This post is part of Stand-In Central’s deep-dive series into the coronavirus pandemic as it relates to stand-in work in TV and film. For more posts in the long-running series, visit https://standincentral.com/coronavirus.
— The Editor
The following is a letter mailed today from The Editor to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, who SAG-AFTRA recently announced is joining the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety.
His purpose is advise the union in the creation of minimum safety standards and risk mitigation on the return to television, film, and commercial production work amid the current pandemic.
The letter speaks for itself. Please share with other concerned parties.
— The Editor
UPDATE 5/21/2020, 6:08pm: The letter was received at SAG-AFTRA headquarters today at 11:01am PT.
UPDATE 5/27/2020, 10:27pm: Lingering questions remain and are collected in this subsequent post.
May 20, 2020
Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding
President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety
c/o Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA President
5757 Wilshire Boulevard, 7th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dear Dr. Fielding:
On the news you are working with SAG-AFTRA’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety, I am encouraged to hear that someone with your extensive education and experience in public health and administration is assisting SAG-AFTRA during the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. I regret that I do not know your current mailing address despite attempts to procure it, so I have sent this letter via next day mail to SAG-AFTRA headquarters in the hopes the Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety will provide it to you in an expedited manner. I am also publishing this letter as an open letter online in case this additional method draws your attention to it.
From SAG-AFTRA’s May 13th press release on your joining the Commission, I read that your objective is, in planning for the return of SAG-AFTRA jurisdictional work, to develop a set of protocols establishing minimum safety standards and maximum risk mitigation associated with traditional production modes. It excites me to hear that SAG-AFTRA is taking seriously preparations for the return to work, and I believe you will be integral in that process.
I write to you as a concerned SAG-AFTRA stand-in and the editor of the website Stand-In Central. Since 2010, I have written on a weekly basis about the work and issues particular to stand-ins. Industry publications including The Hollywood Reporter and Backstage have come to me as a source for information about stand-in work, and I have co-authored a handbook on stand-in work. To date, I have been recognized by the Television Academy in 2016, 2017, and 2018 for my contributions as a stand-in to an Emmy Award-winning variety talk series, and I have worked as a stand-in for a number of celebrated actors who are SAG-AFTRA members.
In case you are not familiar with stand-ins, first please permit me the opportunity to give you a general overview. Stand-ins are those professionals on a television, film, or commercial production that cinematographers and camera personnel use to light and set up camera shots. In general, for every principal actor in a shot, there is a corresponding stand-in. Productions use stand-ins for a number of reasons, some of which include to allow productions to rehearse shots with stand-ins before the principal actors step in; to permit the principal actors to receive the services of hair, makeup, and wardrobe personnel during the setup of a shot rather than be on set; and to allow the principal actors some downtime while a shot is set up. Effective stand-ins are valuable to TV, film, and commercial productions because they save them time, energy, and money.
Many stand-ins are “day players,” meaning they work one day on a production, or they work only occasionally on that production over weeks or months. Some stand-ins work more frequently than that, especially if they stand in for an actor who works regularly on a production or if they stand in for several different actors on the production. Few stand-ins work every day or nearly every day on a production. This means that stand-ins usually come in and out of a production with no continuity to their employment, so they are not as informed about the production as other professionals working more regularly on the production.
Furthermore, stand-ins frequently “bounce around” to different productions, meaning on a Monday a stand-in could be working on one production with one set of cast and crew, on a Tuesday the stand-in could be working on a different production with another set of cast and crew, and so on to the degree that stand-ins can continue to book stand-in work. Myself, before the onset of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, I have regularly worked over long stretches as a stand-in on average for approximately 4.5 days a week, with a period in 2019 of about five months working 6 days a week as a stand-in over two different television productions. It is not uncommon for stand-ins to work 12-hour days or longer.
Admittedly, a stand-in is a “funny” profession. By its name, it would sound like someone who simply is paid to stand on a set. However, as I have documented in extensive detail since 2010 on Stand-In Central, in actuality there is a lot more than simply “standing” that a professional SAG-AFTRA stand-in does and faces. Professional stand-ins require a large amount of work experience to understand the different demands presented by different productions in the execution of effective stand-in work. Because professional stand-in work is much more than simply “standing,” and because those facts are not widely known, it is for this reason Stand-In Central exists, and why I advocate for stand-ins and their unique needs when the occasion arises – such as now, in writing to you.
