Their role is to be invisible, fading into the background so as not to detract themselves from the scenes of the main actors and adding context to each shot, bringing a restaurant or city street to life that would otherwise be eerily barren. But now background players may be completely gone.
The context acting group is bracing for potential collapse in the aftermath of COVID-19, already challenged by the innovation of special effects that produce computer-generated crowds.
Guidelines for actors
Several lists of guidelines for secure sets have been issued or leaked from the Australian Neighbors, Sweden and Denmark, Tyler Perry, Film Florida and Warner Bros TV show. Among others, over the past couple of weeks. One thing they all have in common: effectively removing audience scenes as well as drastically decreasing. Or even replacing the number of background actors with crew members already on the stage.
The purpose of all the new rules is to restrict the number of employees that are in touch with critical workers. “This makes background actors among the most disadvantaged communities,” says Rick Markman, a 20-plus-year veteran background actor and former chair of the SAG-AFTRA Sub-Committee on Background Actors Awareness & Outreach, L.A. Local.
Although the background actors barely spoken about, they serve an essential role, Mark-man contends. “It’s the Supporting Character who fills the arenas for athletic matches and festivals. We’re dining in restaurants and coffee shops. We’re shopping in department outlets. Also we’re celebrating weddings and funerals. We’re the pavement footmen,” he states. “Background performers, in particular. Make up the audience scenes that relay the truth of life to tv shows and feature films.”
According to the Film Florida trade association’s latest safety guidelines. Productions have to be “carefully consider the amount of extras”. And also “Have ample space and tables and chairs for extras holding areas to ensure social distance.”