When you're on set, do you ever wonder how what you're filming gets turned into a complete movie or TV episode? Or think about all the factors that led you to set in the first place? Most Background Actors are familiar with the production stage of filmmaking, but there's more to making a movie and TV show than just filming. Here's a breakdown of the three stages of film production and how they relate to Background Actors.
Before any part of production can begin, there's a development stage where the screenplay is completed. Sometimes a screenwriter will write a script before attempting to sell it and other times a screenwriter or producer will pitch an idea to a production company or studio and will then write the screenplay. Once the screenplay is ready and a deal is in place, pre-production can begin.
Pre-Production is the planning and preparation stage of filmmaking. During this time, principal actors are cast, the crew is hired, schedules are made, and locations are secured.
The Unit Production Manager (UPM) is in charge of how money is spent and the overall management of the production. The UPM will work with the Assistant Director to figure out the budget and coordination of the Background Actors.
During pre-production, the costume designer and wardrobe department will create outfits and find clothing for the actors. Depending on the project's budget, this may include wardrobe for Background Actors. Background may be dressed by production for some period pieces, if the movie or TV show is trying to achieve a very specific look, or if the Background Actor needs to match an established style. In most cases though, Background Actors are responsible for bringing their own wardrobe to set.
Central Casting's Casting Directors do their own prep work to prepare for production. This varies from project to project, but can involve casting Stand-Ins and doubles and checking Background Actors' availability for when filming begins.
Of the three stages of film production, the production phase is where Background Actors, Stand-Ins, and doubles are the most involved. Production is where the principal photography (filming) for the movie or TV show takes place.
During rehearsals and camera blocking, Stand-Ins work with the Director, Assistant Director, camera crew, and other crew members to block out actor movements and lighting set-ups for a scene. Stand-Ins have a chance to work more closely with actors and crew members and may work more regularly on a project.
When a scene is ready to be shot, Background Actors will be called to set. The Assistant Directors will instruct them where and when to move in a scene, which may involve crossing the camera. Background Actors often have to pantomime in scenes so they don't interfere with the sound being recorded by the principal actors. When Background Actors are not needed on set, they're taken to Holding.
There are a variety of doubles that are used depending on the needs of the project. Photo doubles must match the principal actor as closely as possible in height, build, hair color, and complexion. Body doubles can be used when an actor plays two or more characters on screen, to replace a principal actor for nude scenes, to perform special skills, or for second unit or insert shots to free up the actor to film other scenes. Our article What's the Difference Between a Stand-In and Photo Double? has more information on the different types of photo doubles and what they do.
When principal photography has finished, the project will move into post-production. This phase includes editing, sound mixing, and any special effects the project may need. While the film or TV episode is being edited, the director may decide to reshoot or film additional scenes. Background Actors, Stand-Ins, and doubles may be cast for these reshoots and pick-ups.
If a director wants to create crowd noise for a scene, they may bring in Background Actors during post-production to record improvised conversations. These are called walla groups, named for the early radio practice of having people repeat "walla, walla, walla" over and over to mimic the indistinct chatter of a crowd. Central Casting casts walla groups for a variety of projects, even for animated shows like The Simpsons.
The different post-production crews will put their finishing touches on the project and when the director decides the film is finished, it will move out of the post-production phase to distribution.