In the context of collective bargaining agreements SAG-AFTRA has with various signatory producers, stand-ins — perhaps as a surprise to you — are fundamentally defined as “background actors.”
Standing in is considered a “special ability” in the 2005 SAG Basic Agreement. However, while most special ability background actors receive a $10 adjustment on their base rate, stand-ins receive a higher adjustment than most special ability background actors. In a sense, standing in is an exceptional special ability.
Because stand-ins are defined as background actors, stand-ins need to expect that they should receive the same contracted basic bumps or adjustments that background actors do in particular situations. If stand-ins are not granted such compensation, they may have a claim worth pursuing against a production.
Stand-ins may also be obligated to do additional work outside of purely standing in. Read on for further insights on the implications of stand-ins being fundamentally defined as “background actors.”
Color Cover as Wardrobe
Stand-ins often wear “color cover” on set. Color cover is a wardrobe item intended to approximate the wardrobe in some way of the principal actor for whom the stand-in is standing in.
It is common for stand-ins to exchange their payment voucher with a member of the wardrobe team when receiving color cover. At the end of the stand-in’s day, the stand-in then returns the color cover and a member of the wardrobe team returns the voucher.
On occasion, a stand-in may be asked to wear a particular color to set. Since stand-ins are defined as background actors, it should be clear to the stand-in that background actors typically are unpaid for their first wardrobe option, but they receive compensation for each wardrobe option they are asked to bring above the first option. Some contracts vary in just when compensation is triggered (e.g., under some contracts it may need to be worn on camera), so consult the particular contract or agreement for variations from the norm.
If a stand-in is asked by casting or production to bring more than one color-cover option, that would constitute a change, and it should be credited on the stand-in’s voucher as “1C” (meaning “one change”), “2C,” etc., indicating each color-cover option above the first.
If a production disagrees that the stand-in is entitled to a wardrobe change after being instructed by casting to bring color-cover options, the stand-in may have grounds for a claim for the wardrobe fee. Otherwise, the stand-in may negotiate with production for production’s wardrobe department to provide color-cover options if production is not going to compensate for changes.
Heels as Wardrobe
Principal actors may wear a variety of shoes — flat and lifted — in the scenes they’re working. Or, stand-ins may be working utility and standing in for actors of different heights. It is not uncommon for stand-ins, mainly female stand-ins, to bring to work a selection of shoes ranging from flats to heels to accommodate for different height scenarios.
If casting or production asks a stand-in to bring more than one shoe option to use in camera setups, these too constitute wardrobe changes so any shoe option above one should be credited on the stand-in’s voucher as “1C,” “2C,” etc.
If casting or production asks a stand-in to bring a pair of flats “for comfort,” not specifically for use in a shot, then those comfort shoes do not constitute a change and should not be credited on the stand-in’s voucher.
It may be argued that a change of shoes is not a “complete change,” as worded in a collective bargaining agreement. However, since stand-ins do not appear on camera, the terminology of “complete change” implies a completely different on-camera approximation of the principal actor. Wearing heels as opposed to flats obviously changes the stand-in’s presence on camera for camera setups. Therefore, heels do constitute a change if in a prior scene the stand-in was asked to wear shoes of a different height.
Glasses as Props
Background actors who bring specified props to set are paid for those props. If a stand-in is asked to bring a specific prop to set, the stand-in should be paid for that prop.
Notably, glasses that a stand-in may be instructed to wear to approximate the look of the principal actor are props. A member of the props department provides glasses to stand-ins in most cases.
However, if a stand-in is asked to bring glasses (outside any glasses the stand-in may actually wear in real life), that stand-in is entitled to a prop bump for those glasses.
Mobile Phones as Props
Also, background actors are paid for their use of mobile phones on camera. Given the prevalence of mobile phones on set, productions may ask for your permission to have you use your mobile phone in a shot, without payment. Many background actors grant permission to do so, while some do not without payment.
As a stand-in, you may be involved in a camera setup that somehow incorporates a mobile phone. Props will likely give you one to use. If casting or production did not instruct you specifically at booking to bring a mobile phone for use in a shot, you will probably not be granted a prop bump unless you specifically negotiate for it when asked.
When you are standing in using your mobile phone, be sure to turn it to airplane mode and turn off any WiFi connections. A mobile phone in your ear may make it harder to hear instructions on set, so any notifications may be a distraction. Also, if you are shooting a close-up using your mobile phone, you may not want any personal text messages, phone calls, photos, notifications, etc., showing up on camera.