There is nothing funny about stand-ins in terms of the unique safety issues to which they are exposed on a television, film, or commercial set. Under at least two major SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements, stand-ins are defined more generally as “background actors.” However, in practice, this classification is misleading. In particular, background actors appear on camera during a shot, and stand-ins do not appear on camera during a shot. Stand-ins simply work “behind the scenes.” Essentially, background actors are part of the “cast” for a production, while stand-ins are not part of the “cast.” In light of this practical differentiation, stand-ins are colloquially viewed or described as “crew,” even though there is no collective bargaining agreement language that contractually makes that differentiation.
In practice, this tendency to view stand-ins as “crew” rather than as “cast” (as other background actors are generally viewed) has ramifications, most importantly for stand-in safety. Because in some contexts stand-ins are viewed as “cast” and while in other contexts stand-ins are viewed as “crew,” with no definitive classification for them, casting directors (who hire stand-ins) and assistant directors (who direct stand-ins, along with other production crew) tend to believe the other is responsible for particular aspects of stand-ins’ safety. For example, casting directors who hire stand-ins may inform background actors about hazardous conditions such as smoke on the next day’s job, but repeatedly fail to tell stand-ins about those same hazards on the next day’s job. Similarly, assistant directors may not include stand-ins in anti-harassment or other safety training, because they may believe that casting directors are responsible for holding that training. The result of the inconsistent classification of stand-ins as either firmly “crew” or “cast” has, for many years, meant that stand-ins inevitably fall through the cracks. Stand-ins often end up with less information about a production day than their fellow background actors, and stand-ins often are left out of safety training that their fellow crew members receive. In fact, most stand-ins arrive to work on SAG-AFTRA productions with little to no understanding about the requirements or demands of the particular production day, including any safety notices. These facts make stand-ins ultimately needlessly vulnerable when they report to work, and at a greater risk to hazards at work than other crew members and other actors.
With this letter, I aim to briefly outline for you what I have witnessed through my decade of experience as a SAG-AFTRA stand-in in the New York City area are important safety vulnerabilities unique to stand-ins on television, film, and commercial sets – vulnerabilities that are different than those experienced by SAG-AFTRA actors, both principal actors and background actors. These vulnerabilities are also different than those experienced by television, film, and commercial crew members. I provide this information to you given your explicit interest in health and safety, especially within SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction, for careful consideration in the development of protocols for health, safety, and risk mitigation in light of the current pandemic, in the likely event these specific insights will not be shared directly with you by others on the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety. I disbelieve the President’s Commission includes a person who actively works as a stand-in, particularly one who works in the New York Zone, or someone who has amassed insights into stand-in work more than I have in my writing on stand-in work since 2010.
Below you will find a list of ten vulnerabilities unique to stand-ins, proposed resolutions, and further detail about the nature of the vulnerabilities and proposed resolutions. While this is hardly a complete list of vulnerabilities, I think these may be among the more important ones for you to understand as you have already reportedly begun work to assist SAG-AFTRA’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety.
VULNERABILITIES UNIQUE TO STAND-INS
1. PRELIMS, CALLSHEETS & SAFETY INFORMATION
|VULNERABILITY:||Background Actors, Including Stand-Ins, Do Not Receive Preliminary Callsheets, Callsheets, and Safety Information before the Workday.|
|RESOLUTION:||All Background Actors, Including Stand-Ins, Should Receive Preliminary Callsheets, Callsheets, and Safety Information before the Workday.|
In television, film, and commercial production, a callsheet is a list of the calltimes for the principal cast members and crew positions working on a particular day. In television and film, this callsheet also includes an outline of the work to be shot on the day. The day before a shoot day, a preliminary callsheet (“prelim”) is released, which gives a preliminary idea of the work to be shot on the next day. After wrap, the official callsheet for the next day is released. Along with the official callsheet is also any safety information for the work day, if required by the character of work to be shot.
