Balancing work as an actor and a stand-in is an ongoing challenge. Recently, I was fortunate enough to book a couple of roles in front of the camera … and I have been successful in my balancing act! I realized how much stand-in work has helped me when I step onto set as an actor, and I wanted to share my experiences.
Knowing What It’s Like to Be on a Set
One of the most important ways that stand-in work has prepared me to work as an actor has been gaining the experience of knowing what it’s like to be right in the middle of a TV or film set.
One of my latest gigs was on a television show that films here in New York City. On my last day, we worked in the studio. Since I am used to being around lots of equipment and crew people, everything was familiar to me, and I automatically felt comfortable on set. Instead of being distracted or overwhelmed by what was going on around me, I was able to focus on what I needed to do in the scene.
Also, by watching the crew members work, I was able to easily identify the roles of the different people on set. This helped me direct questions to the appropriate crew members (for example, asking a person from the sound department about putting foam on my high heels to reduce the noise I’d make while walking).
Knowing Where to Be out of the Way
In one of my scenes, I played an assistant in an office with three other actors. My action was to pour tea for my boss at her desk, then walk around the desk and out of the office. Since the scene continued after my exit, I had to find a spot on set to stand where I was off camera, not blocking any lights, and out of the way of the camera’s path. (The camera, mounted on a dolly, moved during the scene.)
Because we filmed the scene from several angles, each time I had to find a different spot to stand off camera. Throughout the different setups, I realized that from stand-in work I had developed a good instinct of where I had to stand to be in a safe place. I also knew I had to tiptoe when I was out of the shot so I wouldn’t continue to make noise while walking in my high heels.
Knowing How to Handle Continuity
During the scene, I was pouring tea from a teapot into a cup with a saucer, and setting them both on the desk. After every take, the tea had to be poured out into a bucket, the teapot had to be refilled, and the cup, saucer, and spoon needed to be reset in their original positions. I remembered on my own how everything was placed and could have reset it all myself; however, I knew that it was the job of the props department to handle this, to ensure the continuity of the props’ positions.
After we turned around to the final angle, I arrived to set and took my mark. It had been adjusted slightly, but I understood that the camera operators had to change my positioning due to the new angle. I then saw that there was a large light completely blocking my exit path! I knew that I still had to exit the same way for continuity in the scene. I needed to ask about where to make my exit, but I saw that the ADs were busy. From my stand-in experience, I knew the other appropriate person I should ask was the DP. He, too, understood about the importance of continuity in the scene, and he helped me find a safe way to exit the scene that would look correct for camera.
Knowing to Find Camera
Later in the week, I worked as an actor on a film. I played the Maid of Honor in a wedding scene. I was holding a bouquet of flowers, and in the scene I had to rummage through my purse to pull out money.
When it came time to do my coverage, I looked at the small monitor attached to the side of the camera to see how much of my body would be in the shot. When I saw that the shot was from my waist up, I knew to handle my props high enough so that the camera could see I was looking through my purse.
From my experience standing in, I knew I might be able to see the monitor from my mark to get this information. If not, I knew I could have asked the director or the camera operator how wide the shot was (though it was better for me to see it myself). In the end, the camera operator assured me that the height of my props was good for capturing my action with the purse, and it matched the other shots for continuity.
Forgetting for a Moment I’m an Actor, Not a Stand-In!
After a few takes, the director asked me to exit the frame. Since I had not done this in other takes, I asked which way I should walk off.
This comes up sometimes when I am standing in. If the actor did not exit in the rehearsal and I do not know which way I should go, I point in the direction I assume most logical and wait to hear from the director or the camera operator if I am correct, then proceed to walk out of frame.
When filming this wedding scene, out of habit, I took this same approach. The director asked me to walk out; while rolling I asked “Which way?,” pointed in the direction I thought, and exited. Then he asked me to do it again, this time without asking which way! I laughed, along with the director and the crew. I realized that I had done that a thousand times while standing in–but I had to do it a little differently while working as actor on camera!
Although I may have been thinking more like a stand-in than an actor in that moment, I feel as if stand-in experience helped me in this situation because I was thinking about the technical aspects of the scene, and I knew it was important to know which way I should exit the frame.
Stand-In Work Helped My Acting Work
I had awesome experiences working on these sets. I met many talented actors, directors, and crew people. Everyone in each department was so helpful to me, and they all came together to make these projects great. I am so grateful to work as an actor, and to have stand-in experiences that help me in my career.
How has stand-in work helped you as an actor? Have you developed habits while standing in that need to be adjusted when you are working as an actor? Comment below!