For most stand-in jobs you do, you won’t be required to memorize or even read the lines of your actor.
However, that’s definitely not all the time. In truth, sometimes you will be asked to read the lines. For some stand-in jobs, it’s even expected that you read the lines.
When I’m standing in, I want to know whether I need to read the lines because that has an impact on how closely I read over the scene and try to understand it. If I’m not expected to read the lines, I won’t care as much about the meaning of the scene and what the characters are saying. But if I’m expected to read the lines, I’ll want to make sure I go over the scene several times to make sure I understand it. I may even want to make sure I’m close to memorized!
How might you learn to predict when you need to read lines when you are standing in? Here are some pointers.
Ask the Regular Stand-Ins
When I’m new to a production and I’m standing in, one of the first questions I ask of the regular stand-ins is whether they are asked to read the lines.
Most of the time the answer will be “No, we don’t read the lines,” or “Rarely, though sometimes we do.” Both of those answers are good clues on how prepared you should be with lines.
If the stand-ins say that they don’t read lines, that is probably a good indicator that you won’t be expected to read lines except in a very unusual situation.
However, if the stand-ins say they rarely or sometimes do, that is probably a good indicator that there are some times when stand-ins’ reading the lines is important.
What might those situations be?
Look out for “Walk & Talks”
A “walk & talk” is a scene in which two characters are simply walking together and talking side by side. Often these kinds of conversations happen on a sidewalk, though they can be anywhere where there is a long stretch along which the characters walk and talk.
If the actors aren’t available to rehearse, sometimes the director will want to work with the stand-ins. The director might want to use the stand-ins as a test to see how much sidewalk or territory is covered during the scripted conversation. Having the stand-ins read the lines helps the director gauge the length of the shot.
So, if you see that a scene is a walk & talk, and if you have a sense that the actors aren’t available, be prepared to do the lines. You just might get asked!
Look out for Steadicam Work
A Steadicam is a camera mounted to a camera operator usually via an arm connected to a vest. The Steadicam helps the camera operator move the camera smoothly while walking with it. A Steadicam can create interesting, moving shots that are hard to create with a stationary camera or a camera mounted to a dolly.
As a result, Steadicam work at times can involve a bit of choreography between the actors and the Steadicam operator. That said, the stand-ins may need to learn and perform that choreography with the Steadicam operator. And because the Steadicam operator may be listening for cues in the dialogue to initiate a move, second-team rehearsals with Steadicam may involve stand-ins reading lines.
When you are watching a marking rehearsal for a scene that may involve a Steadicam, you will want to take extra care in listening to when your actor and the other actors say their lines. Where were they standing when they said each line? That information will be important because when you later perform the blocking, the Steadicam operator may be timing a move off of your timing.
Look out for New Directors
If you are working in television, each episode you stand in on may have a new director. When a new director comes on board, that director may work differently than the past directors. For example, that director may use stand-ins differently, including expecting that stand-ins run lines.
On the first day of an episode, be a bit more attentive to the dialogue in the event the director asks you to do lines.
When Your Actor Is Not There Yet
If your actor is not available to rehearse, or if your actor is delayed and can’t make it in time to set, at times the stand-ins will be brought in to rehearse with the actors.
While this is not a regular occurrence, from time to time it can happen. In such a case, giving your best performance — or at least a decent one — may be more beneficial than just monotonously reading the lines.
If you and the other stand-ins are all new to the set, other people to ask about whether they typically have stand-ins run lines is the background PA or the 2nd 2nd AD. They should have a decent sense of how often (if ever) the stand-ins run lines.
If your eyesight isn’t that great and you have a sneaking suspicious that reading lines is in your future, you may want to ask for a larger set of sides. Most sizes are the size of a half sheet of paper, but many productions will also create full-size sheets of sides.
Avoid giving a full performance should you be asked to read the lines in a second-team rehearsal. Definitely avoid doing your own thing when asked to read lines in a second-team rehearsal. If you do your own thing, you might confuse the camera crew about what is supposed to happen in the scene when the actor arrives. Usually a calm or not-too-committed performance works for most second-team rehearsals.
If you are reading the lines then all of the characters stop to talk for a long stretch of time, there is a decent chance that reading the lines in that long stretch won’t be necessary in a second-team rehearsal. Most of the time when lines are requested of stand-ins, it’s for timing of the cameras or other events to the dialogue. If there is no more timing off of the dialogue, then usually the stand-ins don’t need to speak any longer.
And if you’re a stand-in but not also an actor, fret not! Usually not much is expected of stand-ins when it comes to reading lines. Just try to pick up your cues — in other words, just try to say your line immediately after the other stand-in’s line. That helps a lot!
How do you predict when you need to run lines as a stand-in? Share your insights below!