If you’re reading this and you’re a principal actor on a union television or movie set, you’ve probably noticed when you come to set your stand-in is standing on your mark.

And if you’ve worked a lot on the production, you’ve probably had a regular stand-in. Maybe you’ve come to know your stand-in’s name. Maybe you’ve chatted briefly with your stand-in. Maybe you’ve even befriended your stand-in.  Many stand-ins do yeoman’s work that is often unrecognized and underappreciated.

Suffice it to say, when production is about to wrap, sometimes principal actors give their stand-ins a gift. Why not? Stand-ins sometimes work longer hours than their principal counterparts, and often go through some of the same grueling conditions as their principal actors.

To add insult to injury, stand-ins make a fraction of what many principal actors make.

  • On a dramatic television or film production todaySeptember 28, 2016, most stand-ins earn $189/8 hours.
  • On non-dramatic television shows today, most stand-ins earn merely $25/hour.

So, you’re considering giving your stand-in a gift. Great! Here is some guidance on what to give.

Give Something You Know Your Stand-In Would Like

If you know your stand-in well, you probably know your stand-in’s likes and interests. Does your stand-in have a green thumb? Fanatically cheer a particular sports team? Like the outdoors?

Is your stand-in interested in a particular cause or pursuit? Does your stand-in like to shop at a particular store or wear a particular brand of clothing or footwear?  Does your stand-in want to see a Broadway show or sports event?

Giving a gift in line with what you know your stand-in likes or wants shows you know your stand-in.  If it is a gift of value, you recognize that your stand-in may not be paid well but is deserving of a valuable gift in service for you and for the production.

Many stand-ins do not receive gifts for their work. So, a gift — even a small gift — goes a long way toward impressing the stand-in that you appreciated the service.

Fish for Gift Ideas from the Stand-In’s Production Friends

If you know your stand-in but don’t know that much, it might help to ask around what your stand-in likes. If you’re friendly with associates of the stand-in on set (say, another stand-in or crew member who talks to the stand-in), bounce a few ideas off the stand-in’s friend(s) to ensure the stand-in would like the gift.

For example, one actor who didn’t know her stand-in well wanted to gift her stand-in with some alcohol. She wanted to know what the stand-in drank. She privately asked other stand-ins who worked with her her preferred drink and whether she might like some of the options the actor served up. Secretly, the other stand-ins were able to gain a sense of what the stand-in liked, and the actor eventually gave the stand-in a gift suited to her interests.

Ben’s Tip!
As for giving alcohol, not everyone drinks — and not everyone has a good relationship with alcohol — so it might be unwise to gift a stand-in with alcohol without knowing more about the stand-in.

If you want to give your stand-in a clothing item, make sure to get the right size. Ask the wardrobe department for the stand-in’s sizes. If the wardrobe department doesn’t know, they can find out without drawing attention to your motive.

In general, don’t guess about the stand-in’s size.  If your gift ends up being too big or small, privately the stand-in may not see the gift as thoughtful and think it was a leftover gift or afterthought.

Write a Thank-You Card

A thank-you card written to a stand-in can mean a lot. A handwritten thank-you card shows you appreciated the stand-in’s work and recognize the value it contributed not only to production, but to your work as an actor.

Including a personal note with your signature can be a touching keepsake for a stand-in. Writing about a shared anecdote from set shows you remember your time working with your stand-in.

Include a Gift Certificate or Gift Card

If you would like to include more in your thank-you card, a gift certificate or gift card to a special store you know the stand-in would like may be better than a gift card to a generic store like Amazon.com.

For example, a camera operator once gave a stand-in a gift certificate to a specialty sporting goods store that carried winter weather gear he knew the stand-in wanted.

Include a Keepsake

Similarly, you might consider including in a thank-you card a keepsake from the production.  If the keepsake is something you gave to other crew members, you are showing your thoughtfulness in including the stand-in among them. And if the keepsake is something you only give the stand-in, you are showing even greater thoughtfulness in your giving.

A keepsake might include a special photo taken on set of the stand-in (perhaps with you), a personalized item with a message and both of your names on it, etc.

Pull a Production Wonder

If you are an actor who also is a producer, you may have authority to influence casting decisions. And if you know your stand-in is also an actor like you, you may give your stand-in one of the best possible gifts by arranging to have your stand-in play a principal (speaking) role on your production.

While some production people mistakenly believe that upgrading a stand-in means the stand-in must be paid as a principal for all remaining days of work on the film or television episode, the stand-in is only paid as a principal whenever appearing as the same character within the same film or television episode.  Since stand-ins work off-camera, a stand-in can play a principal role one day, then return as a stand-in and be paid as a stand-in, since the stand-in is not returning to play the principal role.

If you are looking to gift your stand-in with a principal role, of course, you may want to solicit your stand-in’s interest first.  You may also want to audition your stand-in for the role. That aside, work as a principal actor could reward the stand-in with a paycheck over $930 for the day on some productions, as well as residual payments in the future. Using that kind of pull really rewards many stand-ins for committed work on the production, and serves as a valuable gift that the stand-in can then potentially use in an acting reel.

Ben’s Tip!
Awarding a stand-in with a film or television role near the conclusion of filming will often come as a joyous reward. However, few stand-ins will be excited by the gift of a background role or featured role near the end of a production.

A stand-in who also has to work as a background actor — even a featured background actor — does not receive more compensation when doing so, and in fact has to work more on such a day.  The stand-in may have to stand in for you, then immediately work on camera, then step back in for you for the next camera setup, for no increased pay.

Working as a stand-in and as a background actor in a scene is known as doing “double duty.” For many stand-ins, doing double duty is frustrating, especially if they’ve long stood in on a production and held out for the opportunity to play a principal role.

Simply Recognize Your Stand-In

This all said, sometimes just saying a few personal words to your stand-in goes a long way. Many times a stand-in and a principal actor will pass like two ships in the night, not saying much of anything to each other or even barely acknowledging each other.

Part of this anonymity may be based on instruction from casting or production, who may fear an unprofessional stand-in who talks too much to the principal actor. (It’s usually nothing personal that your stand-in doesn’t say much to you — your stand-in’s just doing as instructed!)

So, if you haven’t said much to your stand-in by your last day of shooting, once you wrap, make sure to say goodbye to your stand-in and express your gratitude for your stand-in’s service over the shoot.  That personal interaction will show that you were keenly aware of your stand-in and the service your stand-in provided.

Just a Starting Point …

Take the above ideas just as a starting point when considering a gift for your stand-in’s hard work on the shoot. If you’re thoughtful, your benevolent action will be remembered by the stand-in for years.

Have you given a gift to your stand-in? Are you a stand-in who’s received a gift? What have your given or received? What do you advise? Share your thoughts and experiences below!