Prelims and callsheets are not only distributed on set as paper, but they are also emailed out. It is common, yet inexplicably so, industry practice to distribute the paper copies only to crew members and not to background actors or stand-ins, though occasionally productions will also distribute paper copies to stand-ins, especially if the stand-in personally requests a copy and production does not forbid giving stand-ins a paper copy. It is also common industry practice to distribute email copies only to crew members and not to background actors or stand-ins, though occasionally productions will distribute email copies to stand-ins, especially if the stand-in personally requests to be placed on the email distribution list (“distro”) for the production and production does not forbid emailing stand-ins prelims and callsheet information.
In practice, background actors do not receive prelims, callsheets, or any of the published safety information for the shoot day, and only a small handful of stand-ins (I would estimate fewer than 5% of those who regularly work as stand-ins) directly receive from production email copies of prelims, callsheets, and published safety information. As a result, background actors nearly never receive the safety information that crew members receive, and few stand-ins receive the safety information crew members receive.
The divergence of insight about the hazards of the production day can be seen on the production day, when, for example, the crew members are dressed for work in harsh elements, and the stand-ins arrive without appropriate clothing or gear to work in the harsh elements. This is not a failing of the stand-ins, but instead a failing of production to notify stand-ins about the hazards unique to the work day. I have personally witnessed this kind of notification failure repeatedly over my decade-long stand-in career, and I have even notified a manager of SAG-AFTRA field representatives about the repeated failures to notify stand-ins about harsh conditions and provide them with callsheets. The manager was not aware that stand-ins did not receive callsheet information. That surprising revelation is one of the many reasons I write to you directly, because my experience is that SAG-AFTRA is unaware of some of the basic and long-standing issues stand-ins intimately face; namely, that stand-ins do not receive prelims and callsheets before their day of work, so they cannot properly prepare for work namely of a hazardous character.
How this vulnerability lends to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may be obvious, but please permit me to explicate. If a production provides with its callsheet any additional safety information, and if stand-ins do not receive that information, those stand-ins cannot make appropriate arrangements to protect themselves when they report to work, especially those arrangements that may be specific to their own health needs and interests. Also, those stand-ins may not know any safety protocols that the production implements and has dictated to other crew members, so stand-ins may unknowingly break safety protocols and put other crew members at risk, merely because production failed to inform stand-ins about those safety protocols before arriving at work.
The overarching point is that stand-ins without prelims, callsheets, and safety information provided to them in advance of the shoot day are unable to prepare for their own work that day, and may also undo safety protections put in place by production by way of production’s failure to distribute appropriate safety information to stand-ins.
To resolve this matter, productions should as a matter of standard practice provide all stand-ins working on the next production day with prelims, callsheets, and safety information by the day before they report to work, as is the case with other crew members. This would likely entail coordinating with casting directors to procure the email addresses for all stand-ins expected to work on the next day, in order to deliver to them the prelims, callsheets, and safety information. Given that many casting directors likely already have this information on file, this coordination effort should not cause undue burden on a production, especially considering that the risks of not informing stand-ins about safety issues may be considerable both to production as well as SAG-AFTRA stand-ins
2. TRANSPORTATION TO LOCATIONS “OUT OF THE ZONE”
|VULNERABILITY:||For Some Location Shoots, Stand-Ins Take 15-Passenger Vans Provided by Production, Which May Be Completely Full. While Stand-Ins Often Are on the Clock When They Leave in the Van, Other Crew Members Are on the Clock When the Van Lands at the Location.|
|RESOLUTION:||For Location Shoots, 15-Passenger Vans Must Abide by Appropriate Physical Distancing and Face Covering Guidelines. If Temperature Checks Are Performed, They Must Be Performed by All Van Passengers before Their Entry to the Van, Not at the Arrival at the Location.|
In New York City, a number of television and film productions shoot outside the 8-mile radius from Columbus Circle. Productions outside that radius are, by way of at least two SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements, considered “out of the zone.” Productions will usually provide transportation to stand-ins along with other crew members to the “out of the zone” location.
Stand-ins are on the clock at their van calltime for work “out of the zone.” However, not all crew members’ unions have negotiated the same terms. Some crew members’ unions have negotiated that the particular crew member’s calltime is their arrival time at the location. This fact means that for some passengers in the van (i.e., stand-ins), they are on the job, while other passenger in the van (i.e., affected crew members) are travelling to the job and arguably not yet at the job. The transportation for these crew members is a “courtesy.”
