For a number of years on Stand-In Central, we have documented the media’s mislabeling of photo doubles or other types of production talent as “stand-ins.” We have pointed out that confusing stand-ins and photo doubles, body doubles, stunt doubles, and the like can actually be problematic for the actor thus represented — and potentially be problematic for the person doing the stand-in work or double work.
For example, when one media outlet called a likely stand-in for talent Oprah Winfrey her “body double,” a number of critical commenters believed that because of the difference in appearance between Winfrey and her reported “body double,” Winfrey must have been trying to mislead audiences about her appearance. One commenter wrote:
HYPOCRITE! Oprah- YOU need to take a ‘master class’ in AUTHENTICITY!
This critical commentary, which resulted from poor reporting on the production process, brought negative light on the talent through no fault of her own. Potentially, it also brought poor negative light on the reported “body double,” who was actually Winfrey’s stand-in for the shoot so she technically was not hired to appear on camera in the shoot.
There was nothing to suggest Winfrey or production was trying to misrepresent Winfrey’s appearance by using a stand-in who was noticeably different from her, but by confusing a stand-in with a body double, the media outlet made it seem that Winfrey was trying to pull a fast one about her appearance.
As we have shown from time to time, media outlets continue to play fast and loose with production language when it comes to stand-ins. And it happened again recently, with potentially insulting effect.
Birds of Prey Stand-In Confusion
In this recent case, a media outlet refers to an on-screen double — a stunt double — as a “stand-in.”
In a recent article on ScreenRant.com titled “Birds of Prey’s Joker Stand-In Actor Still Had Jared Leto Tattoos,” writer Sandy Schaefer reports:
Twitter user and DC fan Mikhail Villarreal has posted a Birds of Prey set photo featuring the movie’s Joker stand-in actor during a break. As you can see below, he’s clearly modeled after Leto’s Joker and even has his facial tattoos… that is, save for the infamous “Damaged” one on his forehead, anyway.
If you examine the Twitter photos found here and here, you will see a performer in extensive wardrobe and makeup. Looking at the credits on the Internet Movie Database for the person credited as Joker’s stunt performer, you will find the name of Matt Berberi, someone with extensive stunt credits, including stunt double work for the actor who played Joker in a prequel to Birds of Prey.
Comparing Matt’s image with the performer in the Twitter photos, you will see a similarity in appearance, suggesting Matt, a stunt performer, is in the photos, and not a stand-in. While it is possible Matt worked as both a stand-in and a stunt double, that fact is not documented in the reporting. Typically, people working as stand-ins do not go through extensive hair, makeup, and wardrobe prep in order to do their jobs.
Why It Can Matter When Media Misclassify Stand-Ins and Doubles
Given the wide range of earnings and pride some workers put in their specific work niche, confusing a stunt double as a “stand-in” could be a professional slight against the stunt performer.
Stunt doubles earn considerably more than stand-ins.
Stunt performers (including stunt doubles) currently earn approximately $1,000/8 hours, approximately $3,500/week, or some other collectively bargained minimum rate. Stunt performers’ exact earnings depend on individual negotiations and sometimes the actual stunts involved, which may drive up these figures or earnings.
Stand-ins currently make on SAG-AFTRA feature film productions a range from minimum wage in some right-to-work states, to approximately $204/8 hours in union-secure states where SAG-AFTRA has jurisdiction over stand-ins.
In terms of contract minimums, stunt performers earn approximately $800 more in a day than stand-ins do.
Why It Can Also Matter When Media Misclassify Stand-Ins and Doubles
Not to mention, stunt work is typically dangerous work.
Stand-ins rarely if ever perform the work that stunt performers do. In other words, stand-in work is relatively safe, and if a stand-in is asked to do something dangerous, such stand-in would usually earn more through either a hazard adjustment or stunt contract.
A more likely scenario is that if a stand-in needs to do dangerous work, production will hire a stunt performer to do the work — and not at a stand-in rate but under a stunt contract.
Given the danger involved in stunt double work, to call it merely “stand-in work,” which professionally does not indicate the level of danger involved, is to underreport the stunt double’s work. The stunt double may have contributed many dangerous stunts to a production. To report that stunt double as a “stand-in” derogates the important and dangerous on-camera work they do.
Should Stand-In Central Just Chill?
The argument may be that the term “stand-in” has a more general meaning than the specific one associated with film production, so Stand-In Central should relax when it comes to how the media report people working as doubles as “stand-ins.”
In normal parlance, a stand-in is simply a substitute, something swapped in, something replacing another thing, etc. So one might argue that calling a stunt double, a body double, or some other double a “stand-in” is technically accurate, because doubles do “substitute” for actual actors, i.e., they are accurately “stand-ins” for actors, even if not hired or paid that way.
It’s interesting to note, though, that Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives the film definition as its first definition for “stand-in”:
Definition of stand-in
1: someone employed to occupy an actor’s place while lights and camera are readied
So isn’t it perhaps more normal to refer to stand-ins as “stand-ins,” and stunt doubles not as “stand-ins”?
If You’re a Writer, Editor, or Media Outlet, Will You Correctly Report Who Is a Stand-In?
In light of the mislead that mischaracterizing a stand-in and a double can do to media consumers, and in light of the professional fallout that can come to such stand-ins, doubles, and principal talent for such mislead, it is wiser for media outlets to be much more careful in reporting on set personnel and labeling whom they see.
Stand-ins and doubles are different jobs, with different pay grades, different job responsibilities, and potentially different levels of danger in their work.
If you’re a media outlet, or ever thinking of using the term “stand-in” in your reporting, will you be more careful?
If you are a writer who will be more careful in using the terms “stand-in,” “photo double,” “body double,” etc., or if you have additional comments on this topic, please write in the comments below!