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  • Writer's pictureJanett Salas

LA Casting Review and Working as an Extra on Top Gun: Maverick

Last summer, I posted a video titled, "Being a Background Actor for Central Casting" all about Central Casting and my experience working on a pilot with them.

A few people asked me about some other acting sites that I may have used, so today we are talking about LA Casting.

With LA casting I was cast as an extra for the upcoming sequel Top Gun: Maverick. I'm going to break down the LA Casting site and my experience getting cast as an extra for that movie.

So about a year ago, I signed up for LA casting because I was trying to find extra roles to get on set and observe and learn more about how larger sets operate from a filmmaking perspective.

LA Casting is a paid membership site where you can build either a basic profile or a premium profile to then submit to casting notices that are posted by casting departments looking for anywhere from leads, supporting roles, game show seat fillers, all the way to extras.

To use the site, you have to pay a minimum of $15.79 a month, plus a one-time setup fee of $25 which includes 1 photo. This photo will be sent to the casting folks when you apply for any position. So depending on how serious you want to be about getting cast, you’ll probably want more than just one photo, maybe even an acting reel, and the ability to submit to unlimited casting notices. Well to do that, you have to upgrade to their premium option for $21.63 a month. That gets you unlimited photo uploads, the ability to upload reels and video clips, unlimited updates to your resume, a personalized URL to your resume, a searchable profile by casting directors and agents, and you have the ability to browse and apply to all of their casting notices.

So for a few months, I decided to pay for the premium version, so I could apply for notices and have more photos and details on my profile. Honestly, it wasn’t really working for me.

I was not getting any responses from all the notices I was submitting to. I would submit for music videos, shows, internet series, movies, short films, and I would get nothing back. I was getting pretty discouraged and I felt like I was wasting my money on the subscription when Central Casting offered me more opportunities and didn’t charge me.

But one night I was checking out what casting notices were up on LA Casting and I saw a post for people to play an extra called, “California Girl”, and it would film the next day. So I submitted to it, including my body measurements, a recent headshot, a full-body photo, and my contact info in a separate email.

After I sent all of that, a few hours later I got an email confirming my spot as military personnel for “Island Plaza”.

At first, I was confused about why I was sent military extra info but it turns out they were casting for the military but wanted some people to have a “California girl” look, so that’s why they posted that notice. I also found out after doing some googling that “Island Plaza” was the codename for Top Gun: Maverick.

The casting department emailed me everything I needed to wear, where and when I needed to be there, hair and makeup notes, everything. It said to wear black boots or black shoes, bring a black belt, wear conservative makeup and hair, and that the rest of your wardrobe would be provided.

So the next day I showed up to the location which is one of the stages at Paramount Pictures. There were about 200 extras there.

There were a lot of tables and chairs set up for everyone to sit and eat lunch, and the casting team was directing people to sign in according to their call times. There seemed to be 4 groups of different call times and I was one of the last groups. When I signed in, they gave me a packet to fill out, and then eventually I got back in line to turn in my packet and get fitted for wardrobe. You could only line up for wardrobe, after they’ve called the first letter of your last name, in order to keep everything organized. Then, they would assess which type of military extra you would be since there were different levels, different types of staff, and personnel you could be assigned different wardrobe.

Since my last name starts with an S, I was one of the last set of people to go through. I showed my documents to the casting lady and her without hesitation wrote maintenance on my paper and told me to head over to wardrobe.

Now, I'm not trying to hate on this lady or the movie, but I immediately felt like I was chosen to be a maintenance person because I was brown, and I wasn’t super happy about it but I didn’t feel like I could request another role because I was just a random extra.

So I walked over to wardrobe and showed them my paper that said “maintenance” on it, and after 20 mins, it turned out that they did not have a maintenance wardrobe that would fit me. All they had were several oversized jumpsuits that would definitely not fit me. They tried really hard to make something else work but they couldn’t. So they went back to the casting lady and she changed my character to something called “Dark Star”, which I’m not sure why it was called that, but it was basically an on-duty military extra.

