On the East Coast, the biggest name is Sylvia Fay/Lee Genick & Associates Casting, which provided the extras for Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Doubt, Percy Jackson & the Olympians and countless other projects. In Los Angeles, the big gorilla is the famous Central Casting, which is a real place, not just a clever line, that has been supplying extras since 1925. Central Casting says it casts thousands of extras every day.
Hollywood also has numerous smaller, boutique agencies like Jeff Olan Casting Inc., which has about 10,000 actors in its database. Central Casting and Olan charge a one-time imaging fee of $25. Fay/Genick does not charge actors for their service. (All the casting companies are paid by the TV and movie companies that use the extras.) There’s no rule against signing up with more than one casting company, and many aspiring actors do. Many also pay monthly fees for a calling service, a sort of agent or broker that contacts the casting companies so the actor doesn’t have to spend hours each day listening to potential job leads.
If there was an official mantra for background actors, it might be “hard work, high hopes.” Jeff Olan emphasizes that background work alone is not the royal road to the top. “You can’t just go on the set as an extra and hope you get plucked out from the crowd,” he says. “You should work on yourself at least two hours every day, whether it’s working on your résumé, getting head shots done, doing a monologue in the mirror, taking a class, or going to a play or a movie to watch people act.”
And any hardworking background actor can identify with a quote that recently appeared on Olan’s Facebook page: “Of all the forces that make for a better world, none is so powerful as hope. With hope, one can think, one can work, one can dream. If you have hope, you have everything.”
Well, everything but a couple of lines. And a little more face time with the stars.