Currently, EEOC guidelines permit temperature checks before beginning work. For non-SAG-AFTRA jobs with a regular physical plant, this requirement seems easy enough to implement and enforce. However, for television, film, and commercial productions shooting on location, this requirement seems too simple to be effective. This is because for stand-ins, they begin work when they board the van and depart for the location, but for some other crew members, they do not begin work until they arrive at the location.
In terms of SARS-CoV-2 risk mitigation, the question becomes where temperature checks should be required, of whom, and at what time(s). For stand-ins, it would make sense to require temperature checks upon arrival the van for location shoots because that is when they are on the clock. But, in terms of safety and risk mitigation, it would not make sense to require temperature checks for stand-ins but not require temperature checks for the other passengers on the van (or the driver of the van, for that matter). This is because while the stand-ins in the van may all pass a temperature check, if another crew member or the van driver does not take a temperature check and is running a fever, then that crew member runs the risk of infecting the stand-ins.
The added complication comes with the arrival at the location. It would make some sense to require temperature checks upon the arrival of the van at the location. These temperature checks would not only cover the van passengers, but they would also cover those crew members who self-reported to the location. However, with respect to the stand-ins (who could have been infected by a passenger crew member who did not receive a temperature check), those stand-ins should have their temperatures checked again upon arrival at the location, given the potential they may have run to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 during the commute.
Additional complications become clear when a stand-in who passes a temperature check at a van, then arrives on location and fails a temperature check there. The stand-in has already been driven to the location; how does the stand-in leave work at this point? Does the stand-in take a van back to the pickup point? Does the van driver run the risk of getting infected in transporting a stand-in now potentially infected with SARS-CoV-2?
To resolve this matter, it seems that productions shooting on location that provide transportation must adhere to physical distancing (“social distancing”) and facial covering requirements recommended by the CDC inside that transportation. In following that advice, that would likely mean that 15-passenger vans should arguably be at half capacity or less, transporting approximately 7 or fewer passengers staggered throughout the van to maximize distance from each passenger. Put differently, this would likely mean that productions may need to double or more their fleet of provided 15-passenger vans and drivers, or else provide larger vehicles with more physical distance between the passengers by which to transport the crew (such as a charter bus). There may be other resolutions to this matter, such as putting all stand-ins on their own vans because they are all on the clock at that time, and separating to another van crew members who are not yet on the clock and whose ride to the location is a courtesy provided by production.
Furthermore, all passengers before entering the van should receive temperature checks, not just those on the clock. Their passage of such checks should be the condition for all passengers as well as the driver to board the van and drive the van to the location. Then, after the arrival at location, their temperature may be checked again if deemed necessary, such as when mingling with other stand-ins or crew members who self-reported. Doing so will help mitigate obvious risks that are apparent to stand-ins but may not be apparent to productions, SAG-AFTRA, or other crew members.
3. PAPER VOUCHERS & “COLOR COVER”
|VULNERABILITY:||Stand-Ins Complete Payment Vouchers That Are on Paper, and That Are Handled by Multiple Other People throughout the Work Day.|
|RESOLUTION:||Stand-Ins Should Complete Payment Vouchers Paperlessly (Digitally) Using the Stand-In’s Own Mobile Device, If Possible. When Not Possible, Production Should Provide a Means for Entering Payment Voucher Information on a Sanitized, Production-Sanctioned Device. Productions Should Design a Different Means for Accounting for Color Cover, Which Stand-Ins Obtain Typically by Exchanging Their Paper Payment Voucher for It.|
Usually immediately upon arrival at their job for the day, a production assistant will hand a stand-in a payment voucher. This payment voucher is a package of paper, and it is the means by which the stand-in reports his or her payment rate, hours, meal penalties, night premia, and any other conditions affecting the stand-in’s compensation. Many productions’ payroll companies also bundle Federal tax information forms with payment vouchers, as well as Wage Notifications as required by the New York State Wage Theft Prevention Act.
