Dear Stand-In Central,
I am an experienced stand-in that is currently working regularly on a television show. I am a female, and have been working regularly with the same male stand-in for a few years on this same project.
As you know, sometimes stand-in work may require physical contact with other stand-ins for the purposes of lining up the shot, such as showing a hug when the actors hugged in the scene. However, I have always strongly believed that not all physical contact that the actors have in the scene needs to be repeated by the stand-ins.
For example, if the actors kiss in the scene, the stand-ins can simply lean in close to each other. In my experience, I have found that the camera operators I’ve worked with have the same idea as I do (that physical contact is not always necessary) and I have never been asked to do anything that I wasn’t comfortable with.
With that said, the male stand-in I work with regularly on this television show initiates more physical contact than I am comfortable with. He is acting out what his actor does in the scene, but his actions can be pantomimed and it’s not necessary that he touch me. Some examples include massaging shoulders, putting his arms around my waist, and kisses on the cheek.
My dilemma is that I don’t know how get the message to this stand-in that I do not want him to touch me, but also that it’s not necessary for him to touch any other stand-ins either. I have encountered these uncomfortable situations off and on for a few years since I’ve been working with him, but these situations are happening more frequently lately. We do not have a good working relationship, so it would be very difficult for me to confront him myself.
What would you suggest I do? Is there someone on set besides this stand-in that would be appropriate to talk to about the situation and that you think could help? Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.
Response from Ben Hauck
Thank you, Uncomfortable, for writing in. In the current era when sexual harassment and misconduct is receiving major headlines, it is important for the public to understand that it can affect not just movie stars in the entertainment industry. It can affect other workers in the entertainment industry as well. Furthermore, it can be expressed in subtle, personal ways that may not be easy for an onlooker to detect.
As for what to do in your situation, my short answer is “Protect yourself, and when you are still violated, seek help.” Here are additional insights to flesh out that strategy.
Instruct Other Stand-Ins What to Do in Place of Controversial Actions and Blocking
Going forward, if you see scripted or in a marking rehearsal any physical contact or action that makes you uncomfortable to receive, tell the other stand-in that when it comes to that physical contact or action, “Don’t actually do that. Instead, do this.” Then, demonstrate what action you would find acceptable in place of the uncomfortable action. In other words, draw a clear line about what you find acceptable in interacting with you.
For example, if a kiss is scripted between your actors, say something to the other stand-in like, “When it comes to the kiss, don’t actually kiss me. Just lean in [this close]” and demonstrate the distance you find acceptable. Or simply say “When it comes to the kiss, don’t actually kiss me. Just touch foreheads.”
In talking to the other stand-in, instruct the other stand-in on what to actually do — rather than simply telling the stand-in “don’t do” something. When you say “don’t do” without also mentioning what to actually do in its place, it can be confusing and disorienting to the other stand-in. “Well, what do I do instead? Just stand there??”
I actually make these kinds of instructions myself, especially when working in intimate scenes with female stand-ins to help them feel comfortable about working with me. Instructions like those above should clearly establish lines and boundaries that can serve as measures on whether the other stand-in is violating you.
Visibly Reject Any Actions That Cross the Lines You’ve Drawn
When you explain what you want done to you in place of controversial actions or blocking, should the other stand-in go beyond the clear lines you’ve draw, reject. Do not accept the treatment you just received from the other stand-in. Visibly react to the controversial action or blocking so that there is no confusion to others or the other stand-in when the line was crossed or whether you had an issue with the action.
For example, if a kiss is scripted and the other stand-in actually tries to kiss you, reject it by moving away. You can heighten the rejection by calling it out, showing on camera your rejection, going to an AD about it, etc. For this other stand-in to go beyond the clear line you’ve established, it could be considered some form of harassment or assault.
Think of it like this: If you broke your arm in a handshake scene, you’d tell the other stand-in what to actually do when it comes to shaking your hand. If he actually shook your arm still, you’d react painfully and immediately. The same goes with inappropriate contact, especially when you’ve laid out what to actually do with you.
