What The Heck Is a ‘Pencil’?

Posted by Indiana - 21 Feb 2022
What really is a 'pencil?' Great question! Learning the lingo in a new environment can be confusing

When you get started in the world of the Supporting Artiste (also known as an Extra), there might be a few terms thrown into conversation that you’re not yet familiar with. 

One that we find gets the most heads scratching is the term pencil’.   

So, we thought that we’d look at exactly what it means to receive a ‘pencil’ in a little more depth, and then go one step even further by looking at how receiving said ‘pencil’ slots into the casting process on the whole.  

It’s of utmost importance to us that you feel comfortable navigating the process, so we’ve put together something of supporting artiste flowchart so you can understand each step in the chain, and as a result, approach your journey to working in the Film & TV industry with confidence.  

Great – so let’s dive in.  

After you’ve come aboard the good ship Uni-versal Extras, you’ll likely find that your journey follows a specific path, passing through 5 key stages… 



Now, let’s look at each of these stages in a bit more detail…


1. Availability Check 

This check will likely come in one of 2 ways: an SMS text message, or an email survey. The former is a straightforward text checking your availability on the days the production company would need you; the second is a little more thorough and will involve a handful of questions for you to answer. 

PLEASE NOTE: In exceptional cases, this initial check may also come in the form of a quick phone call. It’s rarer, but can happen from time to time. Make sure you’ve got our number saved in your phone just in case!

You’ll only be contacted for an availability check if a role has come up that we believe you might fit the bill for. Great news. This means that you’re a match for the basic criteria on a casting brief and some Film & TV work may be in the pipeline. 

An availability text looks a lot like this… 


When you receive a text like this, that’s your cue to reply with the reference word provided (in the above case, ‘SPATULA) as soon as you know that you’re available.  

At this point, it’s important to note that you’re notbookedorpencilled; it’s just to let us know that you are 1) free for the dates in question and 2) available and interested in working on those days. 

Once you’ve sent a reply to an availability text, your response will go into a queue for our Casting Team to call you back. 

At this point, you are not expected to keep the dates in question free and will hear from us shortly if you need to set these dates aside. Remember that some roles won’t require a high volume of supporting artistes, so for your best chance at success, speed is truly the name of the game. 


2. Pencilled 

There’s that term again.  

Pencilled is a phrase that we use to signal that you’re a great fit for a role we’re looking at, and we’d like to put you forward as an applicant by passing your details to the production company.  

At this stage, you can think of it as being placed on ‘hold’ and you should now make sure to keep all of the dates discussed absolutely free. That means all listed filming dates and listed non-performance dates for things such as COVID testing, rehearsals and costume fittings. 

If you’ve been contacted by one of the team and told you’ve been ‘pencilled’, that means that we’re compiling your information as we speak to submit you to the final decision-makers. 

Which leads us to… 


3. Sent to Production 

After being pencilled, your information (such as measurements, headshots, skillsets etc.) gets compiled and sent across to the production company themselves.

Productions take great care to ensure that each and every artiste selected will be a perfect fit for the universe they are building on screen, so this is their chance to ensure they have the right ‘looks’ for their production brief.  Sadly, this means not all pencils progress to the next stage.… we hate this just as much as you!  

Do bear in mind that, sometimes, productions require just 1 or 2 artistes, so please don’t be discouraged if you do not progress to stage 4 of the casting process.  

Once we have received the greenlight from production, we will then confirm your participation or release you from a project. If you’re released, we’ll immediately start to try and match you to the next available role that fits your availability, look, skills and measurements! 

You can really help by making sure your profile is in tip-top shape by updating your measurements regularly, as well as reviewing and renewing your photos often, so that they accurately represent your current look, and/or reflect the requirements of any recent Job’s Board posts! 


4. Booked

Congratulations – you’ve cruised through to step 4. That means that you’ve successful gone from pencilled to a big green tick, and a production company has seen you, loved you, and wants you to be a part of their production.  

From there on out, we’ll make sure you know all of the important details – such as location, call time and parking, etc. – and you will have the opportunity to ask any additional questions so that you can step onto set with confidence. 

As is the wonderful world of cinema, changes can be made right up until the eleventh hour. Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean that cancellations crop up even as late as that transition between stages 4 and 5 (trust us, it’s frustrating for us, too!) It helps to just bear this in mind until you… 


5. Arrive on Set

You’ve arrived! Now it’s just time to do what you do best.  

Lights, camera… ACTION! 


Still got some quibbles about the casting journey? We’d be more than happy to answer them! Reach us anytime on info@universalextras.co.uk!