Frequently, then, the stand-in will need to visit with someone in the wardrobe department to receive a garment of clothing that matches what the stand-in’s respective principal actor is wearing. This garment is called “color cover.” In exchange for color cover, the stand-in will hand the payment voucher to a member of the wardrobe department. Upon return of the color cover, a member of the wardrobe department will hand back the payment voucher. Later, the stand-in will hand back the payment voucher to a production assistant at or near the conclusion of the work day. From there, it is uncertain who may handle the vouchers next, but presumptively data entry professionals or accountants at the production’s payroll company later handle the payment vouchers.
Digital versions of payment vouchers would likely hinder the potential for spreading infection by removing the transfer of paper from production personnel to stand-in to wardrobe department personnel and back, and inevitably to the payroll department. Most of the time, stand-ins would be able to enter the required payment information into an app on their mobile device, if such an app existed. In the event a stand-in does not have a mobile phone or cannot use his or her mobile phone, production should be able to provide both another means for entering the payment information and a means for keeping that entry device sanitized after each use. For example, if production provided an Internet-connected tablet for entering payment information, production should also provide a means for cleaning it between uses.
The technology and implementation of digital payment vouchers exists within the industry, though it is not widespread on SAG-AFTRA productions. In fact, at least some of its collective bargaining agreements may require paper vouchers. That said, it seems realistic to believe that SAG-AFTRA could waive language that requires paper vouchers if a production can produce digital vouchers, especially considering SAG-AFTRA’s interest in safety.
To resolve the matter, the extinction of paper vouchers and the introduction of all-digital vouchers seems necessitated by the current pandemic, given the risk of infectious disease transmission paper may cause as payment vouchers are passed from production to stand-in to wardrobe and inevitably back to production and accounting. SAG-AFTRA exercises its waiver power from time to time, even without widespread SAG-AFTRA member say, so it would seem reasonable to assume the labor organization could exercise such power should employers and their payroll companies devise an effective means for reporting payment rates, hours, etc., without the use of paper.
Given by at least two collective bargaining agreements that background actors should not give up possession of their vouchers over the shoot day, it is apparent that the practice of stand-ins giving wardrobe department personnel their payment vouchers in exchange for color cover is a prohibited practice. The process should stop now not only for that reason, but also because of the transmission risks the violative practice presents. As such, SAG-AFTRA and employers should negotiate a new means for stand-ins to obtain color cover that does not involve them releasing possession of their payment vouchers.
4. PAPER SIDES
|VULNERABILITY:||Stand-Ins Use Side That Are Paper, and That Are Handled by Multiple People throughout the Day.|
|RESOLUTION:||Stand-Ins Should Be Provided with Digital Copies of Sides.|
Sides are the pages from the script that are being produced that production day. Sides also contain a miniaturized version of the callsheet as a first page. With this miniaturized version of the callsheet, stand-ins are able to understand the scope of work for the day (but usually are not able to learn this before reporting to work, as described above).
Sides are handed to stand-ins usually by production assistants but sometimes by assistant directors, who have received them from production assistants. Sides originate from an unknown source, who may have handled the sides before the production assistants start distributing them. The point is, when stand-ins receive their packets of sides, the paper may have been handled several times before.
Some productions, especially those that appear to be concerned about breaches of confidentiality, require that stand-ins return their sides at the end of their day. The stand-in likely was handling the sides for much of the day. Returning the sides back to production likely means a very handled packet of paper sides is then handed back to a production assistant, after which time they may be handled further.
The digital delivery of sides (and the callsheet information that is typically attached along with them) seems to be an obvious solution to the issues presented by paper sides. Of course, digital sides present their own problems (they are harder to read because mobile phones are smaller than paper sides; they require mobile phone power to see and a stable mobile phone connection to access; etc.). But switching to digital sides will mitigate infection risks that paper sides present.
But, just as stand-ins don’t typically receive email versions of prelims, callsheets, and additional safety information, stand-ins may easily be overlooked in providing digital sides, and potentially even be forbidden by production from receiving them. In such an event, the question becomes how the stand-in can perform her or her job and do it safely. Providing stand-ins with paper sides when all other crew members receive digital versions does not help stand-ins do their jobs safely.
To resolve the matter, the resolution is similar to the one presented with respect to prelims, callsheets, and safety information. All stand-ins working on the day should receive a digital version of the sides. The electronic distribution of those sides can be by a different means than simply email if confidentiality is a concern. Perhaps they can be obtained on the day via a secure website managed by production. Whatever the means of distribution is not the point; the point is that digital sides, while not as effective as paper sides for stand-ins to do their job, minimize transmission risks for stand-ins as well as production.
