I’m starting my first set PA job on a big-time scripted cable TV drama. I was just told that I’m the one who is going to oversee background (extras). I’m guessing I will be in charge of the non-union and SAG-AFTRA vouchers. What other duties should I expect, and what tips can other set PAs who have worked with background pass along?
First of all, congrats on the job! Always happy to hear my readers are working.
For readers who don’t know, “vouchers” are forms provided by the actors’ union that have to be filled out every day. They’re a combination of a time card and a report of the tasks the extra performed. (Did they bring their own costume? Were they working in dangerous conditions? Did they get served lunch on time? Etc.)
Because extras are basically untalented actors, they can’t be trusted to complete the forms on their own. A PA (or 2nd AD) is required to make sure each one is filled in correctly.
Beyond that, working with background largely involves two things– shuttling them to and from set, which is not fun at all. They tend to not listen to instruction, dawdle, or just plain wander off. If you’ve ever been a camp counselor or grade school teacher, you’ll know what it’s like.
The other main task is actually directing them. The AD will give them their initial instructions (“You walk here on this line,” “You go there when she says this,” etc.), but it’ll be up to you to actually cue them on the day.1 As I said, they don’t listen to instructions, and there’s a 110% chance that they won’t know when they’re supposed to go. So, you better know.
- Meaning, when we’re actually filming.↩