STEVE INSKEEP, host:
That said, many States do want to become backdrops for movies. And if they succeed, unemployed people may line up to become extras, faces in the crowd onscreen. They almost never speak on camera, but some make a pretty good living, which explains some long lines for work in the capital of the movie industry. People are lining up at Hollywood's Central Casting, where anybody can register as an extra.
Anthea Raymond reports.
ANTHEA RAYMOND: In an industrial park in Burbank, California, at least 100 people are standing in line, some for hours, as aspiring extras do every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
(Soundbite of crowd)
Unidentified Man #1: Are you signing up for the first time?
Unidentified Man #2: I am.
Unidentified Man #1: What are we doing? First time? Well, welcome to Central Casting.
Unidentified Man #2: Thank you, sir.
RAYMOND: They won't audition. They won't pull out their head shots. They'll just pay their 25 bucks, and they're an extra.
Mr. ALAN PERLESTEIN (Veteran Extra, Hollywood Central Casting): This is the only job that all you need is a Social Security number and a pulse. They don't ask what we did before. Okay, people who get out of jail can do this. Anyone can do it. The thing is is how bad you want it.
RAYMOND: Veteran extra Alan Perlestein is in line next to Keyonna Patterson. She's signing up for the first time. Seven months ago, she moved from Indianapolis to L.A. to be an actress.
Ms. KEYONNA PATTERSON (Actress): This is kind of like a stepping stone, and I've heard a lot about Central Casting. I've heard it was great. So I might as well get in there and try it.
RAYMOND: Patterson does not want to be an extra forever. She wants a speaking part in an A-list film soon. But for now, she'll take this job where she brings her own costume and makes just $64 a day. Sure, extra work isn't only about the money. But lately, extra cash has been on the minds of newcomers. Jennifer Bender is a vice president at Central Casting.
Ms. JENNIFER BENDER (Vice President, Central Casting): A lot of people are getting laid off. So we have quite a variety of people coming in, looking for ways to make extra money, and, you know, it's a good way to supplement their income until they can figure out what they're going to do with their next career.
RAYMOND: Bender says Central Casting is flooded in every recession, and new signups are up 10 percent from a year ago. And Bender says production is way down, so there are fewer jobs than ever. But 48-year-old Michael Pierce(ph) says he's busy. Pierce flew a commuter plane for a Delta Contractor until a year ago.
Mr. MICHAEL PIERCE (Pilot, Delta Contractor): Well I think it just got slow. The airlines are always, you know, cutting back. And my direct boss died, and they canceled his contracts. And I've flown for them for so long, to transition at my age to one of the majors would - I - you know, it's just not possible.
RAYMOND: Pierce had always wanted to try acting, and he says it helps to be older. There's less competition for parts as judges, teachers and attorneys. Tony Young makes a lot of his income as an extra. He says he counted on a regular gig at the primetime series, �Grey's Anatomy.�
Mr. TONY YOUNG (Extra, �Grey's Anatomy�): Lately, I've been noticing - I've been calling no more regularly than normal and getting almost nothing. And I think a lot of it has to do with, you know, there's too many people out there.
RAYMOND: Young says few will have the drive and discipline to stay in the game. Central Casting estimates that even in good times, nine out of every 10 new extras don't last a year.
For NPR News, I'm Anthea Raymond in Los Angeles.