Getting work as an actor is not an easy way to make a living. But working as an extra is a way to get your feet in the acting door without having to go through arduous auditions. Extras, more properly known by their Screen Actor's Guild, or SAG, designation as "background actors" today, are the backdrop actors in movies, television series and other productions. The term "featured extra" is used to describe actors that have specific roles rather than just blending into the background, although SAG doesn't use this term.
Featured extras stand out from the crowd. They may hand the actor a newspaper, pour him a cup of coffee, trip over a sidewalk and block the hero's way or catch a fly ball in a stadium. The featured actor's part is short and generally not repeated more than once during the film. While all types of people are hired as background actors, casting directors are often looking for a certain type for a featured extra role.
Background actors, even those who would be considered featured extras, don't talk. They may take part in crowd murmurings or general backdrop conversation, called "omnies." If a featured extra speaks, he's no longer an extra but an actor.
Featured extras make slightly more pay than regular background actors, but less than an actor with a speaking part, no matter how small the speaking role.
Background actors don't necessarily have to belong to SAG. Different acting sectors have different guidelines about what percentage of background actors in a film or televised show must belong to SAG. Nonunion actors are hired only after all the SAG slots are filled. If you belong to SAG, your chances of working increased, but getting into SAG isn't easy. You must work as a SAG actor for at least three days and present pay vouchers for those three days work as proof. Joining SAG also requires hefty fees.