Inspiring Entertainers Says Being an ‘Extra’ Gives Them A Taste of the Big Time

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”



Baylock (upper left) as an extra on the FOX show ‘Empire’ (photo- Jeff Baylock)

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



‘Middle School: Worst Years of My Life’ Provides A Unique Twist To Tween Films



Photo credit by Google.


When it comes to the tween genre of film there’s the same formula that writers will follow: The lead trying to make a name for him/herself, the goofy best friend(s), and the love interest. “Middle School: Worst Years of my Life” is no different, but with a twist that separates it from the rest.

The film, based on the book by James Patterson, follows Rafe played by Griffin Gluck (“Just Go With It” and “Batman Vs. Robin”) as he tries to adapt to his new school,  but Principal Dwight,  Played by Andy Daly (“Transformers” and “Semi-Pro”), uses his rules to make the transition difficult. He won’t go down without a fight as his best friend Leo, Thomas Barbusca (or better known as the Peter Pan from the Geico commercial) helps him break every school rule in the handbook in response to the principal destroying Rafe’s art book.

What makes this film worth seeing is its blend of all things a kid Rafe’s age could possibly go through in one movie. School bullies, bratty siblings, and mom’s new boyfriend among other things will appeal to each teen who is currently going through one of these periods. Personally, there were some cliche’ moments that the film could do without such as the three minutes of dancing in the hallway and the cool teacher character played by Adam Pally (“Iron Man 3” and “Happy Endings”) , but nonetheless, would be seen as cool to younger viewers.

However, the film’s trailer provides everything you need to know about the plot. Sure it will seem like your typical tween scenario, but there is more to the film that meets the eye. Rafe is seen as a rebel who doesn’t obey rules, but he is just a typical teenager trying to cope in a new environment. There are some boring moments like the students giving speeches for class president, but the funny moments such as the kids almost using swear words like ‘friggin’ and trying to find words that rhyme with ‘suck’ helped keep my attention. 

“Middle School” is one that is enjoyable for families and just the adults as it will remind you of the times you wished you could have fought back against unfair rules and bullies. Through the use of film and animation it provides not just what’s going on with the lead on the outside, but see what he is thinking through his artwork. Even if you don’t get the chance to see it in theaters, it will still make for a good at home film later.

‘Middle School: Worst Years of my Life’ : 2 stars 

Rating: PG

Run Time: 1:32


Amy Schwartz Doesn’t Want To Be Famous, Just Comfortable


Photo courtesy of Amy Schwartz

Amy Schwartz, 32, said that she never dreamed of being a famous comedian. She began performing with the Dave Chapelle attitude where she would make as much as a teacher and be comfortable without the pressure of big time fame. “I’m not excited about the idea of fame so that’s why I write. I rather be behind the scenes,” she said.

After recently celebrating her one year of marriage and a busy schedule lined up for the rest of the year, finding a balance between family and work can be tough, but she says she has the support to keep going. In a recent interview with me, she speaks about her time being a comedian, and how she manages to separate her personal life from her comedy.


What was it about comedy that grabbed your attention and made you want to pursue it?

I always liked comedy. I grew up watching “SNL”, “MadTV”. When I was in middle school I watched “Comic View”, and “In Living Color”, so I always had an interest in it. It’s funny cause I was a kid with glasses and wasn’t very cool in my school, so I got made fun of a lot (laughing). So comedy, I just really liked it a lot. I was always a fan and a big fan of standup.

I noticed you said in living color and comic view, did you take more towards urban comedy rather than your basic slapstick kind of comedy?

I kinda liked a little bit of everything. So yeah if I was to narrow it down to one style, strangers with candy was a show was one of the reasons I moved to Chicago because all the cast studied at second city here, that was the biggest influence just because I liked the cast.

Do you still have jitters of bombing on stage?

It depends on if I have something I’ve never done before or a giant theater or an audition. yeah, but small shows I’m pretty comfortable. It’s easy to have fun.

Personal Life

How’s married life treating you?

Good. Yeah, he’s really supportive of the comedy. It’s great because he would come out to shows and see me do my thing, so yeah it’s been really good.

Do you test out new jokes on your husband?

Sometimes, you know sometimes I will come up with a joke while having a conversation with him. Some of the jokes I’ve written were just from conversations we’ve had. I always kinda keep a notebook on hand so that way it something comes up I write it down. He actually comes up with ideas for sketches, so yeah.

Do you draw a line as to how far you include your personal life in your jokes?

I usually ask people if they are in a story or joke but they are usually okay with it because I don’t make fun of them. I only go after political public figures who would deserve it.



Courtesy of Amy Schwartz


Schwartz, who’s been doing comedy for five years, said that even though she loves performing in front of crowds, she loves to write shorts and pilots. When she’s not working her day job as a resolutions specialist, she’s performing throughout Chicago including Zanies Comedy Club, Annoyance Theatre, and McKaw Theater. Her next show will be Oct. 11th at the McKaw Theater for the opening of the improv show “Stand and Play” where she and a different guest each week  perform stand up with an improv set after each stand-up performance. For more of her upcoming performances visit