If you’re a member of a union, you are probably familiar with the concept of division of labor. In general, “division of labor” means that particular types of jobs are dedicated to particular types of people on a set. If those jobs are unionized, one must dare not perform the job without permission or else potentially face a union violation.

For example, on a film or television set in Hollywood or New York, a production assistant cannot stand in for an actor. Standing in is a job unionized by SAG-AFTRA, so it must be performed by an appropriate SAG-AFTRA member or one with a waiver. A production could be fined by SAG-AFTRA for such a violation.

While what the exact job boundaries are for stand-ins is somewhat arguable, since 2010 Stand-In Central has spent years trying to represent what a stand-in does as well as what a stand-in does not do. For example, Stand-In Central has repeatedly distinguished stand-ins from photo doubles, body doubles, and stunt doubles — a distinction that the news media continually fail to make, confusing the narrative on what is expected of stand-ins. As a general rule:

  • If the person is appearing on camera during a shot, the person is a double and not a stand-in.
  • If the person is appearing in the setup of the shot but not during the shot, the person is a stand-in.
  • The main exception to the above is when a stand-in is also working as a photo double, in which case the confusion is understandable.

It’s been coming up over and over again: Should stand-ins do the work of other workers on set without additional pay? Stand-ins are increasingly put in awkward positions wherein they are asked to memorize lines, wear actors’ clothes, or even read lines off camera without additional compensation and without support from their union for additional compensation.

Here’s a case for some of the situations stand-ins find themselves in and some ways to approach these situations with productions, with SAG-AFTRA, or with both.

Stand-Ins Dressed for Possible Photo-Double Work

It happens a lot: Stand-ins work also as photo doubles on productions. This is understandable because on many sets the stand-ins bear a good resemblance to their actors and meet the needs for a shot that does not require the actor to be on set.

However, from time to time, stand-ins will be asked to put on the wardrobe of their actor, only to find they are not being used or that they did not end up appearing in the shot. In such cases, while some productions might still pay the stand-in also as a photo double, other productions may try to avoid paying the stand-in a photo-double rate, arguing that the stand-in did not appear on camera or that production never got around to using the stand-in as a photo double.

But if the stand-in is dressed to look like the actor, shouldn’t that fact trigger a photo double rate? Stand-In Central argues Yes. Here’s why.

Why Dressing a Stand-In as a Photo Double Should Trigger Photo-Double Pay

Given the division of labor on set, photo doubles as part of their jobs must dress in the wardrobe of the actor for whom they are doubling. Whether they are actually used or appear on camera that day, they will leave work paid as a photo double. Even if they don’t dress as the actor because their scene is cut, they still receive a photo-double rate.

Using the argument that putting on an actor’s wardrobe in order to photo-double constitutes doing the job of the photo double given the division of labor, then a stand-in who puts on an actor’s wardrobe in order to photo-double constitutes doing the  job of the photo double. Therefore, that mere task of putting on wardrobe should guarantee the stand-in the photo-double rate, regardless of whether the stand-in is actually put on camera or the scene is shot.

Put differently, if a production wanted a photo double, it cannot freely use a stand-in for the work and expect not to pay that stand-in for that work. If the production didn’t want to pay the stand-in a photo-double rate, then the production should have hired a separate photo double who would put on the actor’s clothes.

Furthermore, when a stand-in is asked to put on an actor’s clothes for stand-in work, doing so can pull the stand-in away from set when the stand-in’s actor is working. Being away from set makes it that much harder for the stand-in to do his/her job. It requires the stand-in to work harder to understand the actor’s blocking, any changes to it, etc. Given that the stand-in has to work harder when asked also to photo-double, the case is further made for additional compensation no matter if the photo-double scene is actually shot.

Stand-Ins Memorizing Dialogue

Stand-ins learn the stage movements and blocking of their actors by watching marking rehearsals. After watching marking rehearsals, many times productions will hold “second-team rehearsals” in which the stand-ins go through the scene for the crew. These second-team rehearsals largely help the camera operators rehearse in advance of the actors’ coming back to set, and also helps the director of photography confirm the positioning of the lighting.