5. SAFETY BRIEFINGS
|VULNERABILITY:||Insofar as They Are Classified as “Crew,” Stand-Ins Do Not All Receive Safety Briefings, Especially When They Are Held in Holding and When Their Calltime Is after Crew’s Calltime.|
|RESOLUTION:||Productions Must Call All Stand-Ins to Safety Briefings That May Apply to Their Work, or Separately and Equally Brief Stand-Ins about the Work Day’s Safety.|
In practice, near the beginning of many production days, an assistant director, who is responsible for the safety of the crew, will call the crew together on or near the set to give a safety meeting. Also in practice, stand-ins are not specifically invited to these safety meetings, though some stand-ins may elect to attend on their own if they believe they are welcome to do so.
It is unclear why stand-ins are not specifically called to safety meetings, especially when colloquially stand-ins are referred to as “crew.” Because stand-ins work very closely with the crew, stand-ins need to be in attendance at safety meetings, especially when other crew members are called to them.
Presumptively these safety meetings would outline new safety requirements in light of the current pandemic. Stand-ins without that safety information may run the risk of becoming infected the moment they enter a set or potentially contaminating others (such as other stand-ins or actors) while they are on set and ignorant of the production’s safety information and requirements.
The vulnerability becomes greater when a safety meeting is held at or near the crew calltime, but a stand-in ends up with a later calltime on the day. Never have I witnessed a stand-in with a later calltime get a safety briefing from an assistant director when a safety meeting has been held earlier. In effect, these stand-ins are unaware of important safety information, such as entry and exit ways for the set, the gathering point in case of an evacuation, whether certain elements of the set are dangerous or hazardous, etc. This lack of knowledge is not the failure of the stand-in but the failure of the production to inform the stand-in.
To resolve this matter, all stand-ins should be required to attend safety meetings when safety meetings are called. In the event a stand-in is called in later in the day after this safety meeting has occurred, the stand-in must be provided with the same information given to the crew during the safety meeting insofar as it still applies. For example, the stand-in must be informed of entry and exit points, gathering points in case of evacuation, use of pyrotechnics, use of weapons, etc., if that stand-in may be at work when those safety conditions may still be in effect on the job.
It may help to have a stand-in certify that he or she has received the day’s safety information. It may also help that should a production fail to provide the stand-ins with the day’s safety meeting information, then SAG-AFTRA would agree that the stand-in has proper grounds for filing a claim for work of a hazardous character and for appropriate remedial compensation to that effect as provided or promised by the governing collective bargaining agreement.
6. BANS ON MOBILE PHONE USE & ON-SET PHOTOGRAPHY
|VULNERABILITY:||Many Productions Limit the Use of Mobile Phones and Photography on Set, to Reduce the Potential for the Compromise of Confidentiality.|
|RESOLUTION:||Productions May Reduce the Potential for the Compromise of Confidentiality, But Not by Limiting the Use of Mobile Phones and Photography on Set.|
Usually out of concern for the release of arguably confidential information about a production, including its cast, storyline, etc., many productions, including casting directors, will warn background actors and stand-ins not to use their mobile phones on set. Many productions will also disallow photography on set. Such use by background actors or stand-ins may sometimes be considered a fireable offense or grounds for a work suspension, though these outcomes may also be legally precarious for reasons explained below.
In practice, this guidance not to use mobile phones or take photographs on set tends to be arguably discriminatory, because stand-ins witness many crew members using their mobile phones on set, to communicate as well as take photographs – some of which use is apparently related to their jobs for continuity purposes, but also some of which is for non-work, personal reasons.
Mobile phones are a means for communicating with SAG-AFTRA any safety concerns they encounter on set, not to mention a means to concert worker activity “for the purpose of […] mutual aid or protection,” a right protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Barring stand-ins and other background actors from using mobile phones and taking photographs on set not only appears to infringe upon employee rights guaranteed by the NLRA, but in light of the pandemic, such bans limit the ability of stand-ins or other background actors to communicate to SAG-AFTRA emergency safety concerns on set and document those safety concerns with photographs or audio recordings.
