What It Means for the Background Actor When Being “Pulled to Stand In”

By | 2017-03-31T14:28:09+00:00 March 29th, 2017|Concepts, Debates, Lessons, Stories, Terminology|0 Comments

So, you’re working as a background actor on a film or television set.  You show up to work. As you check in, the background PA says, “We may pull you to stand in.” What?

Or, maybe background casting said something to that effect when booking you: “You’re our pull for utility stand-in.” Huh?

What does it mean when you are a “pull”? Here is some insight the next time you work as a background actor on set and you hear the word “pull.”

What a “Pull” Is

When you are working on SAG-AFTRA film or television set, there may be people there who were booked as stand-ins. They were booked on the job primarily to stand in for one or several different actors working that day.

In addition, there may be people who were booked as background actors. Of those people, casting may have marked some of them on the skins as “pull.” This means that casting has recommended these background actors to be used also as stand-ins for other actors in the event production needs more stand-ins than booked.

Essentially, being a “pull” means you’re someone production may want to pull from the group of background actors to also use as a stand-in.

What a Pull Is Paid

What you are primarily paid depends on how you were booked by casting.

If casting booked you as a stand-in, then when you show up to work, your base rate should be that of a stand-in whether or not you work that day as a stand-in. If you were booked as a stand-in, but if you were only used as a background actor and never stood in, you have a case for being paid as a stand-in for the day nonetheless — because that is how you were explicitly booked. (It may help to have proof that casting explicitly booked you as a stand-in in the event there is any confusion.)

If casting booked you as a background actor, then when you show up to work, your base rate should be that of a background actor.  If production used you to stand in, then once you started doing stand-in work, then you should be paid as a stand-in for the day.

Now, if casting booked you as a background actor and said “you’re our pull to stand in,” then when you show up to work, your base rate should be primarily that of a background actor, not of a stand-in. Your rate will not go up to stand-in rate until production actually uses you to stand in.

In other words, the word “pull” implies the possibility of standing in and is not a guarantee that you are standing in. So, if casting says you’re being pulled to stand in, when you show up to work, expect to make the background rate for the day unless you actually do get to stand in — in which case, you have achieved stand-in rate.

Ben's Tip!

Usually there is no controversy about whether you did do stand-in work in such a case. Recently, a SAG-AFTRA field representative affirmed the union’s policy is to say you are technically working as a “stand-in” if you stand on a mark. However, that definition of “stand-in” is not explicit in any collective bargaining agreement, and it is definitely arguable.

It is Stand-In Central’s opinion that stand-in work begins once you are required to watch an actor during marking rehearsal because you are spending time no longer as a background actor and instead doing the work required of someone paid at a higher rate. Should you file a claim inquiry to be paid as a stand-in, prepare to fight for your claim and to argue that the union’s definition of “stand-in” is neither explicitly stated in any collective bargaining agreement nor consistent with the actual work expectations of stand-ins. Furthermore, in watching a rehearsal, you were separated from the background actors to do work expected of stand-ins, so you were doing work of a higher classification.

Why the Semantics about “Pull”?

Recently on a job, casting checked my availability to stand in on a project. The next day, another casting director on the project gave me my details saying that I was a background actor and “our pull for utility stand-in.” Given my read of this, and given how I originally had my availability checked to stand in, I expected to stand in and be paid at the stand-in rate when I showed up to work. (Inevitably, I was not used as a stand-in as they gave that work to another background actor, and so I ended up being paid as a background actor rather than as a stand-in.)

When I consulted with the union rep on the job, he disagreed that I should be paid at the stand-in rate. The union rep stressed that being listed as a “pull” is not a guarantee of stand-in work. Instead, it means “possible stand-in work.” Despite my argument that the word “possible” was not in the message from casting, and despite my case that casting originally checked my availability to stand in, the union rep explained that “possible” is implied by the term “pull,” so “our pull for stand-in” should be interpreted more explicitly as “our possible pull for stand-in.”

To avoid any confusion in the future, the union rep recommended asking casting at the time of booking if you are being booked as a background actor or as a stand-in. That answer essentially explains what rate you are being paid when you report to work.

Later, I asked another union rep for her take on the situation, and her answer was essentially the same: that “pull” implies “possible stand-in work,” which means the stand-in rate is not guaranteed upon reporting to work.

“Double Duty”

Background actors who are pulled to stand in sometimes have it harder than regular background actors and regular stand-ins. This is because many times stand-ins pulled from background also have to do stand-in work during the scenes they are also doing background work. This is often called “doing double duty.”

While the union has been known to discourage productions from having background actors stand in during the scenes in which they appear on camera, the practice is common. When you are pulled to stand in, it may be hard to fully do stand-in work in that you cannot observe changes in your actor’s performance while you are also in a scene with that actor.

Should production ask you questions about what your actor did or where our actor stood in a scene, simply explain “I was on camera during that setup so I couldn’t see.” That should be an appropriate defense for not knowing where exactly your actor stood or what your actor did. We’ve also shared other tips before on handling stand-in work while also going background work.

Doing double duty can also make it hard for you to take breaks in that often when you are done doing background work, you then immediately are needed to do stand-in work. In the case you need a break to, say, go to the restroom, request it from the 2nd 2nd AD. Productions are supposed to grant you breaks every two hours, and that may inadvertently go overlooked if you are doing double duty. So, if you are on set longer than that without a break, and if you need a break, assert yourself.

Conclusion

Being pulled to stand in is a great way for background actors to get experience working as a stand-in. That said, if you are marked as a “pull,” that does not guarantee you are working at the stand-in rate.

If you’re confused at the time of booking, ask casting how you are being booked in order to determine your base rate. Of course, if you are booked as a background actor and are pulled to stand in, you will experience an increase in your base rate. But that only happens when you actually work as a stand-in.

Also, if casting tells you you may be pulled to stand in, brace yourself for doing double duty. It may end up being a harder or longer day of background work for you in light of the extra responsibility!

What has been your experience being pulled to stand in? Share our experiences below!

About the Author:

Ben Hauck (Editor, Stand-In Central) has stood in on a number of projects shot in the NYC area. In addition to day-playing, he has stood in on major projects for John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Jason Bateman (The Longest Week, Disconnect, and The Switch), Jason Sudeikis (Sleeping with Other People), Seth Rogen (The Night Before), and Peter Facinelli (Nurse Jackie and American Odyssey). Ben is an actor and improviser, author of the 2012 book Long-Form Improv (Allworth Press), and host of The Acting Income Podcast. http://benhauck.com

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