Let’s face it: Sometimes as a stand-in you can’t be it all. You can’t be your actor’s skin color, hair color, and height. You might get two out of three on the nose, but your height might be a slight bit off from your first-teamer’s.
Or maybe you’re a utility stand-in, and you find you’re first standing in for someone your height, in the next scene standing in for someone taller than you, and in the next scene standing in for someone shorter than you!
Or perhaps you are victimized by a bad bit of casting, arriving on set to stand in for an actor who isn’t the height you expected, and also finding out that the director and DP absolutely must have you the same height as the actor when setting up the shot!
Or not. There are a few things you can do to add or even subtract height when you’re standing in. Here are a few ideas.
Tips & Tricks for Adding Height
It is far easier to add height when you’re standing in than to subtract height. For example, say that you’re 5’9″ to stand in for an actor who is 5’10½”. Some productions may not care much about the height difference, but sometimes productions will care a ton. It is helpful for you to have on hand some ideas for adding height should you find your production really needs you your actor’s height.
Shoes are by far one of the best ways to add height. Heels are often recommended for female stand-ins to bring since their respective actors may manipulate their own base height by wearing high heels in scenes. Ideally stand-ins for actresses want to wear a heel that will bring them to the height of the actress in a particular scene rather than wearing a heel the exact same heel-height as the actress’s. Sometimes wearing any heel is better than no heel at all.
For men, shoes can also add height. Men can wear flats that will mirror more closely their true height, or they can wear shoes with thick heels or elevated heels to add as much as an inch to their base height. Men can also purchase lifts that insert into their shoes for additional height.
Apple boxes are wooden boxes useful for a number of different tasks on a production — including elevating stand-ins. A stand-in who is shorter than an actor may stand on an apple box to better approximate the actor’s height. The flattest apple box is basically a flat piece of wood known as a “pancake.” Others are actual wooden boxes — like the “quarter apple,” the “half apple,” and the “full apple” — and can add more height.
Production will usually recommend an apple box if they need to boost your height, though if you’re on a production that isn’t thinking about apple boxes, it might be worthwhile to recommend to an AD your standing on one if it will make a difference. The props department is the usual provider of apple boxes.
(Obviously, if you are walking in a scene rather than simply standing, an apple box will do little good since it only aids stationary stand-in work. For more insights into standing in with apples boxes, see our previous post on the topic.)
Cushions help boost stand-in height when the stand-in is sitting in. As with apple boxes, production will usually recommend cushions if they need to boost your height. The props department also provides cushions on most occasions.
Sitting on Your Leg
As recommended before, if you are seated as a stand-in and need to boost your height, sitting on one of your legs may make a difference in setting up the shot. It’s an alternative especially when a cushion is not readily available. But only if you have the flexibility and comfort!
Not Recommended for Adding Height
While it seems like an easy fix, it is generally not recommended to stand on your tiptoes in relevé in order to add height. The reason this is not recommended is because it is hard to sustain this position for the kind of time necessary for setting up the shot. Also, eventually weakness may onset, making your stance unsteady and precarious.
Of course, you might stand on your tiptoes for a moment, but if you need sustained height, I would recommend asking for an apple box rather than standing in relevé.
Tips & Tricks for Subtracting Height
There’s not much you can do with your height if you are 5’9″ and you arrive on set to find your actor is 5’6″. But just because there’s not much you can do doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do!
When you know you’re standing in for someone who is shorter than you, it is advised to stay away from wearing shoes with any kind of heel to them. Wear flats to reduce your height as much as possible.
However, don’t wear flipflops or other open-toed shoes to stand in. Flipflops, etc., are generally a work hazard, and it’s better to have close-toed shoes when you are standing in and minding your height.
Spreading Your Legs (Wide Stance)
When you spread your legs into a wide stance, you naturally reduce your height. If your actor isn’t much shorter than you, spreading your legs a slight bit to reduce your height is perhaps the easiest and best immediate fix to a height discrepancy.
Sitting on an Apple Box
Say that you regularly stand in for children. When you arrive on set to stand in for a child, while you may be shorter than most adults your age, you may find your child actor is considerably shorter than you!
In such a case, sitting on an apple box may help you to better approximate the child actor’s height in order to set up the shot. Production will probably provide an apple box (via the props department) if they want to reduce your height to closer to the child actor’s.
If production gives you an apple box, you may find that you need to take it with you when you step away — and bring it with you when you step back on set to stand in.
Not Recommended for Subtracting Height
In terms of wide stances, it is generally not recommended to take an ultrawide stance in order to approximate your actor’s height. Ultrawide stances are hard to maintain comfortably for a long setup. Also, ultrawide stances may prove a bit of a hazard to crew as they try to walk around your splayed legs. As a rule of thumb, make your widest stance not much more than double your normal stance.
Also, avoid crouching in order to reduce your height. Crouching may be a short-term solution to a height difference, but just as with an ultrawide stance, crouching for a long period time may be uncomfortable. Seek a different solution to subtracting height if you’re faced with crouching for a camera setup.
Do you have your own ideas for adding height? subtracting height? Share your tips below!