More importantly, saying “You suck. Try not to suck so much next time.” isn’t a very good management strategy.
And make no mistake, when you’re the background PA, you’ve suddenly gone from the bottom rung of the totem pole to the second-to-bottom rung. You’re not necessarily making the creative decision of where the extras should or shouldn’t be. The AD or director2 will most likely make that call, depending on just how important they are to the scene.
But often a PA will cue specific background at specific points, if the scene calls for it. (This is a situational thing. If the shot is MOS, the AD will most likely call it out herself; if the leads are having an important scene and an extra needs to cross in the background on a certain line, there’s probably a PA just off camera cuing him.)
Your job is more than just on set, though. You have to shuttle them to and from extras’ holding, catering, possibly wardrobe. It can be surprisingly tricky, especially when dealing with a crowd of dozens or hundreds.
The vast majority of extras on a big show will be totally professional, but there’s a rotten apple in every bunch. Some idiot who wanders off, doesn’t pay attention to your instructions, steals stuff.
Losing your cool will not help in those situations. Just like you don’t enjoy being yelled at by the UPM when the other PA is late with lunch, don’t tar the entirety of the background with the brush reserved for that one asshole.
Be as clear and friendly as you can, with the group and individuals. Give them whatever information you’re allowed (everyone wants to know when lunch is), make sure they’re comfortable, give them a heads’ up when you’re about to bring them to set.
When somebody does give you trouble, be calm and rational. If they still cause problems, well… you don’t get paid enough for this shit. Bump it up to the 2nd (or 2nd 2nd) AD. They can decide whether to send someone home, reprimand them, or give Central Casting a call to never let this particular extra come back on your set.
Also, try to look at it from the background actors’ point of view. You’re a PA, still wet behind the ears. You’re under 30, you’re still excited to be on set. Many extras have been doing this for decades; this is their career. They’ve seen and done it all, and you’re not going to surprise them.
So, don’t act like a know-it-all. You know this shoot, right now. Don’t talk down to them. In fact, you could probably learn a thing or two from the background vets.
Except for the asshole who tries to talk a selfie with the lead actress. Fuck that guy.
- That link is an older (original?) TAPA complaining about using the term “extra” rather than “background actor.” While I sympathize with the point in theory, 16 characters is too much to type over and over in a post about extras.↩
- Fun fact: the director is not actually allowed to direct background… directly. If she does, they become “actors,” with the commensurate pay bump. Nobody wants to pay for that.↩