I'm done working as an extra on this project -- at least until early January -- so I thought I'd explain a little bit more about the 'extra world.' There are two types of extras: union (covered by the Screen Actors Guild, SAG) and non-union (i.e. ME). Of course, Union extras make more than non-union, and the rules governing how they are to be treated - lunches, breaks, in and out times, etc. -- are different. Now, there are some extra folks who do get into the Union and spend their careers as extras, or the more politically correct jargon "background artists." This is not appealing at all to me, as being an extra is not exactly a creative outlet. But, I digress.
Productions, whether they be TV or films, would love to hire only non-union extras as they are cheaper, however, agreements with SAG often preclude this and a certain number of extras are usually mandated to be Union.
A different issue, but one more germane to me right now, is that there is a way for non-union extras to qualify to join SAG, thereby increasing their pay if they want to do extra work. But much more importantly from my perspective, obtaining a Union card means getting the chance to audition for union projects, making oneself more appealing to potential agents and casting directors, and overcoming one of the main obstacles to "getting to the next step" in this town. The process by which one can actually do this is somewhat convoluted to explain -- it involves bumps and three union vouchers. I'd be glad to explain the process in detail to anyone who's interested when I'm home next week.
But, here's the upshot: the two days I worked on the project this week there were only about a dozen or so of us (instead of the hundreds the previous days) and we all got Union bumps. So, I ended up getting two of the three Union vouchers I need to be eligible to join SAG (and have the privilege of paying the current $2300 joining fee). So, after the new year, when I return from the snow, sleet and cold, my main goal will be to somehow get that final Union voucher. And then I'll need to make sure I have my credit card handy...