Making Money Using Your Acting Skills- Part III

Jul 21, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: New York, Paying Bills

Hey, everyone! Last time, we talked about standardized patient work and corporate training as some of the unique ways to use your acting skills to make money. Here’s Part III of the series, outlining a job I relied upon heavily when I first moved to New York City:


Part 3 – Background Work / Being an “Extra”


Say what? Did I actually just say background work? Bear with me here for a few moments and hear me out.

First of all, remember that I’m the NY arm of this blog, so much of what I have to say pertains to the NY market. But it also might be useful for actors in cities other than Los Angeles where work for actors is more scarce.

You might be wondering- “Why does she include background work in a blog focused on day jobs that utilizes acting skills?” And I would respond, “Exactly! You will a golden ticket!” And then you might scratch your head. Background work is exactly that- a day job that uses your acting skills.

I say “day job” because working as an extra is not what we would consider a “career builder.” Sure, an actor can learn a lot on set – you get to work alongside professional actors, learn what happens on a film/TV set, and develop relationships with other people in the business. Some people might even argue that they got a big break from something that happened while doing background work. But none of these credits can be used to build a career or prove one’s worth as a principal performer. Therefore, working as a background actor is relegated to “day job” status – something that pays the bills but isn’t in line with what a principal performer does to accelerate their career.

I’ve been recommending background work to SAG members in the NY area who need some extra cash. Plus, member that it is a great way to earn income towards your SAG Pension and Health. For non-SAG actors, this is one of several ways to earn SAG vouchers towards getting your card (see an article I’ve written about SAG vouchers.)

So, given that, here is some information about how to find background work in NYC:

Below is a list of the background companies I recommend submitting to. To be considered, you simply need to mail a headshot & resume with a brief cover letter, stating that you would like to be considered for background work and want to be notified when they will be doing their next open call. (The open call is for you to fill out paperwork and they take a polaroid/digital image of you for their files.) You can also consider calling their offices and asking what days they bring actors in to submit their information. Background companies often do this once a week.

Once your information is on file, they will contact you when they have a job available for your type category. Just like for temp work, you can say yes or no based on your availability. Also like temp work, the more available you are, the more often they will call.


Background Companies I Recommend (in no particular order)

Grant Wilfley Casting-

Central Casting-

Amerifilm Casting-

Barbara McNamara Casting-

Sylvia Fay/Lee Genick Casting-; 212-479-8569 (hotline)

C&G Casting- (I cannot fund a more robust website for this company. Their email address is candgcasting @


You can also submit yourself for background roles through the following websites (pay per submissions, or pay for a yearly membership and submit for free):


NY Casting/Casting Networks NY- Pay to submit, worth the $5 a month for unlimited submissions.

Extras Access- A part of Actors Access, but only for extra work. Only $10 a year if you are a member of Actors Access.


Some of you have asked questions about background work on soaps. As most of you know, all NY soaps have either been cancelled or moved to Los Angeles. The only remaining soap in NYC is “One Life to Live” and its last episode airs in January. There still is background work available for this show until December. Also, rumor has it that One Life to Live will have, well, another life to live online — via a company that is looking to keep this show and All My Children going. I don’t have any further details about this, but there is a good chance that background work will continue, just in a different format.

If you are interested in getting background work on soaps between now and December 2011, probably the best way to get involved is to meet the background casting director at one of the networking companies, like The Network. For $32 you can meet the casting director and do a group Q&A, read a scene from their show with one of your fellow actors, and then they will give you one-on-one feedback and answer questions about the possibilities of you working on daytime. It is an educational opportunity, not a casting opportunity, but they will take your headshot & resume back to their office for their files, and many actors have been called in for background work on these soaps simply from attending these events. For One Life to Live (ABC), the background casting director is Sheryl Baker Fisher. You can also opt to meet the casting associate who’s responsible for Under 5’s – Victoria Visgilio.

You can also send your headshot & resume directly to the casting folks at the networks. To get their address, do a search online or pick up Backstage’s “The Call Sheet.”


Have any positive stories about background work? Please leave a comment so others can learn from your experiences!


– Erin 🙂


Added Bonus: (Because at Playbills vs Paying Bills, we think you deserve bonuses every now and then!)

As I was creating this article, I found some fun things about background work, including info about famous actors who got their start being extras, and a parody sketch video. Enjoy!



Erin Cronican is the New York contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view her materials on her website, or read the rest of her blog posts.