On most productions, stand-ins are not asked to do the lines, instead just going “point to point” where their actors stood in the marking rehearsal. Sometimes, stand-ins will be asked to read the lines of the scene, especially if the camera crew is trying to time the shot off of dialogue. On occasion, stand-ins might be asked to memorize the lines of a scene, but this would more than likely be for helping with the timing and framing of the shot so that the stand-in is not buried in the script, reading the lines.

But on rare occasions, stand-ins might be given the script ahead of time and asked to memorize the lines of dialogue. Stand-in work is something performed on the clock, whereas script memorization in advance of production is work performed off the clock. At that, memorizing a script is more consistent with the work of a principal actor than with the work of a stand-in. The question becomes whether it is appropriate to ask a stand-in to memorize lines in advance without additional compensation for such work.

So, if a stand-in is asked to memorize dialogue in advance of production, shouldn’t that fact trigger additional compensation? Stand-In Central argues Yes. Here’s why.

Why Stand-Ins Should Receive Additional Compensation When Asked to Memorize Dialogue

Memorizing lines is not typically something required of a stand-in. It is something more typically expected of a principal actor. Given that fact alone, stand-ins expected to memorize lines of dialogue ahead of time should work at daily rates of principal actors. Presumably that higher rate of compensation would offset the time expected of the stand-in to memorize lines on the stand-in’s own time.

At minimum, if a stand-in is expected to memorize lines ahead of time, the stand-in should receive additional payment for the time required to memorize such dialogue. Otherwise, a stand-in forced to memorize a script without additional compensation sees no incentive to take on the stand-in job.

In other words, why would a stand-in accept a stand-in job that requires the dialogue to be memorized in advance, when the same stand-in could work on another production at the same rate that doesn’t require the dialogue to be memorized? Essentially, if productions want stand-ins memorizing dialogue, they should pay their stand-ins appropriately for that service.

Stand-Ins Performing Off-Camera Lines

On most sets, script supervisors or assistant directors will read any lines delivered off camera for actors not required for the shot. However, occasionally, stand-ins will be asked to deliver those off-camrea lines.

On occasion, stand-ins will even rehearse with the actors in advance of delivering lines off camera. This might happen, for example, when the stand-in is delivering lines on one end of a very emotional phone call during a scene. If the stand-in is miked up, the situation gets even more confusing for the stand-in delivering off-camera lines.

The question is whether delivering lines off-camera for a scene, again, constitutes principal work rather than stand-in work.

Should a stand-in make a principal rate if asked to read off-camera lines during takes? Stand-In Central argues Yes. Here’s why.

Why Stand-Ins Should Make Principal Rate When Reading Off-Camera Lines

Again, if a production wants off-camera lines delivered, there are clear ways to achieve that without invoking the stand-in: the actual actor can do the off-camera lines, the script supervisor can, or the assistant director can.

In other words, there are more highly paid professionals who are capable of the work, and having a stand-in do off-camera lines without greater compensation is cheating the stand-in out of higher-paid work.

Stand-ins, by definition, are “background performers” in the 2005 Basic Agreement. This means that they do not speak, or else when they do, in most cases they are given principal contracts. So, speaking during a take, even if for off-camera lines, constitutes principal work rather than stand-in work.

Furthermore, almost by definition, stand-ins do not appear on camera, which means their work is never recorded. So, recording a stand-in’s voice during a take is further reason that the stand-in should be paid principal work because it is clearly outside the job of the stand-in. This becomes especially true if the stand-in is miked rather that picked up on a distant boom microphone.

At that, subjecting a stand-in to numerous rehearsals with a first-team actor in preparation of a shot further constitutes the work of a principal actor and the appropriate principal rate for the work. In all, why would the union not stick up for a stand-in asked to do the work asked of principal actors?

Your Thoughts?

Given some of the above arguments for additional compensation for stand-ins when performing non-traditional work, what do you think? Do you agree, disagree, or have a different approach to the issues? What other issues have you encountered when standing in and being asked to do something more than your usual stand-in work?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!