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A background agency is an agency that represents extras (also known as background performers) and gets them work. In British Columbia, such agencies must be registered with the Ministry of Labour and must follow the following guidelines:
- No more than 15% of the performer's earnings can be charged for the agency's commission, plus a 7% GST from the commission amount.
- The commission rate is 10% for extras unionized under the UBCP.
- Commission must be charged after the performer has worked on the production and the cheque for it has arrived.
- An annual photo and listing fee of $25 maximum may be charged by the agency.
Agencies have different ways of accepting commission payment from their clients. Some of the common methods include:
- Holding a cheque for the performer. After the performer pays the commission to the agency, the agency will release the cheque to the performer.
- The commission is pre-deducted from the cheque already.
Standard booking procedure
Production companies usually contact the agencies to ask for extras with a specific look or to ask for specific extras. They, in turn, phone the extra to ask if he/she is available to work that day. It is not unusual to receive notices of less than 24 hours. Once the extra accepts, the extra will receive a phone call the evening before the work day, which will specify the type of wardrobe needed, the calltime, the contact person on set, the production title and the location where the extras are supposed to report to. Sometimes, the extra's role is briefly explained and the season is given as well.
The extra may also refuse a booking if he/she is busy that day. Refusing a booking should not affect the chances of getting booked in the future but refusing too often might cause the agency to lose interest in booking a particular extra.
Some bookings require the extra to undergo special makeup or wardrobe fittings. This is common for special scenes, such as an old 1880s scene or a scene that requires the extra to be a corpse. The extra will have to report to a wardrobe fitting on a day before the production. He/she will receive a minimum of 4 hours' pay.
Some bookings may also require the extra to engage in specialized skills, such as fire-breathing, unicycle-riding, and so on. Extras will get paid more for this.
The extra may also be asked to bring certain equipment or vehicles to use on set. This may include bicycles, skateboards, motor vehicles and so on. For most of these, the extra will be paid more for this (commonly $40).
Background performer databases
Many background agencies in Vancouver use online background performer databases to list their clients. Production companies use these databases to select the types of people they want. They can either choose to select many people from one or more agencies, or they may choose to hand-select only several people from the entire database.
The database will provide the extra's photo, height, weight, measurements, special skills, age, and so on. These are used for wardrobe fittings and for finding people of the desired size (i.e. tall people, overweight people).
Children in film
There are special rules that govern children under 15 years of age in film; these rules cover background performers as well as principal actors. They must acquire a permit to work on set and cannot work overtime (over 8 hours). In addition, a parent or guardian must be on set at all times supervising the child. In addition, child performers must take a short break every hour.