Furthermore, insofar as contact tracing is aided by mobile phone data, limiting the use of mobile phones by stand-ins and other background actors could mean that, for example, when a person unknowingly with a SARS-CoV-2 infection comes in contact with stand-ins or background actors who have been separated from their mobile phones, there may be no contact traced to those stand-ins or background actors, when empirically there may have been the realistic possibility of contact infection.
Confidentiality of a production’s proprietary material can be protected by other means than banning the use of mobile phones and on-set photography. Use of a mobile phone or taking photographs on a television, film, or commercial set is not in and of itself, and does not equate to, a breach of confidentiality. In fact, SAG-AFTRA signatories may have already negotiated confidentiality terms with SAG-AFTRA, such as in the Commercials Contract. Any impedance to a stand-in’s or background actor’s use of a mobile phone or photography on set, aside from running the risk of potential unfair labor practice charges against the production, runs the risk of jeopardizing risk mitigation and safety concerns during and presumptively after the instant SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
To resolve this matter, SAG-AFTRA should intervene against any unilateral employer policy that prohibits stand-ins or background actors from using mobile phones or taking photographs on set, except perhaps in limited cases where, say, visibly possessing a mobile phone in a pocket might conflict with the interests of the wardrobe department when the background actor is performing on camera.
Furthermore, SAG-AFTRA should negotiate any confidentiality policies directly with employers if those policies are not already explicated in the governing SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreement. Those policies should not prohibit the use of mobile phones on set or taking photographs on set, because immediate use of a mobile phone to call SAG-AFTRA helps to protect safety and mitigate risk. Also, taking photographs on set helps to document hazardous conditions on a set for the claim inquiry processes afforded by SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements.
7. STAND-INS & PRINCIPAL ACTOR EXPOSURE
|VULNERABILITY:||Stand-Ins Occupy the Same Localized Spaces as Principal Actors.|
|RESOLUTION:||Productions May Want to Hire Stand-Ins But Minimize Their Use.|
On SAG-AFTRA productions, principal actors usually have a stand-in. Stand-ins watch a rehearsal with the principal actors, then the stand-ins are used in place of the principal actors, largely for lighting, camera setup, and camera rehearsals.
This means that stand-ins stand, sit, or otherwise precisely occupy the same spaces that the principal actors on a set occupy, in the same distances from other stand-ins that their principal actors were, and perform many of the same actions their principal actors performed. If a principal actor is sitting in a seat behind a wooden desk for an entire scene, then that actor’s stand-in would likely also sit in that actor’s seat behind the same wooden desk for the process of lighting, camera setup, and camera rehearsals. If two principal actors were sitting close together and eventually kissing in the scene, while stand-ins would rarely ever be asked to kiss, those stand-ins may be asked to put their faces very close to each other so that the camera can rehearse the kissing moment in the scene. (The compromise of physical distancing requirements is apparent in such cases.)
The risks run both ways when it comes to the dynamic of using principal actors as well as stand-ins. Principal actors run the risk of infecting stand-ins with SARS-CoV-2 by way of being in a space for a considerable amount of time rehearsing, then vacating to let the stand-ins be in those exact same places. Likewise, stand-ins run the risk of infecting principal actors with SARS-CoV-2 by way of being in the same spaces the principal actors will occupy when they return to perform the scene. For example, if an unknowingly infected actor were sitting in a chair behind a wooden desk in a scene, the stand-in would sit in that same chair behind the same wooden desk for the camera setup, running the risk of infecting the stand-in. Likewise, if an unknowingly infected stand-ins sat in the actor’s chair behind the same wooden desk for the camera setup, the actor runs the risk of catching the infection from the stand-in.
No doubt, in terms of workplace health and safety, all workers on a production are equally important. However, not all workers have the same economic value to a production. A production may hire an actor to play a part that, practically speaking, cannot be played by another actor. If that actor were to become sick, production may have to halt or change dramatically. But a production may not be in the same bind with its stand-ins, meaning that it can lose a stand-in one day and replace that stand-in for the day, and production can continue without alteration or work stoppage. This is to say that while actors and stand-ins may be of equal importance in terms of workplace health and safety, actors, on the whole, have higher economic value to productions than their stand-ins. In the interest of economics, it makes sense to limit the use of stand-ins during the pandemic or else risk depleting an important economic resource for a production (i.e., sickening an actors with SARS-CoV-2).