I don’t think that the casting lady that suggested I be a maintenance extra was racist or ill-intended. I simply think that it is a result of underrepresentation in Hollywood, and minorities being repeatedly cast in stereotypical roles. Even as an extra, it matters. The only person that was cast as a maintenance person there was a black guy and I don’t think he was the only one that could fit in that maintenance suit. I think the perception of a maintenance worker or other service roles have been molded by previous decades of Hollywood and unfortunately I think that continues to influence casting decisions like the one here, even though we claim to be more progressive. And I’m not saying that people of color aren’t maintenance workers in real life, cause, of course, some are, but it is not exclusively people of color and Hollywood seems to not understand that.

Like I said before, I’m not trying to be an actor, but in the 3 extra roles, I’ve been cast for...

1. Was of an ICE detainee, where I was literally being processed for deportation,

2. Was of a Latina girl attending a Dia de Los Muertos festival, and

3. This one which was almost a maintenance worker, but got changed to a military extra.

The roles we play as leads and extras are limited, and I just wanted to clarify why it rubbed me the wrong way when she wrote “maintenance” on my paper.

So as a “Dark Star” extra, they didn’t really have a wardrobe for that either, which was an on-duty military wardrobe, so they tried to make something work by giving me a green cameo type bottom with a semi-casual button-up shirt. But eventually I was done with wardrobe and then we moved on to hair and makeup.

Hair and Makeup was a lot more intense than I experienced on other sets.

They had multiple stations where men were getting buzzcuts and shaved. I do know that the people that got their haircut did get more money, I can’t remember the exact amount but it was written on their voucher, which is all the details about your pay and time there, that they would get a bump for getting their haircut. On other sets, extras have gotten bumps in their pay for wardrobe or overnight shoots and being exposed to smoke. But that all depends if you are union or not, and if you are not, then it's up to the production to decide if they will give you a bump.

Once we were done with Hair and Makeup, a shuttle took us to a building 15 mins away to where we would be filming the scene. Now, I can’t give too much away, not that I really even know what this scene was in relation to the movie. As an extra, you have no idea what the script is, what the scene context really is or anything. They just plop you in a scene and tell you what to do. So I have no idea what this scene means, but I’m just going to be discreet, to not give anything away. But essentially we did get to film the scene with Tom Cruise.

Now, remember, there were probably 200 extras, and Tom Cruise smiled and said "Hi" to a ton of extras as he was going between takes.

He said “Thank you” to the extras for being there, for helping make the movie, for being patient, because throughout the entire scene, we were on our feet constantly. The scene took almost 5 hours to film and we were on our feet almost the entire time. And he was super nice in letting us all know that he appreciated us. That made me really like him. That is the first time I’ve seen any actor, especially an A-List actor interact with the extras like that. And the crew, he was being very kind to the camera crew who were trying to execute a difficult shot that required perfect timing from both the actors and the crew.

At one point I made eye-contact with Tom during the scene, and I really hope that makes it to the final cut. Honestly, you might not even see me in the final cut because there were so many extras, but Tom and I definitely had a moment whether you see it or not.

Once we were done, we got shuttled back to the holding area, changed out of our wardrobe, and were released. It was a pretty simple shoot and it was a great experience overall. It was my first time filming for a huge feature film, and I loved to see how the set operated.

That was the only time I was cast using LA Casting. After that, I had no more luck and canceled my membership and moved my focus elsewhere.

I think if you really want to work on getting cast as a lead or supporting role in LA, then having an acting profile with LA Casting should be something to look into, but if you are simply looking to be an extra, then it’s probably best to sign up for Central Casting, which is free to use and probably has a higher success rate.

The other extra roles I did were sourced from Central Casting, and it was a lot easier to book and confirm them.

I hope this was helpful and gave you some insight on LA Casting and being an extra on set. Let me know if you have any questions!

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