With most new shows being filmed in Chicago, you’re likely to have one of your friends point at the television and yell “That’s me standing right there.” Shows like “Chicago Fire” and “Empire” are big on casting people for background roles. For some, this is a way to earn their two seconds of fame on social media, but for others, it’ a peephole to what their life can be like in entertainment. More people are submitting themselves to local casting calls in hopes to push their career in entertainment.
The city of Chicago is known for their theater district and television work. There even post located on the city of Chicago’s website just for casting opportunities. But these aren’t your lead actor roles, instead, background performers are paid to “act” like they are a part of the scene all the while having no true interaction with the stars. Shante Willis, 30, who’s been doing extra work for eight months, has played minor roles such as a club goer and an activist in “Empire”. She said that she uses background work as a way to network with others while building her credentials as an artist.
“I’m trying to break in as an actress so I get out there and talk to people, plus they’re paying. This industry is word of mouth and I wanted to do this my whole life. I also do student films and have some other sites like Backstage and 4 Star Casting where I can log in and they tell me who’s casting”, Willis said.
In less than a year, she landed a speaking role in “Empire” and inspires to do more. She mentions that doing background is the same way that Denzel Washington was discovered and she holds onto that thought when she steps foot on set.
To be featured in a television show or commercial, the process for becoming an extra, especially if you’re non-union, is as simple as making a profile with the company you’re interested in. Jessica Lyons, a casting assistant with O’Connor Casting Company, says anybody can sign up to do it because it’s not as difficult as most casting calls.
“It’s a less rigorous process to be chosen as an extra rather than coming into an audition and reading some lines. There is also potential to work a lot more. I know a lot of actors who are frequently booked on big projects, but then do extra work in all of their free time”
Being an extra is also a good way for beginners to earn actors credit and build their resume. Chicago Comedian Jeff Baylock, says he does it to get the experience of being on set, and he just because it’s a small part you must remain professional.
“Unlike other people who go to school for this, I don’t go to school for this. I do as much as I can like this, indie films, my YouTube and just connecting with people, it’s how I network,” He said
He mentions that he has fun doing it, but he won’t do just any scene unless he can get IMDB (Internet Movie Database) credit for it.
Chicago has seven agencies that specialize in matching background talent for producers who are looking for a person that fits a character they’re looking for. Workers earn up to $300 for a day for just interacting in the back of a scene. Those who are interested don’t have to pay to sign up or pay the casting company. Think of it as the Uber of the film industry.
“You’re there for eight hours, but in that time I’m speaking to people trying to get them to become familiar with me. If you mess up that’s your butt. Chances of getting call backs are better when you’re professional,” Baylock said