21 Production Terms Every Background Actor Should Know
Being on set can feel like a whole different world, especially if it’s your first time as a Background Actor. Get to know these production terms and you’ll be on your way to being a pro on set.
1. Back to one
When the director (or Assistant Director) says “back to one,” you need to move back to your original position. Always pay attention to your movement in a scene so you can recreate it every take.
2. Second team
The second team is a group who takes the place of the principal actors during rehearsals, camera blocking, and lighting setups. The second team is comprised of Stand-Ins, body doubles, stunt doubles, and various other roles.
Members of the second team often work closely with the principal actors. After rehearsals they may instruct the actors on the movements they need to make in the scene.
A bump is money added to your base wage for doing something beyond basic background in a scene. You could receive a bump if you are booked with a vehicle or pet or if the Assistant Director gives you a more featured role.
4. Call time
Your call time is the time you need to be on set, checked in, and ready to work. It’s extremely important to show up to set on time and camera ready. Ask any Casting Director and they’ll tell you showing up and being on time are two of the best things Background Actors can do to be successful.
Be sure to check the Call Time Change Box throughout the day, before you go to bed, and before you leave for set. Check your location’s On Set FAQs to find out how to get your call time changes.
When you’re not filming, you’ll be taken to a holding area. You can bring items to Holding, like a book, to keep you busy when you’re not on set.
6. AD (Assistant Director)
The AD is often the crew member Background Actors get direction from on set. They are responsible for arranging and maintaining the logistics of a film shoot. The First Assistant Director (1st AD) is responsible for keeping the production on schedule and supervising the crew. The Second Assistant Director (2nd AD) is responsible for overseeing and directing Background Actors.
A Background Actor may be recalled to set to continue filming for an additional day of work. If you are recalled, make sure you write down your recall information, make note of the wardrobe you’re wearing, and inform the Casting Director of any conflicts.
A change is the complete wardrobe or costume you wear on camera. Be sure to pay close attention to the wardrobe notes given to you by the Casting Director. They will tell you if you’re required to bring wardrobe changes.
9. 18tly (eighteen to look younger)
If a Casting Director is looking for someone 18tly they are looking for a person who is eighteen years old or older who can convincingly portray someone younger.
If you think you can portray 18tly make sure you have a photo in your file with that look. You can take a new photo or add additional photos during Updates. Check your location’s calendar for Update times.
A cross is the movement of a Background Actor as they pass through the view of the camera. If an Assistant Director instructs you to do a cross, your path may take you directly in front of the camera.
A performer who is “Taft’d” has entered the 30-day period before they are required to join a union. This refers to the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, a federal law created to regulate unions and guilds.
There are many ways for a Background Actor to become “Taft’d,” including getting three SAG vouchers or by getting bumped up to a speaking role in a production. If you join a union, be sure to change your SAG-AFTRA status during an Update session at your Central Casting office.
Walla is a sound effect that mimics the murmur of a crowd in the background of a scene. Early radio producers found that if they recorded multiple people repeating “walla, walla, walla,” it mimicked the indistinct chatter of a large crowd. Other phrases used for walla are “rhubarb” and “peas and carrots.”
Most modern productions add crowd noise during post production. Background Actors will film the scene while silently mouthing words, then a walla group will be brought in to record real (mostly improvised) conversations that will be added during the editing process.
Central Casting casts walla groups for a variety of productions, even for animated shows like The Simpsons, to make crowd scenes more authentic.
Avail is short for availability and will often be used by Casting Directors “checking your avail” and putting you on “first avail.”
When a Casting Director is prepping a scene for a future date they will check your availability, and if you confirm your availability, may put you on first avail for that show. Often in these situations, you will not be booked until production looks at your picture submission and approves the look.
If you are offered another booking on the same day, you must call the Casting Director you are on first avail for to confirm if you are needed on their production.
Inserts are parts of scenes that are shot from different angles or different focal lengths, often using doubles instead of principal actors. Inserts can be used to show a character performing a special skill like playing an instrument or performing everyday tasks like using a phone.
15. Background Coordinator
On particularly large calls, background coordinators may be hired to help Assistant Directors check-in and manage Background Actors.
Matching is one of the production terms that refers to recreating the exact same movements take after take. This ensures that the different takes can be seamlessly edited together in post-production.
Pick-ups are (often minor) shots filmed after production on a project has wrapped. While in post-production, the director and editors will determine if there are clarity or continuity issues and will then film pick-ups to supplement the original footage.
18. Second Unit
A second production crew who films shots or sequences of a production separate from the main (first) unit. Second units are primarily used to help the production save time by filming simultaneously. Common uses for the second unit are to film inserts and stunt sequences.
When filming, Background Actors will silently mouth conversations so they don’t interfere with the sound being recorded by the principal actors.
Basecamp is the area designated by production as the main check-in and crew communication hub.
Wrap refers to when talent or the entire production has finished filming. Never leave set without an Assistant Director specifically telling you you’re wrapped. You’d hate to make it home only to find that you were still needed on set!