I am from Britain, have a university education in film and have been on film sets. Sometimes a director will just... give an extra a line right then and there. It amazes me how aggressive people can get regarding topics they have zero knowledge about. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed
it has nothing to do with 'individual contracts'
It has everything
to do with their contract with the studio!? That's how the industry like.... works?
Look, I don't know anything about the film industry in Great Britain. But with regards to the US film industry, what you are saying is just factually wrong.
There is a very important, very clearly defined, and very strongly enforced distinction between an "extra" and a "day player" or any other actor with even so much as one line of dialogue. An extra is expressly prohibited
, by contact between the studios and the union (SAG), from having any dialogue what-so-ever. That is what makes an extra an extra. At least in the United States. That's why they're allowed to be paid much less than any other type of actor.
If a director were to do as you suggest, and decide on-set to give an extra a line of dialogue, it would necessarily result in a change of their status and require paying a higher rate for their services. It's considered "upgrading" the background actor.
I linked to the Wikipedia article because it is a simple, clear, concise summary of a lot of legalese. But if you want a more concrete source, here is the complete text of the SAG Basic Agreement that is signed by all signatory studios -- all 1,022 pages of it:
Extras/background performers are rather clearly defined in it. Of particular interest is this excerpt from page 206, which covers the fact that it is prohibited for extras to speak lines written in the script:
Except as above provided, no background actor hired as such may be employed for script lines on location; and no background actor hired as such may be employed for script lines for work at the studio on the same day as the day on which he was employed as a background actor.
And then this excerpt, from further down the same page, which covers the situation you describe -- a director giving an extra a line that wasn't originally in the script:
A background actor hired as such may speak non-script lines, in which case the background actor shall be signed off as a background actor and employed as a day performer.
In other words, if I make up a line on the spot that I want in the scene, and give it to an extra, the extra now legally becomes a day player and must be paid as such. If the line was originally in the script, I can't ever give it to an extra unless there are extraordinary circumstances, such as a previously hired actor not showing up for work, because I'm expected to have hired appropriately-compensated actors ahead of time for everything in the script.
And, FWIW, as of the date of this post, the minimum daily rate for a day player in television is $872. The minimum daily rate for a background actor is $150. So, yeah, the distinction makes a big difference.