How to Get on a Set

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007

If you're an extra on a D.C. film shoot, chances are you'll be playing a businessperson, a tourist or an FBI agent.

"They need the monuments, they want it to look like D.C. and they need to match the people," says Betsy Royall, a casting director for Taylor Royall, a Baltimore-based agency. "That means pretty conservative business types -- varying ages and ethnicities, but a conservative look.

For every "National Treasure" that comes through, there are many independent and student films that need to fill a variety of background or small roles with nonunion folks. Here's a guide to figuring out what's coming, how you can get yourself on a set and what to do once you're there.

Hunt for upcoming shoots through your local film office. Film offices often don't have definite dates until a month before a shoot, so check their Web sites regularly for updates. Shooting in Washington next month: the Steve Carrell vehicle "Get Smart."

Maryland Film Office, 410-767-6340, (click on "Hotline").

Virginia Film Office, 804-545-5530, (click on "Hotline").

D.C. Office of Motion Picture and TV Development, 202-727-6608,

Contact local casting companies."If you just want to have a day on set, just throw in your hat," casting director Royall says. "Write a cover letter, short and sweet, that says something like, 'I'm a working professional, and I'd love to be an extra. Please call or e-mail.' " Though a professional head shot isn't necessary, the cleaner and crisper your photo looks, the better. On your résumé, include your eye and hair color, measurements (height and weight, neck size for men and dress size for women) and any special skills.

Carlyn Davis Casting & Production Services Inc., 207 Park Ave., Suite B6, Falls Church, 703-532-1900,

Central Casting. Two locations: 623 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-547-6300; 2229 N. Charles St., Baltimore, 410-889-3200.

Pat Moran and Associates, Attn: Extras Casting, 3500 Boston St., Suite 425, Baltimore,

Taylor Royall, 6247 Falls Rd., Baltimore, 410-828-6900,

Never pay to be cast. Casting companies are compensated by the film or TV production entity and will interview, consider and cast you without charge. "People claim to be agents and managers or charge people to be on a Web site," says Shamos Fisher, an associate at Pat Moran and Associates. "That's totally ridiculous. This isn't New York or L.A."

If you're serious about acting, take a class. Actor and producer Gale Nemec teaches a local class called "Background Acting" to educate people of all ages and skill levels about the vocabulary and the process of a shoot. Her advice? "The biggest mistake I've seen people do is they try to tell the crew what to do, like 'Put me there. Put me here,' " says Nemec, an artist-in-residence at Wolf Trap. "They don't treat it as a real job. And it is a real job."

"Background Acting," May 8 from 7 to 9:30 p.m., 2315 S. Grant St., Arlington. $45. For more information or to register, e-mail

Pay close attention to your casting team, which will inform you of the wardrobe and materials you'll need for a shoot. "When we did the Mount Vernon scene, it was raining and freezing," says Carlyn Davis, president of her eponymous casting company. "We told everyone to bring blankets and slippers."

Davis also operates, a database for union and nonunion actors. A 30-day trial membership is free; it's $39.95 per year to join.

You have to be flexible, regardless of whether you're in it to have fun or to start a career. "If you want to earn a living in this business, you have to go where the work is," says Randallstown, Md., resident Brian Dragonuk, 54, who left his job at a bankrupt greeting card company eight years ago and now earns a living as a nonunion actor, traveling to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Williamsburg, depending on the work.

To receive Dragonuk's regular electronic newsletter about acting jobs, send a blank e-mail to


The fifth and final season of the HBO series is shooting through August in and around Baltimore. Hundreds of nonunion extras and background actors are used for every episode.

To be considered, send your phone number, vital statistics (age, height, weight) and a snapshot of yourself to: Pat Moran and Associates (see above). Include a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want confirmation of receipt.

Read More ...

In the Spotlight: Meet five actors with lengthy resumes as extras, and see clips of their on-camera moments.

A Weekend in the Life: Reporter Dan Zak chronicles his experience as an extra, hour-by-hour.

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