Ask Stand-In Central: Do I Need to Memorize the Lines?

By | 2012-12-10T21:51:25+00:00 December 12th, 2012|Ask Stand-In Central, Stories, Tips|1 Comment

Dear Stand-In Central,

Are stand-ins expected to know the lines of the actor for whom they’re standing in?

When handed sides, I highlight my character’s lines and try to learn them before each scene. On one project, I was told not to bother with lines at all. On another, it seemed like the director wanted to do some ad lib experimentation with me before bringing in the actor.

— Casey

Response from Ben Hauck

Fantastic question, Casey!  As you can probably expect, the general answer to your question of whether stand-ins are expected to know the lines of their first-team actor is “it depends,” but hopefully I can flesh that answer out a bit more for you based on my experiences as a stand-in.

I stand in in the New York City area, and from my experience rarely are stand-ins expected to know the lines of their first-team actor.  Much of my stand-in work involves simply standing in place for my actor or going through the blocking of my actor (that is, going through the point by point movements of my actor in the scene).  In most of these cases, the camera department and the director simply want to see the shot and don’t need to hear the words the actors speak.

At times it becomes important to be at least familiar with the lines.  For example, an actor may make a movement on a particular line, and it may prove helpful for the camera department to know what line comes before that movement to prepare for the respective camera coverage.  The camera department may ask you on what line the actor moved, in which case it is helpful to have an accurate reply.  This means it’s helpful to watch marking rehearsal and to know the timing of the lines with respect to the blocking so that you can answer such questions in the event you are asked.  If you don’t pay attention to the timing of the lines during marking rehearsal, it may slow down the setup of a shot as the camera department tries to figure it out from other sources.

Other times it is important to have a good sense of the lines.  Some sets may be a bit unpredictable when they want the stand-ins to read the lines.  In such a case, a prepared stand-in has his or her sides at the ready and is able to go through the lines when asked to do so.

Still other sets have a reputation of having the stand-ins read the lines in basically every scene.  One question you can ask at the beginning of your stand-in gig is whether the stand-ins are expected to read the lines.  Usually a great person to ask is a stand-in who looks to be comfortable and experienced on the set.  Introduce yourself, say that you’re standing in today, and say that you’re curious whether the production usually wants stand-ins to run the lines.  That answer should give you a sense of whether to prepare them or not.

As for actually running the lines, while some stand-ins may memorize them and be largely off book, it probably is professionally appropriate to be largely off book but still on book a bit.  You probably don’t want to have your head down and in the sides when you are asked to read them, though looking down every once and awhile to read from the sides is generally okay.

Each stand-in job is different so let each job dictate what you should do.  But hopefully the above reply will help you figure out a general approach. All in all, if you choose to work as a stand-in who memorizes lines, I see no harm in doing so, and you probably keep yourself professionally in “top form.”

Response from Sara DeRosa

Hi Casey! Thanks for writing in to SIC!

I liked your question a lot because the answer is different from set to set. I hope I can give you some perspective based on what I have experienced working on sets in New York City.

The most common situation I have encountered on sets is that stand-ins are not asked to read their actor’s lines during second-team rehearsals. However, you are almost always required to perform the blocking that your actor does in the scene. You are off to a great start by reading the scene beforehand and highlighting your actor’s lines. During the first-team rehearsal, you should make notes about your actor’s blocking. If she sits, stands, or walks on a certain line, jot that down in the margins on your sides.

If you are asked to read the lines during second-team rehearsals, you are usually not required to memorize the lines completely. But it does help to be familiar with the dialogue so you can look up and show your face. Also, hold your sides to the side so they are not blocking your face if you need to look at them.

I have heard of one rare situation on a film in which all stand-ins were required to memorize their actor’s lines completely. However, they were emailed the sides the night before in order to give them adequate time to prepare. This was at the request of the director who liked to do many rehearsals and work out the blocking with the stand-ins. Reading lines may also be requested by the camera operators so they can see how the blocking matches up with the dialogue. Also, the sound department may ask you to read the lines so they can check the sound levels.

My advice would be to seek out a regular stand-in when you are getting settled in on a new set and ask the stand-in what the norm is there as far as reading lines during second-team rehearsals. Continue to prepare the way you have been with reading and highlighting your sides, and take notes about blocking during the rehearsal. Use your downtime during shooting to look ahead and become familiar with the scenes scheduled to shoot later in the day so you will be ready for anything. Good luck!

What have been your experiences with lines and standing in?  Share your tips and experiences in the comments 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.

One Comment

  1. Kelly March 10, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    I’m a Los Angeles stand-in and I would say that the need to memorize lines really depends on what the camera operators and the set/director prefer, It also depends on the scene.

    If you are filming a scene where your actor is sitting at a table and never leans or moves a great deal, then the camera operator and focus puller won’t need to make a lot of adjustments during filming so it’s unlikely they will want you to read through the lines for their benefit.

    If, on the other hand, you actor is moving a lot, walking across the room, kisses another character, and reaches down for something, etc – be prepared you may need to read through the scene and go through the blocking with the camera department. It helps to be mostly off book for this, so you’re not looking down the entire time.

    Some directors like to rehearse and set up shots with second team. Sam Raimi is famous for this and his stand-ins are emailed sides before hand so they can be completely off book. I have heard he also desires a fair amount of acting experience. I know he has rewarded good stand-ins with lines in his films as well.
    Try to get a feel on the set, and ask fellow stand-ins if your director likes you to read the lines.

    Also be prepared to abbreviate lines. If you actor stands at mark #1 and says a whole long monologue, but then walks to mark #2 and says something, then mark #3. Be prepared to shorten the monologue to your the sentence or so before your actor moves to mark #2, occasionally as you go through blocking multiple times camera departments like to just here the line the actor moves on and what line they “land” on.

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