s $10.42/hr. Also, don’t ignore the 30% you have to take out after signing a W-9 form because that, my dear, goes back to Uncle Sam. However, I’ll say the biggest perk was that although I was considered background, I got quite some face time when the commercial came out. This was nice because you couldn’t see me at all in the Coors Light commercial. However, because it was Union and I was in a Principal role, I got paid…like a year’s worth of rent paid.
Here’s the commercial!
Also super thankful to my wonderful friend Julianne Gabert (Team Smosh!) for the connection and the many incredible new friends I met on set! It was an intense and long day, but working with such a fun cast and crew made it that much better!
Btw, we’re all wearing jackets because it was FRIGGIN cold when we shot the Bar Scene! It was one of those rare, bone-chilling, nights in Los Angeles, but we had to make it look like it was a hot summer night…go figure.
Regardless of the difference in pay, it was nice to add a pretty solid clip to my future commercial reel. But what would you rather do? Union Pay and no camera time or Non-Union Pay and plenty of on camera time? Let me know in the comments!