Working with Stand-Ins Who Have Little to No Set Experience

By | 2016-09-26T14:36:37+00:00 August 24th, 2016|Lessons, Tips|0 Comments

When you’re standing in and a union actor is pulled to stand in with you, usually that stand-in has prior experience on a film or television set. But when production pulls a non-union actor, that stand-in may not have prior experience.

This can provide challenges for second team. Here are some tips for prepping the novice stand-in with little set experience on how to stand in on your production.

Quickly Explain What to Do as a Stand-In

While you might not have time yourself because you are busy standing in, explaining what the novice stand-in needs to do goes a long way.

Take thirty seconds to explain to the novice stand-in what to do, or otherwise face working with someone who has no clue on what to do and make your camera setups and second-team rehearsals embarrassing!

If you’re meeting this novice stand-in at or before a marking rehearsal, cover these responsibilities. Say the following to the stand-in:

  • You’re standing in for a particular actor, and point out that actor to the novice stand-in
  • Production will do a marking rehearsal in which they put down tape (“marks”) where your actor stands
  • During the marking rehearsal, watch what your actor does because you will be doing it, too
  • Once we’re needed, stand on your actor’s first mark
  • We usually don’t read the lines as stand-ins (or explain if you do usually read the lines!)
  • We are all part of what’s called “second team,” so if you hear “Second team!” called out, come to set
  • Once a scene is shot, if you hear “Checking the gate!” (or some variation like “Check it!” or “Check the chip!”), come to set because you will probably be needed soon after

Essentially, you’re covering the topics of whom to look for, what to look for, what to do, and when you’re needed.

Of course, you can say more or less, but this above overview is fast and covers the bases to get a novice stand-in attuned to the responsibility of standing in.

Explain Who’s Who

If you have a little more time, it may be helpful to single out the important people for the novice stand-in to zero in on amongst the chaotic population of workers on a set.

While a completely green stand-in may not know what an AD or a 2nd 2nd AD is, identifying people who are important helps. It may help by going in a “top-down” order pointing out important crew members rather than simply pointing out crew members as you see them in the mix.

For example, it should be a no-brainer to point out first the actor for whom the new stand-in is standing in. Then, it may help by pointing out the director, then the DP (director of photography), then the 1st AD. Next, it may help to point out the 2nd 2nd AD, then the camera operators. That list is an orderly one going from most important to the stand-in, to of lesser importance.

Similarly, you could point out the production department, then the camera department. So, you could point out the director, the 1st AD, and the 2nd 2nd AD. Next, you could point out the DP and the camera operators.

It may also help to explain to the novice stand-in whom to turn to with a question or need. It might be best to have the novice stand-in talk to the 2nd 2nd AD for any help, or even point out the 1st AD as someone to talk to for help.

Offer Some Tips

Each production is different, and particular tips on one set may guarantee success. Once you’ve gotten the novice stand-in through a camera setup, then might be a good time to bestow some added advice.

For example, it may help to recommend that the new stand-in hit the restroom soon after second team is released from the camera setup. This might be an especially good recommendation if the novice stand-in is pulled from background and may be used as an extra in the same shot. This advice keeps the green stand-in from being trapped on set, unable to find time to go to the restroom. (You may also need to mention where or how far away the nearest restroom is.)

Also, some sets have personalities. Some sets are laid back, but other sets are tense. These personalities might be because of particular production members and their personalities. If there is a particularly difficult personality on set, alert the novice stand-in to that personality. For example, saying that the DP is gruff or that the director seems rude but not to take it personally might be something to say. Or, it might be worth noting that everyone on set is laid back and it’s a fun set, so the novice stand-in can relax a bit.

Pointing out where craft services is — and when might be a good time to go — could be helpful.

Field Questions — Within Reason

Once a novice stand-in is loaded with the above information, a lot of the time that stand-in will be extremely appreciative of the guidance. The information is hard to come by on one’s own, so having it offered is extraordinarily valuable.

If the new stand-in takes interest in the work, more questions may follow. You might end up becoming the go-to person for stand-in questions. This can be a great thing if you like fielding questions, though it could become a drain if you end up being shadowed all day by the novice stand-in.

While “How do you become a regular stand-in?” might be a question you’re happy to answer, such questions may become tiresome if you answer them a lot or simply want some downtime to yourself. Also, your answers more than likely won’t lead to the novice stand-in actually taking action and pursuing regular stand-in work, so answering them may be wasted energy.

What’s a regular stand-in to do in the face of questions about standing in?

Recommend Stand-In Central!

While this post wasn’t intended as an advertisement for Stand-In Central, it really is a useful resource and destination to refer a novice stand-in to for more information about standing in.

If you say, “There’s a website with a ton of information all about standing in,” you can shift away the drain of energy that comes from answering a lot of questions and direct the novice stand-in to a website that does a deep-dive into the topic of working as a stand-in on television and film sets.

Furthermore, Stand-In Central is free, it’s been around since 2010, and it is updated weekly with information about standing in. Nearly any question you can think of about standing in is on the site, which is searchable.

Tell the Background PA about Stand-In Central

Lastly, if your production tends to pull stand-ins from the count of background actors, and if it seems to pull background actors who are new to sets and have never stood in, then it may be wise to tell the background PA about Stand-In Central.

Letting the BG PA know about Stand-In Central lifts some of the burden for both the BG PA and the regular stand-ins from having to explain standing in to the novice.

When you have a moment, share with the BG PA this information:

  • The website for Stand-In Central is
  • On the menu, have the novice stand-in click on “What Is A Stand-In?” and also click on “Responsibilities.”
  • It may be further helpful for the novice stand-in to click on “The Routine.”

Chances are, while the BG PA may laugh that such a website exists, it’s also a relief to have such a tool available — for both the BG PA and for the regular second-teamers forced to field new stand-ins. And lest we forget, it’s also a relief for novice stand-ins to have Stand-In Central!

Have you recommended Stand-In Central on a set? What have you learned from the website? Share your experiences below!

About the Author:

Ben Hauck (Editor, Stand-In Central) has stood in on a number of projects shot in the NYC area. In addition to day-playing, he has stood in on major projects for John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Jason Bateman (The Longest Week, Disconnect, and The Switch), Jason Sudeikis (Sleeping with Other People), Seth Rogen (The Night Before), and Peter Facinelli (Nurse Jackie and American Odyssey). Ben is an actor and improviser, author of the 2012 book Long-Form Improv (Allworth Press), and host of The Acting Income Podcast.

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