In our Interview Series, lately we’ve been running interviews with stand-ins from other news sources. That’s why I’m excited to return to doing our own stand-in interviews!
Today’s interview is fascinating. It’s with Rebecca Fox, who notably has stood in for Sandra Bullock, and recently has stood in on The Astronaut Wives Club.
She’s also our first interview with a stand-in in Louisiana, which is a right-to-work state. In right-to-work states, stand-ins usually make less than union stand-ins in non-right-to-work states (like New York).
Despite the lower pay, she has a blast standing in. Read her interview!
– The Editor
SIC: Hi! What’s your name and what do you do?
RF: I’m Rebecca Fox. I started my career as a background artist, and then made my way into standing in, production assisting, and being a runner in several departments.
Currently I’m bouncing back and forth between two big network television shows. I’m a craft service assistant on one and an office production assistant on the other. I also take stand-in work whenever possible, because even though the pay is significantly lower, it’s my absolute favorite thing to do of all time, and as an aspiring actor and writer, it’s the most important thing to me in terms of getting that kind of experience.
SIC: Since this is Stand-In Central, I’m particularly interested in your stand-in work. How did you fall into working as a stand-in?
RF: As your readers may or may not know, it’s kind of difficult to get into standing in. Most productions require stand-in experience to even get a stand-in interview, and that’s almost impossible to get if no one will give you a chance. It’s kind of a Catch-22.
I lucked out one day on set when I was working as a featured background artist and they needed a utility stand-in to replace someone who hadn’t shown up. I was her size and height so they asked me if I would jump in. I’m so happy I did. That day changed my life forever.
SIC: For which actors have you notably stood in?
RF: I think the greatest stand-in experience I’ve ever had — the “Oh my God” experience — was standing in for Sandra Bullock. I did a few days for her on the movie Our Brand Is Crisis. She’s amazing and so creative — she approaches acting like no one else I’ve ever seen. I could write a blog just on her and her methods.
SIC: Cool! What other projects have you stood in on?
RF: My favorite project of all time was standing in for all seven women on ABC’s The Astronaut Wives Club. That project is airing now and it was, to date, the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. The crew and cast were amazing, and I stood in for JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Yvonne Strahovski, and Zoe Boyle, among others, over an almost 100-day period. TV is my favorite in general, also, just because you go for longer, have a tighter schedule, and have the potential to do additional seasons.
Also, I stood in for most of the Barden Bellas on Pitch Perfect 2, and for Julia Stiles on Beyond Deceit. I worked a day on Into the Badlands in June, a show for AMC, and did a few days on Quarry for HBO.
SIC: You primarily work in the New Orleans area. Louisiana is a “right-to-work” state. What does that mean exactly?
RF: “Right-to-work” means you don’t have to be SAG-AFTRA here to stand in, and most people aren’t. Some shows won’t employ you if you are union, or they make it clear that even if you are union, you can work, but they won’t pay you the union rate.
SIC: Are you in the union?
RF: It’s exceptionally difficult to get your SAG-AFTRA card here. No shows issue SAG-AFTRA background actor or stand-in vouchers, so you have to luck in to a commercial or promo shoot that has them, and it’s usually a limited number — under twenty — for a 200- to 300-person shoot. Then you have to get that lucky three separate times.
Or you can get pulled to do a line — and I’ve seen it happen, but maybe three or four times out of my 100 stand-in friends, and 5,000 background-artist friends. I need one more voucher to be SAG-AFTRA Eligible, and let me tell you, it was a very hard road to get those two vouchers.
SIC: If these projects don’t pay stand-ins at union rates, what are the pay rates for stand-ins in the New Orleans market from what you’ve experienced?
RF: The stand-in bump is only 90 cents more an hour than the background rate here in New Orleans. So if background rates are $64/8 hours, $88/10 hours, or $101.50/12 hours, that makes a stand-in rate $71/8 hours, $98/10 hours, or $125/12 hours. It’s really terrible, especially when you’re sometimes asked to travel over 80 miles without a travel bump, but people are happy to do it because it’s so competitive and difficult to get stand-in work here.
And of course you get your crew benefits like taking vans first, standing in the lunch line before background players, and sometimes even wrap gifts or recognition from crew. We usually go twelve to fourteen hours, sometimes up to sixteen, and that’s good because with the overtime we do actually end up making somewhere between $125-$140, before taxes — just shy of a production assistant’s pay.
SIC: Are there casting offices that book stand-ins? Or how do people book stand-in work in the New Orleans market?
RF: There are about six to eight casting offices here that handle background, and they all handle stand-in. Whichever is doing background on a show will do the stand-in for the same show, and the booking phone calls and on-set vouchers are done exactly the same way.
This is frustrating for stand-ins because it’s rare that you’re ever called to do an entire show and given all of the dates upfront in advance. Even if you are booked for the entire show, oftentimes you’re called and given your call time the night before, every single day, and that can be incredibly frustrating. I’m not sure if stand-ins other places get DOODs or one-liners, but we don’t usually get them which makes scheduling difficult. You also get paychecks on a daily basis so that can make cashing checks a nightmare, unlike a once a week check from other crew positions.
