In an effort to understand those who go to Hollywood to break into the television and film industry, I spent nearly three months researching background actors. My primary focus is to show why background actors believe doing background work is the first step to acting, how this is a false assumption, and the resulting social interaction between crew, actors, and background actors.
The primary scholarly documents to which I will reference are by Goffman and his theories of social interaction. Albeit, the focus of my research is unique in its genesis as an anthropological survey of background actors in the television and film industry. Most of my theory comes from detailed interactions between myself, background actors, crew, and actors. My research aims to give voice to the silent—quite literally, as background actors do not speak in production.
My methodology involves heavy participant observation as my research led me to work on over 15 television and film sets. I worked alongside background actors, actors, and crew. In addition to working on sets, I interviewed 106 background actors. I also interviewed a minimum of 10 actors with the intent of determining their perception of background actors. In addition to primary data collected, I also have a wealth of information curated from online articles, online reviews of casting agencies, and personal blogs.
The goal of this paper is to provide a rich narrative of the challenges of pursuing one of the earliest vestiges of the American dream: becoming a star. Through personal narrative and interviews with background actors I will show the grit and optimism required to succeed. A major theme throughout the discourse is understanding the social interactions between “classes”. The treatment of silent or unnoticed workers is not unique to the television and film industry. Speaking for those who rarely get a chance, I seek to give greater insight into the magic of social interaction in the setting of film and television.