Recently I came across a very amazing opportunity to do some temporary stand-in work for a television show pilot in Vancouver, which gave me a wonderful view into the other side of being on set in film making. The former side being acting, of which I am all too familiar with.
First off, what does is mean to be a stand-in?
When the film crew is setting up a shot, they need to make sure the lighting, camera angles, props, etc. are all perfect so they end up with the look they want. This can be a tedious task sometimes as the D.O.P (director of photography) requests a multitude of different lighting situations just so he can decide which one is best, or any other situation which could slow things down (which there are an infinite number of possibilities for). All this needs to be done with the actors in the shot, because they need to be able to see how the whole picture looks. Because the actors are of such high importance, the film industry these days doesn’t make the actual actors do all this standing around waiting for the scene to be ready to shoot, they bring in people that look like the actors and have them do the standing. That’s all these people do, look like and stand in for the actors, hence the name “Stand-in”.
I was only on set for four days, and I worked ridiculous and long hours (One day we started at 8 pm and worked until 6 am. Another day we started at 10 am and finished and 2 am) but it was just so much fun. I loved being able to meet and talk to the different crew members, I even met a guy who’s from my home town a province away, which is incredibly rare! Being a stand-in allows you to learn a great deal about what else goes into creating a scene other than acting and that is very valuable. That’s information for another day though.
How to be a good Stand-in
Stand-in work can be long a boring, with hours of waiting before you actually get to do anything, but that doesn’t mean you can slack off and stop paying attention. At any moment, they could decide they need you, so you need to be aware of what they’re filming at all times. If they call “Second Team”, that’s you and all the other stand-ins and you need to be on set five minutes ago (not actually, but they don’t want to have to call for second team more than once). “First Team” is the main actors. You need to be there when the actors are blocking the shot with the directors, D.O.P, etc. so you can see where they move as you will be expected to copy their movements. Don’t talk to the crew members when they’re working and distract them from their jobs. There will always be moments when someone near you is waiting for their next task and maybe then you can strike up a conversation if the scene isn’t rolling, otherwise they really don’t like it if you get in the way. You’re main goal is usually to impress the D.O.P, s/he fundamentally decides if you’re good enough for the spot. If the D.O.P thinks your hair is the wrong color and affecting lighting, you won’t be asked to come back. There’s also the usual things: don’t show up late, be courteous, and even when the A.D. (Assistant Director) or D.O.P. is breathing fire down everyone’s neck, do the best job you can do.
The summary of how to be a good stand-in is here.