How much money are Hollywood producers saving when they do this?

This is something my ex-wife pointed out to me years ago. And dangit! I wish that she hadn’t. Because now that I see it; it annoys the hell out of me

I see it mostly in sitcoms. You know how when you are watching a show and there’s an off, no name character that never says anything? Even when they should? They just smile, nod their head and look stupid.

My ex tells me they do this so they don’t have to pay them scale. My question is how much money are they saving when they do that? Is it really all that much?

I think it’s a decent amount. I remember years ago Conan had a bit about it. There was a ‘silent’ extra who said something and Conan complained that now they had to pay him more…then he sang and now the studio had to pay him more etc. I think it started at something less then just being silent (maybe facing away from the camera) and escalated to something more then singing.

Well, my brain just broke wading through all the information out there about extras (there’s a LOT of it). I really have no idea if the bit that Conan did was based on anything real (which I always assumed it was) or just pandering to the people’s perception of what was real.

I did run across the actual SAG pay scale PDF, but have fun reading that.
Here, I found this on, no numbers, but at least it shows that things change once you say something (other then an ‘omni’, but I’m not sure what that is).

If you google Pay Scale for Extras or SAG pay scale you’ll find more then you could ever want to know about the subject…promise.

If they don’t say anything you can pay them as an extra (around $50/day or less) or not at all. Many extras will appear just for being able to say they were in the movie. This happens for a lot of crowd scenes (ie were you probably won’t see thier face)

If they speak you have to pay them union scale, which starts at $750 and goes up from there depending on how much screen time they get for a movie (not sure what the base is for TV). Also, depending on the if it is SAG (Film) or AFTRA (TV) the person may also have to have a union card already or the production gets hit with a fine.

My wife: I’ll have the wedge salad with no onions, and the cappelini pomodoro, easy on the peppers please, and I’m going to switch to red wine… umm, a glass of Mark West pinot noir would be great, thanks.
Me: Ceaser salad, please, and the rigatoni al forno – can you substitute chicken for the sausage? And I’d like a vodka martini, slightly dirty, with bleu cheese olives.
(Waitress walks away without saying a word.)
Me: Hey, where are you going? Did you get all that? Why won’t you talk to me? What’s wrong with you???!!!

Omni lines are murmurs, gasps and other assorted background babble from the extras.

There was a joke about this on Monty Python’s Flying Circus back in the early 70s; every speaking character had to be paid. So when someone leaned forward and asked, “Excuse me, do I have any lines?”, the person in charge went, “NOO! Argh, now we have to pay you as well!”

A few Google searches later: found the sketch, it’s from episode 28. I quote:


Letterman did a bit once where he had a pregnant staff member come on and they’d talk briefly to build her a nest egg for her new family. They had a chart and they would talk about how much she was making. It was a nice bit – never truly funny, but a nice slice o’ life.


This is it. In some cases principals get better food than extras also. One show that used a lot for one episode had an “extra wrangler.”

In one commercial my daughter did one mother pissed off the director by telling her daughter to try to push up to the first row of kids in order to move from extra to principal. Beyond the money, it looks a lot better on your resume which gets attached to the back of a headshot when the headshot gets sent to the casting director by an agent.

When my daughter joined SAG, before the internet was prevalent, we read the entire book.

This is fairly recent news, and may not interest anyone who’s not in the industry, but as of April of this year there is now one union: SAG-AFTRA.

The merger of the two unions has come to vote in the past, but this year the merger was finally approved and put into effect.

Olson Johnson is right!

I was aware of the merger but is that a good thing or a bad thing, and why?

Well, enough people voted for it that you’ll find lots of people who will tell you it’s a good thing.

I know there are SAG-AFTRA members on the SDMB. Many of them are working actors and they’ll be able to give you a MUCH better answer than I can.

I am a member, but my career focus (or lack of focus) has been such that I’ve actually done very little professional union work. For me it’s mainly been my nightclub act, with a little bit of “Gee, it would be great to book some decent T.V. or Film!” tucked away in the back of my mind- but I’ve not really put the work into achieving “Working Actor” cred.

So, hopefully a dedicated professional will come along to expand upon my explanation and point out any misinformation I may have posted.

AFTRA was an open union and anyone who paid the fee to join was welcome to join. SAG had strict requirements that had to be met in order to join.

Professional actors who were SAG members generally found it in their interest to be AFTRA members as well (the two unions covered different areas of work). AFTRA members who did not qualify for SAG generally were always working toward qualifying then joining SAG once they met the requirements.

So for many people this has simplified everything greatly. They either had been members of both unions or they were members of one of the unions aspiring to also join the other. Now it’s all one union.

There was also a bit of a caste system with non-union actors on the lowest level, then AFTRA actors, then SAG actors. AFTRA actors who weren’t SAG were often treated as if they were non-union all together (in the eyes of agents, managers, etc.). Many actors, including the “top level” SAG actors never liked the caste system and preferred the “we’re all in this together” approach.
One possible “bad” aspect of the merger is that the new SAG-AFTRA union is a closed union with eligibility requirements the same as the old SAG requirements. I joined AFTRA when it was an open union. I just walked into their offices with a credit card and I walked out a full member. Booking work as an AFTRA actor was one of the recognized paths toward meeting SAG eligibility- a pretty nicely laid out path that I always thought was a good option to present to actors just trying to get a career started. Now there’s just one union and it is a closed union. Definitely makes it harder on the kid just stepping off the bus aspiring to make it in Hollywood.

I don’t know how typical this production was, but I was an extra in the not-very-good Zach Braff movie The Last Kiss when it was doing location shooting in Wisconsin. This was in 2005, and I made about $90 – $9 an hour – for a long day’s work. (I also got breakfast, lunch, and bottled water and soda refills throughout the day.) I was in two crowd scenes, and everyone in these crowds was a paid extra. Some girls who were apparently big Zach Braff fans tried to sneak into the area, but they were spotted by the crew and hustled away.

I remember Carson making a point when some staffer had to hand him something that he needed to reach out of the frame for it, because if the other guy’s hand got into the shot, they’d have to pay the lackey as a performer.

Now all the late night shows get mileage out of their office staff by using them on camera.

I took a tour of the “Tonight” show set back in 1984 and the tour guide mentioned this. Something like $150 if he handed Johnny a microphone or took his jacket (or the singer, the guy used David Bowie as his example) and $375 if his hand was seen, maybe $550 if his face was on camera. Said the same thing if the Pips were singing off camera for Gladys Knight, something like $350 for singing in a booth, $500 a piece if they were seen on stage with her. Approximate figures, but the gist of what he was saying has stayed with me for three decades.
One of the reasons why “Johnny Carson” and other shows like it are so profitable is they manage to get away with paying guests “scale”, arguing the national exposure will
help their career so they don’t need a huge appearance fee.

In Chuck there were regular featured extras who pretty much never had a line, but recurred in the background. Then on the final episode, every one of those recognisable extras each had a line, giving them a little bit of extra respect, and some more money.

Scrubs irregularly did this too.

As Lisa Simpson once said, I know all those words but that phrase makes no sense.

That, however, makes perfect sense.

I actually don’t really dislike Zach Braff but that was just too good to resist.:smiley:

I’m done threadpooping now.