Colombia is a film producer’s dream. Need a jungle? Check. Two oceans? Check. Mountains? Check. Historic architecture and modern cities? Double check. The last decade has seen film production increase significantly in the Land of El Dorado. The reasons for this can be attributed not only to the country’s geographic diversity but also to its weather and improved security situation. What this has meant for foreigners is work. Extra work.
If a foreigner is thinking about making a career as a TV or film extra (or actor) in Colombia, the first step is to register with as many casting agencies as possible. I recommend starting with the Rudiger Kunze Casting Agency (for its prompt payment and en- thusiasm for the industry). At this point, keep your phone close, as a good relationship with Rudi—and other casting agencies—will likely result in casting calls.
The typical casting call involves showing up at the audition location and memorizing lines. Information about extra work is usually sent out the night before via a brief text message and/or email. A typical message might read: “Recording for Capo 3, tomorrow 9 am, CARRERA 50 No.7-77.”
And if you are hired, you will likely find yourself portraying a stereotype: a bouncer, cop, ex-prisoner, stripper, luggage handler, foreign businessman, embassy employee or former military. “My best advice is, if you really want to do it (extra work), forget about any sense of pride, dignity and Western critical thinking,” a former Dutch actor living in Colombia said.
Being an extra on a TV or film set sounds exciting, but most of the day – about eight hours on set – is spent standing in line, whether it be waiting to be added to the time sheet, to get your wardrobe, to eat, to use the Port-a-Potty. Then work: You will likely be on camera for 20 seconds (opening a door for a Colombian actor playing a lawyer), at which point you return to standing in line. This time for your money at the end of filming.
A tip for the more ambitious foreign actors would be to use the long hours of standing in line as a networking opportunity. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to print up some business cards with your photo, name and contact information to hand out to other actors as well as directors while on the set.
A foreigner can easily find the pros, rather than the cons – standing in line – of working as an extra. One, the job can easily be (and probably preferably) done while slightly intoxicated. Two, a foreigner working as an extra needs nothing in the way of work visas, a Colombian bank account or a RUT. Three, speaking Spanish is not a requisite.
It all sounds so glamorous, doesn’t it? The most success, however, seems to be reserved for one type. “Foreign white guys who look like cops or ex-marines will always have a solid future in the movie and TV business in Colombia,” said Pádraig Victor Ciarán Sweeney, an actor from Ireland. “Foreign white males with glasses, a concave chest and unable to grow a mustache have no business working as extras in Colombia.”
Some minor roles even include dialogue. “I’ve had basic lines, but nothing terribly complicated: a few in English and one time in Spanish” said Brendan Corrigan, an Irish actor turned teacher turned actor.
According to 56-year-old German extra Andre Tille, on his maiden voyage into acting, he was given four lines. “My character was a parody on how American businessmen conduct negotiations in Colombia,” recounted Tille. “My lines were comical. My first line was supposed to convey my impatience with my co-star’s poor English: ‘I am very annoying, I cannot know anything about business until the manager Ambres Perriera attends us.’”
The difference between being a foreign extra in Colombia versus a Colombian one is the pay and the number of work opportunities. Foreign extras can expect to be paid around $100,000 pesos a day (and receive it the same day) whereas Colombians must usually wait 30 days after filming for their daily rate of $30,000. Foreigners also have access to a lot more exotic work just based on the fact that they are in shorter supply than local extras and actors.
“Some foreign people have managed to get roles in the likes of National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad,” said Corrigan. “They seem to shoot in Colombia quite regularly. The pay and treatment in those are much better, but the opportunities are few and far between.” Pay for extra and acting work varies based on what you do. “The pay for being a standard extra rarely gets higher than $120,000 pesos,” states Corrigan.
Once you have made a few key contacts, you can have pretty consistent work as an extra. Although there is no guarantee that this will lead to being invited to pool parties with Colombian models, you will most likely be able to cover most of your food and living expenses during your stay in Colombia.