When standing in on a television or film project, the actor you stand in for may at some point be involved in stunt work in a scene. She may be performing the stunt herself or she may have a stunt double doing some or all of the stunt work. As a stand-in for the actor, you may or may not be used to stand in for the shot depending on the complexity of the stunt.
After recently standing in on an action-adventure film, I worked many days when stunts were being performed. I learned a lot about what may or may not be asked of a stand-in when being used on a stunt day. Because stunt days are something that stand-ins may not come across very often, I wanted to share some advice based on my experiences and what I have learned. Here are some things to be aware of when standing in on days when stunt work is being done.
What is considered a stunt?
A stunt can be anything from an actor tripping and falling to an actor flying through the air with a harness attached to her. Fight scenes and car crashes are also stunts. Even situations where there is general danger — such as standing on the roof of a building or near a fire — may be considered stunts.
Who gets involved in the stunt?
If stunts are being performed that day, there will be a stunt coordinator on set who may have a team of stunt performers helping him choreograph the stunts and set up safety measures. There may also be a stunt double on set dressed and made up to look like your actor. She may perform all, some, or none of the stunts depending on the complexity of the stunt and what the stunt team works out with the actor and the director.
Stunt scenes often take longer to set up and are rehearsed more than regular scenes. After the stunt is worked out, the rest of the crew takes over the set and sets up the lighting and cameras as usual. As a stand-in, you may be used as you normally would, though sometimes the stunt double is used to stand in instead of you. This is done for your own safety, but you should still be prepared to stand in in a stunt scene just in case.
What kind of situations might I come across?
Here is where you may have to be on your toes as a stand-in. Watch the stunt rehearsals carefully and try to get an idea of how the stunt breaks down and what shots will be done.
You may be able to stand in for some of the shots if it is deemed safe by the stunt team. For example, if your actor speeds down a road in a car in the scene, you can be used for the shot of the actor getting into the car before she starts driving. Some other situations in which you can be used in the scene may include running, lying on the ground, or tripping and falling.
If you are asked to stand in in more dangerous situations, rest assured your safety will be a professional concern for the stunt team. For example, if you are asked to stand in on a high platform and the stunt people are harnessed for safety, you will also be put in a harness. If there is fire and smoke on set, these hazards will be controlled by special effects professionals and you should not be put in harm’s way.
Accommodations may be made for stand-ins knowing that they are not trained stunt performers. If you have to recreate a fall in the scene, there should be a mat provided by the stunt coordinator for you to land on. If there is not, ask for one. If you have to lie on the ground where there is glass or other debris, ask for a blanket to lie on if there is not one already there. Mats and blankets are usually a given. If they are not there, they are not intentionally forgotten; instead, they may have been moved out of the way when the stunt people were rehearsing. There are a lot of things going on when the crew sets up a shot. You have to look out for yourself and ask for safety measures when you stand in if they are not in place.
What if I don’t feel safe?
Sometimes you will be directed by an AD or a camera person to do something that you are not comfortable doing. This the most important point to take away from this article:
IF YOU DO NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE DOING WHAT IS ASKED OF YOU AS A STAND IN IN A STUNT SCENE, SPEAK UP!
Stunt teams on set are very thorough, and they look out for everyone’s safety. They understand that you are not a trained stunt performer. Use your instincts about what you feel is safe for you to do. Ask the stunt coordinator or an AD for help if you feel uncomfortable, and either person will work something out with you.
You are NOT required to perform stunts as a stand-in. Refusing to do stunts should not jeopardize your job. If you run into a problem on set and you don’t feel that the crew is addressing your needs, call your local union office and ask for help.
There are many different kinds of stunts that can be done on set, and they can be some of the most awesome things you will ever see filmed! You can learn a lot about what goes on behind-the-scenes as a stand-in, and getting to see how stunts are done is an amazing opportunity.
But remember that your safety comes first, and you have to look out for yourself. Speak up if you feel uncomfortable or unsure about something you are asked to do.
Good luck — and be safe!
Have you stood in on stunt days and helped set up shots? What kind of stunts have you seen or been involved in? Any tips for stand-ins working on stunt days? Please comment below!