It’s a rare thing here to see your name on a call sheet as a stand-in — it usually says “TBD” because it’s up to the casting companies and they’ll often call different people every day. This can be hard, especially when you feel like you’re jelling with the crew, to have a casting intern screw up and call the wrong person, or to not answer your phone because you’re on set and have the call go to someone else. I know a few people who have been booked for the run of a series, but in very few cases. Also, Louisiana uses utility stand-ins quite often, especially since a lot of our shows have fourteen or more principals, like Astronaut Wives did. That could mean one day, they need eight stand-ins and the following day there’s only a need for two, and it matters not what you look like but how high you are up on the casting person’s list of phone numbers. There’s very little job security and that’s probably the absolute worst part about the job.
SIC: Occasionally stand-ins are upgraded to principal roles on their projects. Has that ever happened to you on a stand-in job?
RF: It hasn’t but I had it happen to a friend just recently — she was rewarded for her hard work as a stand-in with a few lines in a critical scene with some huge stars, and I think that’s just unbelievably awesome. I was given a featured, picture-picked extra part on Astronaut Wives and I was really grateful for that because as a period piece, I really didn’t have the right look — they found a way to sneak me in when the show hit the 1970 mark in the final two episodes. You can look for me in Episode 109 as a hippie.
SIC: I love hearing how stand-ins stay fit and healthy when working long hours around craft services and catering. I understand you follow a particular “crafty diet” when on set. What is it for you?
RF: I was putting on the weight big time on set, so I decided to try to avoid soda and junk food altogether. If I’m nibbling on crafty, it’s gotta be something like fruit, veggies, granola, or dark chocolate. Coffee is okay, as is tea, and all of the flavored waters and juices. It’s expensive to eat at Whole Foods but most crafty and catering people buy all organic now, so there’s no excuse to eat badly when there’s so many expensive, beautiful food options in front of you.
Sometimes I make it a point to try a different juice or health food item every day — it’s a good way to find out what you want so you can go buy it yourself. Like an entire grocery store full of free samples.
SIC: A good point! I also understand you had second-team t-shirts made for a project. What’s that about?!
RF: On Astronaut Wives Club, we had seven or eight stand-ins that were all utility for a variety of about fifteen to twenty principals. We are all friends and have become like family throughout this past year. We’re all exceptionally good stand-ins, and go above and beyond every single time.
The production team was nice enough to trust us with our own assignments, so it was up to us on a day-to-day basis to determine who was standing in for which first-teamer. This could have become an extremely volatile situation with jealousy and things like that (for example, who wants to get off early, or who wants to read lines off-camera), but we did it very well and were all absolutely professional about it.
We joked often that we were the “Second Team Dream Team.” We started hashtagging tweets and texts #secondteamdreamteam, and it kind of went from there. We also provided our own color cover on that show, and because costume designer Eric Daman (Sex and the City/Gossip Girl) is an absolute genius, he gave each principal woman her own color story — so, for example, if you were standing in for Betty, you pretty much knew you would be in mustard yellow every single day.
We had exceptional fun with that, and eventually decided to make t-shirts in our color-cover colors to identify as a group (since we had to wear the same colors every day!). The front said “THIS is my color cover” and the back said “#secondteamdreamteam.” It was so much fun!
It’s amazing too, because all of the women are the same height — we should hate each other, we’re each other’s competition. But we’ve really still kept in touch and been the first to congratulate each other, even when the others get a part that we might have wanted. That part I mentioned before with the huge actors in the critical scene? That went to a #secondteamdreamteam sister who’s my height and hair color, and we were up for the same part yet I couldn’t be happier for her. The more each of us succeeds individually, the more we succeed as a group because we refer one another for jobs when we aren’t available. Many casting companies know we have become a very powerful network.
SIC: What are you up to now, Rebecca?
RF: I’ve been day-playing on NCIS: New Orleans, Season 2. I’m excited because it’s an absolutely state-of-the-art soundstage and production office facility.
SIC: What words of wisdom would you give to a stand-in?
RF: Prove yourself in your actions and work ethic, and you’ll do great in this industry. And I know it seems like you are supposed to be competitive to get ahead — but keep in mind that you will see the same people on every show, especially on small markets in New Orleans. So in my opinion it’s better to make friends, network, and let your talent and drive speak for itself. Working hard gets you jobs, being a bitch or a diva doesn’t. I’ve gotten more work from recommendations than I have from auditions or interviews, and the majority of the people recommending me are my peers, not my bosses. Think of all the times you’ve gotten called for work you’ve had to turn down. It’s natural to say, “I’m not free, but try so and so — ” You’re less likely to recommend someone who’s competitive or cruel towards you.
SIC: Anything else you care to share?
RF: Just that any embarrassing thing can happen on set. I’ve accidentally kicked a very high-profile director in the balls on my very first day, and thrown glass accidentally at Christian Bale’s feet during a very pivotal moment in an important scene. Your demeanor and reactions off-camera are almost more important than your reactions on-camera.
SIC: That … sounds hilarious. Thank you very much for sharing, Rebecca!
RF: Thanks for having me!
Rebecca Fox lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and has been working in various jobs in the film industry for the past seven years. She loves glitter, arts & crafts, and Pinterest projects, and for those reasons hopes to end up in the art department one day. She can be found on Facebook or Twitter and encourages people to read her blog, http://foxyrebecca.blogspot.com.