While you may be hired for the day as a stand-in on a production, there is a chance you’ll be used as a background actor as well. There are a few ways this typically happens.
On some jobs, you are hired as a background actor then “pulled” to stand in. Many people’s first time standing in is via this method. Casting may have given you advance notice that “you may be pulled to stand in,” and when you arrive to set, the background PA confirms whether you’re standing in that day. Usually this means a pay bump for you as a background actor up to stand-in rate, but it also means additional responsibilities for you for that day of work. Sometimes it means you just stand in that day and don’t do background, but that’s not usually the case.
On other jobs, you are hired as a stand-in but are expected to do double-duty as a background actor. In these cases, it is often the case that you are a “core” background actor in the production. For example, if the show is a hospital drama, in addition to being a stand-in, you also may be a core doctor or nurse. In the scenes in which you’re standing in, you may also be doing background work. As for pay, you are usually just paid as a stand-in, meaning you tend to work a bit harder when you’re a stand-in who is also a background actor. In this kind of gig, one of the challenges is that it can be hard to know what your principal actor changes in the blocking because you are busy working during the takes. From my experience, production is usually sympathetic to this kind of situation so they won’t typically give you a hard time if you miss a change in blocking.
On still other jobs, you are hired exclusively as a stand-in, but on rare occasion you are asked to do background work in an extenuating production situation. There may be not enough background actors; there may be a sudden hole in the background that needs to be filled; there may be a needed camera cross; etc. While these occasions are relatively rare for someone hired exclusively as a stand-in, they are generally part of the job description for a stand-in. That is, in general, doing occasional background work is part of the stand-in’s job.
That a stand-in can also be used as a background actor can put the stand-in-who’s-also-a-working-actor in a real bind. Although I stand in frequentliy, I regard myself as an actor first. Recently I had a great audition for the casting director of a TV show on which I do stand-in work. A day or so later, standing in on that set, I was told I may be used in the background for a scene because a background actor didn’t show. I suddenly had a conflict of interest! I told the background PA about my recent audition for the casting director that went well, and that if he could hide me should he use me, that would be ideal. The background PA sounded thrilled I’d had the audition and even accommodating of my request. Although I was never used in the background that day, I can’t expect all production people would be as accommodating in this kind of situation.
Audition or no, it is helpful to think of how a day of stand-in work may lead to background work, and that this aspect of standing in may conflict with future opportunities you may have for doing principal work on a production. It would probably be wise to think of background work as “a risk of standing in.” That is, when you take a stand-in job, you take responsibility for the possibility you could end up doing background work in that production and interfere with your future opportunities for roles on that production.
Do you have any thoughts on doing background work as a stand-in? Do you have an interesting arrangement with a production? If so, please share!