Tell Other Stand-Ins If and When You Are Okay Performing Controversial Actions and Blocking
It may be that you’ve told the other stand-in what not to do and what to actually do in place of physical contact or actions that make you feel uncomfortable. Then it may be that the camera department for some reason or another needs a better portrayal of the action during a rehearsal than what you two are doing. For example, the camera department may need the stand-ins to be physically closer than they are in a kissing scene. How do you handle that?
If the camera department really needs the action or blocking portrayed by the stand-ins, and if you are truly okay with doing that, say to the other stand-in in that moment, “It’s okay.” If you’re not okay with that, do not perform the action and instead in that moment take it up with the camera department or boss who is requiring that of you.
You Are Not the Actor — You Are a Stand-In
It is important to remember that, ultimately, you are not the actor, but instead you are working as a stand-in for the actor.
Your behavior also is a stand-in. So, you don’t actually do the lines with the same commitment as the actor. Nor do you do more intimate things as committed. A kissing scene does not require stand-ins actually kissing. Behavior that stands in for kissing is appropriate. You do not actually have to get massaged if it is scripted. Behavior that stands in for it (hands on shoulders, or hands hovering over shoulders, or whatever works for you) is appropriate.
Encourage Asking Other Stand-Ins to Ask for Your Permission Before Touching You
Another strategy for you may be to encourage the other stand-in from now on to ask for your permission before touching you in any scene.
I tend to regard the waist area as an intimate region on another stand-in. When I need to touch the waist of another stand-in in a scene, I tend to ask if it’s okay and wait for a reply. Or, if it seems okay to do so (say that the stand-in works regularly works on the project, usually accepts this kind of request, and that the DP is asking for the action), I try to do a dispassionate, clinical touch, knowing it could be a sensitive spot for the other stand-in. In other words, I don’t try to portray the passion my actor may have demonstrated in the marking rehearsal, and instead opt for something without passion. Once the action is no longer required, I put my hands down rather than keep them there unnecessarily.
Telling the other stand-in to ask for your permission to touch you may help, though it sounds as if this other stand-in does not get it. That does not excuse his behavior, though, and it makes it more damning when he touches you without permission going forward.
Talk to a Union Rep for Advice
As for additional help, if you are working as a union stand-in, talk to a union representative (like a field rep, who may daily visit your set) about handling such issues and for advice on managing them.
The union may treat you and the other stand-in as equals if you are both working as members, which may feel frustrating to you. You do not need to take formal action in talking to a field rep — but you may get some helpful advice.
Make Your Grievance(s) Known to Production
Obviously, if you are uncomfortable, make your grievance(s) known to an AD if this other stand-in is violating you. Rather than to a 1st AD or 2nd 2nd AD, perhaps talk to a 2nd AD, who is likely more responsible over hiring and who may have the time to attend to your grievance(s). However, if it is hard to find the 2nd AD, definitely consider talking to the 1st AD or the 2nd 2nd AD.
While it may be sexist to assume the following, if there is a female AD, talk to the female AD about the issue you are having with the other stand-in — in case she is more sympathetic to your issue than a male AD. When it comes to ADs, perhaps mention it is a safety issue — or that you feel “unsafe” working with the other stand-in — and why. If it’s because the other stand-in touches you inappropriately despite your telling him not to, you may be in a good position to claim an unsafe or hostile work environment.
As another tactic, if you are comfortable talking with the DP or some other crew member of influence, talk to that person about their needs of you and the other stand-in. That could help in a) having an authoritative answer on set about what behavior is required of stand-ins, b) getting protection from the other stand-in during rehearsals that crew member is watching, and c) getting the other stand-in fired for inappropriate and unprofessional conduct should it emerge.
Despite a bad working relationship with this other stand-in, it is my opinion you should start today installing for yourself personal lines of acceptable interaction with this stand-in and others.
Where scripts or marking rehearsals depict inappropriate interactions for you and stand-ins to do, get out in front of any problems and brief the other stand-ins about what not to do and what to actually do in place of those actions. Therefore, when a line is crossed, you can say to a superior that you drew a line about what not to do, and that the stand-in crossed it knowingly.
In addition to the above, seek help from a union rep, an assistant director, or — if appropriate — law enforcement.
Have you dealt with sexual harassment or misconduct when standing in? How did you address it? What resulted? Help this stand-in and share your personal experiences below!