Photo-doubling is considered a special ability worth a $10 adjustment on the base rate.
When a stand-in also works as a photo double, the stand-in is paid a $10 adjustment on top of the stand-in’s base rate.
For example, if a stand-in also photo-doubles, and if the stand-in rate is $180/8 hours, then the stand-in’s new rate including photo-doubling is $190/8 hours.
Some productions are uncertain whether stand-ins receive a higher rate when they photo double, since photo-doubling is thought to be a lower pay grade than standing in, usually applied to the background rate. However, stand-ins are entitled to a $10 adjustment on their rate when they also work as photo doubles because they are performing an added special ability.
Stand-Ins May Be Asked to Work as Background Actors
The 2011 Theatrical Films and Television Digest for background actors provides a definition of “Stand-In”:
Background Actor used as a substitute for another actor for purposes of focusing shots, setting lights, etc., but is not actually photographed. Stand-Ins may also be used as general background.
Of note is the passage that stand-ins may also be used as general background actors.
While it makes sense that background actors upgraded to stand-ins may also be used as background actors, it may be a surprise for stand-ins hired specifically to stand in and/or hired “above the count” of background actors may be used as background actors.
Unless you negotiated with production at the time of hire that you will not perform background work, there is the possibility that you will work as a background actor when you stand in.
This is to say that if you are an actor who aims to work on a production in the capacity of a principal actor, and if you stand in on that production, there is a chance that when you stand in you could be asked to do background work. If that background work is notable in some way (featured background work, recognizable background work, or if you are just notable as having stood in or done background work on the production), you may prevent yourself in the future from being hired as a principal actor.
While the chances of your not being hired as a principal actor because you did background work on a production may be slim, there is a potential for disqualifying yourself from principal casting should you stand in on a production. It may help to restrict your stand-in work to one-off productions rather than series — because in one-off productions casting may already be complete, so there would be almost no principal acting jobs for you to pursue.
Defenses against Productions Not Compensating Stand-Ins Appropriately
Based on experience, working as a stand-in sometimes creates an unusual situation. Because productions may not see stand-ins fundamentally as background actors, they may not think to extend some of the payments background actors receive to stand-ins, even arguing that since stand-ins are not on camera, they are not entitled to compensation background actors receive for what wardrobe and props they bring.
However, when a stand-in is specifically instructed to bring items to work, that stand-in is troubled with finding a place to keep them, transport them, and clean them. That is the same trouble a background actor faces. But the background actor has holding as a viable place for storage and protection of personal belongings and receives compensation that may be used to pay for the cleaning of items. In most cases, since they often work and stay on set, stand-ins do not have as secure of a location as holding to store or protect their personal items. Furthermore, holding may be some distance from set, making it impractical for stand-ins to store their changes and props there.
Because it is just as much trouble for a stand-in as it is for a background actor to bring to set wardrobe changes, props, etc. — and perhaps an even greater trouble for stand-ins given their lack of a secure holding space — there is little defense against an argument for not paying stand-ins for additional items the stand-in was told to bring to work.
Production is in a position to compensate stand-ins as they would background actors for bringing items they were instructed to. Otherwise, production is in a position to provide for stand-ins what they may need to do their job — from color cover, shoes, and other wardrobe items, to glasses and other props.
If a production is not going to pay stand-ins for bringing items as they would for background actors, stand-ins might as well elect not to bring additional items to work because there is a liability that they will be stolen, damaged, lost, soiled, etc., and there is no compensation to protect against such misfortune.
Stand your ground for appropriate compensation when you are standing in. The collective bargaining agreement, the background digest, and your union representative may be of help in resolving any confusion about appropriate payment for stand-ins asked to bring items. Otherwise, consider filing a claim for the unpaid bumps.
Stand-ins, by definition, are background actors. Most stand-ins do not have to deal with bringing items to set, but where they have to, there may be avenues for increased compensation.
That said, as background actors, stand-ins may be obligated to do background work. Keep that in mind when you’re an actor working as a stand-in. Doing so may have an effect on whether you can be cast as a principal actor in the future.
Do you have experience getting additional compensation as a stand-in? What do you think of doing background work when you are hired above the count as a stand-in? Share your thoughts below!