by Lou Mancinelli
Ever wonder how anyone becomes a paid “extra” in TV shows and movies? Wonder no more.
Sandra Carr, a Chestnut Hill resident, will teach “Getting Paid as a TV Extra,” Saturday, May 18, 10 a.m. to noon, and Saturday, June 8, noon to 2 p.m., on behalf of the Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT) at the Lutheran Seminary, 7301 Germantown Ave.
The May class will focus on helping beginners find work and will feature Carr’s 10 tips to being cast. The June class will help those in attendance learn how to fill out an online profile for a casting network site.
When Carr, 49, first acquainted herself with the world of performing, she was unemployed and had hardly ever acted. Six months later she had landed roles as a background actress on television shows like “Law and Order: SVU” and “Political Animals” and two major motion pictures, one starring Ben Stiller, the other, Morgan Freeman.
It all seems to have happened simply by Carr registering with major casting agencies, responding to their calls and possessing, or at least giving off, a certain attitude and style. “If you’re available, and they are looking for a certain type of person,” said Carr, “you can make as much as you want.”
It started for her in June, 2011, when Carr was laid off from her job as director of development at the Sunshine Foundation, an organization that works to grant the wishes of seriously ill, handicapped and abused children. “I wasn’t surprised by it,” said Carr. “It happens.”
It had happened to her before in her career. She’d worked hard since graduating from Indiana State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After school she worked for a year in South Bend, Ind., as a reporter “but was so distraught by the experience that I quit trying to be a writer.”
She tried television and worked in the marketing arm of the industry. But in 1992, she moved from South Bend back to her hometown of Gary, Ind. There she worked for six years as a medical social service assistant before deciding to attend graduate school.
She earned her master’s degree in integrated marketing communication from Roosevelt University in Chicago in 1999. During school she worked for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. At the turn of the century, she moved to California, where she worked for four years for a non-profit organization.
In 2004 she left west for east, moved to Chestnut Hill and came to work for the Center for Responsible Funding (CRF) in Philadelphia. In 2006 she was promoted to executive director, and through the agency, which is associated with City of Philadelphia, she eventually managed the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn’s Way Campaign with United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
After two years as executive director she left CRF and worked as director of the Brain Hurricane, an after-school program for at-risk children. Then, in the fall of 2009, she volunteered as a consultant to help the Mt Airy Learning Tree develop its capital campaign. Carr started with the Sunshine Foundation in January 2010.
When she saw an ad for MALT’s acting class, she said “I’m not working. Let’s do something fun.” She took the class in the fall of 2011. That’s when her teacher mentioned Actor’s Best, a casting agency in New York. She got her headshots and registered. She also registered with Central Casting, which does casting for some CBS shows.
Carr now receives alerts from Central Casting that are specific in their descriptions. They want a tall or short individual who is athletic or not, or in the case of Carr, they are looking for a business person. The ads describe what colors to wear.
Her suggestions include taking inventory of all your skills. Some ads are looking for people who jog, do yoga or sing. If anything, Carr thinks working as a background actor can help one learn how different aspects of a TV show or movie are shot. And as an extra, she has yet to interact with a celebrity.
Still, it was a fun period for Carr, who started a full-time job last June at The American College in Bryn Mawr. But she has had her “15 minutes of fame” and has been paid for it.
For more information, visit www.mtairylearningtree.org or call 215-843-6333.