You are on set watching the rehearsal of the next scene to be set up and shot. You note that your actor uses a prop in the scene and wonder if you should use it while standing in. After all, you are there to repeat what the actor did, right?
Well, there are many different situations you may come across, and it may not always be necessary or appropriate for you to use the prop the actor is using. Some props are set very specifically by the props department, and you may disrupt their setup if you move anything.
Here is some advice about how approach certain prop situations when you are standing in.
Number One Rule: Pantomime Using Props
My main piece of advice would be to, in general, pantomime using props rather than actually using them. You do not want touch props that may be difficult for the prop department to reset. If the camera operator, DP, or director wants to see you use the props during the setup, they will instruct you to do so. Every situation is different and you will have to use your own judgment, but it’s best to play it safe and pantomime using props rather than actually using them.
For example, your actor might open a drawer in the scene and rummage through it looking for a specific prop placed inside. It would usually be okay to open the drawer (which is a set piece rather than a prop), but I would advise not to rummage through it or pick up and disturb the contents inside unless you are instructed to do so. You can pantomime the rummaging action.
Another example of pantomiming the action is in a scene where your actor picks up multiple shopping bags on the way out the door. The bags have probably been set a certain way and you should not touch them. You can hit your mark at the shopping bags, pantomime picking them up, and continue the scene walking out the door.
Using Small Props
If your actor performs an action in the scene with a small prop that can easily be reset, it is generally okay for you to repeat this action and use the prop when rehearsing.
Examples of this could be the actor picking up a book off of a table and opening it to read, opening a laptop computer, or writing with a pen. You could perform these actions if you are confident that you can reset the book, laptop, or pen to their start positions.
Using Large Props
When large props are involved in a scene, it is generally not easy to pantomime using them. You will probably be instructed to repeat what the actor did for the setup.
For example, I once had to walk a bicycle into a bedroom set, park it in a certain place, and exit the room. I had to use the actual bicycle in this case because it was the focus of the shot at the end of the scene. The props department made me familiar with the bicycle and made sure I was comfortable walking it.
In a related situation, a fellow stand-in on a movie I worked on was asked to walk the character’s motorcycle down the street. During the rehearsal, the actress just pantomimed the action. But during the setup, the crew needed to see the stand-in walking with the actual motorcycle. She tried, but could not physically move the motorcycle due to its weight. So she spoke up and said she couldn’t do it.
I would advise you to do the same. It’s not worth it for you to hurt yourself on set because of a situation like this. As it turns out, the actress couldn’t physically move the motorcycle either! So the blocking was changed. The stand-in actually saved the crew some time by discovering this problem during the setup so it could be changed before the actor came to set to shoot.
If you are ever asked to drive a car as a stand-in, you must have a valid driver’s license. Do not drive the car unless you feel completely comfortable with what you are asked to do.
Food and Drink
As a rule, I would advise you to never touch food or drinks on a set that your actor will be eating or drinking during the scene. You shouldn’t touch any utensils or napkins that your actor is using. And most importantly, you should never drink out of a glass that your actor is using in the scene.
I once saw a stand-in drink from a tea cup during the second-team rehearsal, thinking she had to repeat exactly what the actor did. It is not sanitary and it makes more work for the props department because they will have to switch out the glass. Eating and drinking motions can easily be pantomimed.
- If you think it is important to pick up and use a prop in the scene but are unsure about doing so, first ask someone in the prop department if it is okay.
- Try to reset props you do use in the exact place you picked them up from.
- Don’t touch props that you don’t need to touch. You may be tempted to pick up magazines, photographs, or other interesting items to just get a closer look at them. Everything is preset by the props department or set dressers and should not be moved.
- If given a prop on set by the props department, such as a clipboard, give it back to them when you are dismissed from set rather than setting it down somewhere. If you can’t find a props person, give it to the 2nd 2nd AD or the 1st AD.
Use your common sense about using props on set, and pantomime when you can. If it is important for the camera operators, DP, or director to see you use the props, they will instruct you to do so. Speak up if you don’t feel comfortable performing an action in the scene that involves a prop, such as lifting a heavy object or driving. As always on set, if you aren’t sure about something, ask for help.
Do you have advice about using props on set as a stand-in? What situations have you encountered? Please comment below!