People choose to do Background work for many reasons; it’s a way to gain experience on a film set or to earn additional money or an opportunity to meet friends and other members of the community. Regardless of your reasons, you should take your participation in the production seriously and you should always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Please read the following section carefully if you are interested in doing Background work.

How Can I Do Background Work?

It’s quite simple. Just contact each of the Casting Directors on our list and inquire about getting into their roster. Chances are, they will require a photo and resume (with physical details) from you and some may charge a small registration IF YOU ARE NOT A MEMBER OF ACTRA. Remember, not all Casting Agents are the same and they may not all be looking for new people.

Members interested in doing work may take advantage of ACTRA’s Background Database background.ACTRAonline.ca. Just log in and update your profile page.

Can I work for Cash as a Member or Apprentice Member?

No. It’s just that simple. If you are a Full Member or Apprentice Member of ACTRA, you must work on a voucher or you will be in violation of the ACTRA By-Laws and Constitution.

How Much Does Background Work Pay (in Film & TV)?

Check the relevant collective agreement for the most current rates.

Can I Eat with the Crew?

Apprentice Members and Full Members who are background performers have the right to eat the same meal as the crew, but do not necessarily have to eat with the crew. That decision will probably be made for you as determined by the space available on set.

What are some tips?

  • Under certain circumstances (as defined by the collective agreement), production may not provide you with a meal during your lunch break, so be prepared – just in case!
  • If you have a question, ask the person who is in responsible for Background Performers (generally the 3rd A.D.). Do not disturb the Director or others.
  • Stay quiet. This is essential!
  • Be responsible and use common sense.

Yes, a Background Performer does not always get as much attention as other performers. Yes, there are sometimes hundreds of you on set. But remember that you are still on a contract with the production which requires that you behave in a conscientious and professional manner in accordance with our collective agreements, by-laws and constitution.

Upgrades

Please note:
To apply for an upgrade, you must fill out a Performer Upgrade Request Form and submit it to montreal@actra.ca. Remember that you have only 30 days (from your work date/date of the incident) to submit the form.

What is an upgrade?
Occasionally, a production will wrongfully categorize a performer. This, for example, may be an instance where a Background Performer should actually really be an Actor or maybe a Special Skills Extra should actually be a Stunt Performer. An upgrade is a re-classification of the category based on the requirements of the role in which the performer was engaged.

How Do I Know if I Deserve an Upgrade?
The following are definitions from the IPA of Background roles:

a) Background Performer means any Performer other than a Principal Actor or an Actor, who is:
i) not required to give individual characterization;
ii) not required to speak or sing any word or Line of Dialogue;
iii) not required to perform as a Special Skill Background Performer
iv) engaged to perform, either alone or as a member of a team or group, special silent businesses requiring a level of proficiency or other physical skill within the competence of the average person, even if required to perform in dress clothes or costumes.

b) Photographic Double means a Performer doubling photographically for a member of the cast during on-camera long shots and other scenes in which the photographic double is not recognizable.

c) Stand-In is a Performer engaged to replace physically another Performer during a set-up period.

d) Special Skill Background Performer means a Background Performer engaged to perform, either alone or as a member of a team or group, special silent businesses with a level of physical proficiency or other physical skills superior to that of the average person, provided that such level of proficiency or other physical skills shall be deemed to exclude stunt work as provided for in A26.
Examples of such special silent businesses are:
i) water-skiing, diving, skin or scuba diving;
ii) driving a marine vessel or a commercial motor vehicle, or any motor vehicle requiring a chauffeur’s license;
iii) any sport such as, but not limited to, baseball, football, skiing, hockey, soccer, and horseback riding.

If you have been engaged in one of these categories, but are fulfilling the duties of another category, you may deserve an upgrade.

It is of paramount importance, however, that you realize that every instance is unique and what may be deserving of an upgrade under certain circumstances may not be at other times.

What is NOT generally deserving of an upgrade (and often assumed to be)?

  • Being in proximity to the camera.
  • Being in proximity to or touching the main actors.
  • Receiving direction from the Director to perform tasks which require a level of proficiency of an average person – like opening a door, for example.
  • Speaking when in a group.
  • Having a name or title in the project – like wearing a stethoscope and being referred to as Joe, the Doctor.

What is deserving of an upgrade?
Individual characterization of a role.

When you are not only Joe, the Doctor, but told that you are actually Joe- who’s wife left him last night, ran over his cat in the driveway this morning, has been stealing prescription drugs from the hospital and selling them on the side who just happens to be a Doctor. Suddenly, you are a very specific, unique character. You are being asked to ACT. When in doubt, ask for the upgrade.

How Do I Ask for an Upgrade?
Ask. Ask the third A.D. Ask the P.M. if you get a chance. Ask the person responsible for background performers. Do not ask the Director. The person may say no (they probably will), but then, they may say yes. If you are upgraded on set, regardless of whether or not you should have been, the upgrade will stand. And everyone goes home happy. But they will probably say no.

So what’s next?
You file an upgrade request with ACTRA Upgrade Committee – a collection of ACTRA Business Reps who review these requests as a group. How?

1. You must submit a a Performer Upgrade Request Form to montreal@actra.ca. All Upgrade Requests MUST include a completed Request Form.

2. Wait for a response. Based on the information provided, the Upgrade Committee will review the circumstances and conduct an investigation which may require them to request the raw footage from the production company (and could take as long as 8 weeks). Be patient.

3. You will receive a letter informing you of the Upgrade Committee’s decision. Their decision is final. It is important to realize that you are not asking ACTRA for an upgrade. ACTRA has no right to upgrade anyone. What you are asking is for ACTRA to file a claim with a production for wrongfully categorizing you. When ACTRA does file a claim, the request may be for a straightforward upgrade or a request may be made for a monetary compensation for the production’s negligence. When ACTRA files a claim, they win-because ACTRA does not file frivolous claims.