A fellow actor recently asked me these questions? “Should I use the term ‘background’ or ‘extra’ on my resume?” “What is a featured extra?”
First, there is no technical difference between the terms background (abbreviated as BG) or extra. They both mean the same thing — performers who don’t have lines, who are seen in the background of a shot, but who play a vital role in making a shot appear realistic.
Protestors. A gaggle of press/reporters. Spectators at a boxing match. Staffers walking through the halls of the White House set. These are all typical background roles. Background performers can be union or non-union.
Without these actors the shot would look lifeless and empty. Viewers might pay more attention to the fact that a coffee shop is devoid of customers instead of the performance of the principals.
So am I background or an extra?
Personally, I prefer the term “background.” For most sets I have been on, the first AD and PAs all refer to these actors as background. “Extra” has the connotation of “unnecessary” and these actors are FAR from unnecessary.
Points to keep in mind:
“Extra” is what you will see checked on your voucher, even if you prefer to be called “background.”Your name will not appear in the credits. Independent films can be the exception to this.
If you add your background role to your IMDB credits, the production may or may not add (uncredited) at the end of the role you played.
Featured background / extra
The difference between “regular” and “featured” background is essentially the background performer will get more and better screen time. It is not an official designation. Pay is the same. You still won’t appear in the credits.
For example, in Season 4 of VEEP I play the White House photographer in a few episodes. In some scenes I am the only background actor present, besides all of the principals. I still don’t have any lines, but my face will be easily visible. So technically I am “featured” because of that, however I will not actually put the word “featured” on my resume.
Like featured background, this also isn’t an official designation. Core background means you are one of those actors who is called routinely to play the same background role for a TV series or movie. For example, in House of Cards Season 3, I played a videographer in eight episodes. Anytime a scene took place in the White House Press Briefing Room the same “core” background press people were always present, including me.
Why would the same background actors always be present? That is how the real White House Press Corps works. It is always the same faces whenever you watch an actual briefing so it should be the same faces for the TV show. I will also not put “core background” on my resume. Casting directors will already know that because they will see that I appeared in multiple episodes as the same character.
Should I put background work on my resume?
Yes. This isn’t just my opinion. Casting directors have told me directly that you should, unless you are working in New York or Los Angeles. It shows them that you are working, that you know how a set works and the protocol, that you can show up on time and with the correct wardrobe, etc.
Don’t put the actual words “background” or “extra” on your resume. Put the role you played. Spectator, reporter, videographer, or whatever you were cast for, is what you should list on your resume and IMDB page.