5 Best Practices for Making Film Extras

When making film extras, you should be thinking of the five things we have listed here as you make your film.  Remember, you are an independent filmmaker, and because of that you are going to be responsible for selling yourself and your film.  Think of ways to be procuring extras as you are making your film.  When you’re in post-production, pull aside any clips that you don’t use for your film that you think might make some good behind-the-scenes or film extras type stuff.  If there is any question, just pop it into a sequence and be done with it. That way, you can always come back to it later on when you start putting together extras for the film, or find yourself in need of some video for social media purposes.


5 Best Practices for Making Film Extras


1. Get Best Possible Audio

The first best practice that I’m going to mention for producing DVD extras is to get the best possible audio that you can.

It’s easy to get caught up in the sometimes run and gun aspects of shooting EPK – if you’re doing this for-hire you’re probably often going all around set picking up shots or perhaps wrangling talent to speak with.  But we’re really talking about doing this for your own films.  And truth is that audio can sometimes take a back seat to what you may be shooting for your extras for your film.  It’s important that you don’t make that mistake, because often times you’re not just shooting images that you’ll put together as a montage over some music, in fact, the soundbytes are often what really resonate to people.

When I was shooting some making-of stuff for the soundtrack for Journey to Kathmandu, I knew that the sound of the actual music making was going to be important, but also I knew that I wanted to get a bit under the hood with some of the musicians.  So I made sure that I had a good shotgun mic that was operating and I also made sure to put a lav on each musician that I wanted to spend some time with.

I was very happy that I got good clean audio, not only because I was able to pick up the lovely sounds of the music that they were creating, but because I’d lav’d the musicians as well, I got some cool moments of their creative process.


2. Involve the Crew and Subjects

Because most of us now have very good cameras built into our mobile devices, I would encourage anyone working on their film to be taking photos and video of the various events.  You never really know how you might use these later on – whether it be for key art for your film, social media, film extras – but what’s important is that you not only encourage people to shoot this kind of stuff for you, but also that you make sure that you get access to the photos or footage asap.  It’s really easy to forget about it or assume that you can get it later on, but it’s much easier and more efficient to ask people when it’s fresh in their minds, than it is a month or year or two down the road.

Note: Make sure to get a signed release for all footage!


3. Keep a Film Journal

Whenever I am working on a particular project, I am often keeping a written journal of events.  It’s a way for me to decompress after a day of shooting and it allows me to get out some ideas or thoughts that I might want to remember later on.  My film journals allow me to process what is happening on my film while it’s actually happening.

Many of my blog posts are borne out of my journal entries or at least an idea that was spawned from the stream of consciousness writing.  And a number of my extras come from things that I’ve written down in my film journals too.

And you might even consider a video journal or, I suppose, even vlogging, for that matter, if you don’t want to write down your thoughts.  If you were open to it, your video can be used in many ways, whether for film extras later on down the line or to keep people engaged in the journey that you’re on.  Vlogging can get people excited for your film and build an audience, well before the film is released.  And we all know the importance of that one!


4. Storytelling

It’s easy to get in the mindset that if you’re shooting BTS you’re just getting B-roll type stuff.  But that is by no means always the case.  You might be covering things like crew meetings, fundraising parties, or the recording of music for your film.  There are many opportunities for shooting behind-the-scenes type stuff that isn’t of your actual film shoot.  So, it’s important to remember when shooting your BTS, you are still a storyteller.  You still want to be in the mindset of a storyteller.  You may not know until later how your extras might be used, but it’s a good idea to get in the habit of always thinking about story just as you would when shooting your actual documentary.


5. Offload Footage at End of Day

The last thing that I want to mention deals with the offloading of your BTS footage, which you’re going to want to do at the end of the day, just as you will all of you’re a footage from the actual shoot. This is true of any BTS footage that might be shot on a mobile device or anything outside the main camera, since anything shot on the main shoot’s camera will obviously be transferred with all of the other footage.

Doing this will mean that when you go to look for extras footage it’s much easier to find it by day of the shoot since you know what folder of what drive it’ll be on.  If you’re not regularly offloading your BTS, you risk it sitting on your phone for who knows how long.  And then when you finally do dump it, you’re going to have it mixed in with anything else that’s ever been shot on your phone since the last time you dumped photos and videos.  Having to go through that mess every time you want to find some specific BTS is such a waste of time.  Just as you would with the daily footage, make sure to offload all of your BTS stuff as well.  It’ll make life a lot easier for you, trust me.



Host and TDL Founder, Chris G Parkhurst

Chris is a documentary filmmaker and the founder and host of The Documentary Life, a platform which aims to inform and inspire documentary filmmakers from around the globe.

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