But stand-in work is collectively bargained, unionized work. So, where there should be a stand-in, there should be a SAG-AFTRA worker doing the job. In some instances, it might “make sense” to experiment with using dummies in place of stand-ins in order to light a shot and set up cameras, or to use a production assistant or other crew member (e.g., a camera assistant) to help do some stand-in work in the absence of SAG-AFTRA stand-ins. However, both occasions would be violative of SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction. To use a dummy in place of a SAG-AFTRA stand-in, that dummy would be taking away the job of a stand-in. To use a production assistant or another crew member to help do some stand-in work would also take away the job of a stand-in.
To resolve this matter, SAG-AFTRA and employers should balance the interest of keeping economically valuable actors healthy while also employing SAG-AFTRA stand-ins. While there may be many possible solutions, one that comes to mind is hiring stand-ins for the day but not ever bringing them to set, so that they are never in contact with their respective principal actors. In such an instance, productions would meet minimum demands for have stand-ins for all principal actors in a shot. But, with SAG-AFTRA’s permission, productions would not need to actually use the stand-ins. SAG-AFTRA could negotiate, say, that other crew members may be permitted to do stand-in work just as long as there are stand-ins on the clock who could equally perform that stand-in work. This is a tradeoff for reasonable health reasons: SAG-AFTRA permits possibly safer non-SAG-AFTRA crew members to do stand-in work, but still has professional stand-ins on the clock and paid what they rightly would be paid for the work. There is some precedent of productions hiring SAG-AFTRA stand-ins and rarely if ever bringing them to set for reasons particular to the productions. All the same, these stand-ins were compensated for stand-in work even though they didn’t actually perform it.
But then the question becomes, in the event stand-ins are permitted to be paid but not used, whether stand-ins need to run the risks of reporting to work at all in order to collect a paycheck. So, then the question becomes whether SAG-AFTRA can negotiate “stay-at-home” terms for stand-ins on a production, such that, if production chooses, those stand-ins do not even need to report to work to sit in a holding space all day and not be used, and instead can stay at home, all the while collecting a paycheck equivalent for the day’s stand-in work, away from any infection risks on set. Practically speaking, these payments would be “hold fees” for stand-ins equivalent to what they would have made were they to actually work on set that particular day, and they would be paid to stand-ins any day that productions did not want to bring in stand-ins for reasons related to health risks to the principal actors.
8. FACE MASKS & EYE PROTECTION
|VULNERABILITY:||Stand-Ins’ Faces Are Usually Critical to Lighting a Shot, Meaning a Face Mask and Eye Protection Would Potentially Interfere with a Cinematographer’s Work in Lighting a Shot.|
|RESOLUTION:||Negotiate Solutions between Employers and SAG-AFTRA as Needed with Respect to Compensation for “Work of a Hazardous Character” When Stand-Ins Are Asked to Remove Required Protective Equipment.|
Crew members may realistically be asked to wear masks (covering over mouth) and possibly eye protection when working on set. Stand-ins, who function as “crew” but are not contractually regarded as such, may be generally asked to wear masks and eye protection as well.
However, cinematographers light their shots largely paying attention to how the lighting setups affect stand-ins’ faces, to have a gauge for how that lighting will in turn affect the principal actors’ faces. Masks and eye protection worn by stand-ins during this process would potentially hinder the cinematographer’s work, because they would limit access to stand-ins’ full faces, contours, and coloring.
Asking stand-ins to remove masks and eye protection, then, naturally exposes stand-ins to potential risks that other crew members do not have to take when being required to wear a mask. At that, many SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements under which stand-ins work have special language in the event of “hazardous” or “dangerous” work.
The question becomes that if crew members are required to wear masks and possibly eye protection in light of the dangers potentially present at work, and then if stand-in are asked to remove any masks or eye protection in order light a shot, whether the stand-in work automatically becomes “hazardous” or “dangerous.” It would seem that in theory, the work would become dangerous not just for the now vulnerable stand-in, but it would also become more dangerous for the crew working around the vulnerable stand-in, doubly certifying that the work is of a “hazardous” or “dangerous” character.
Standard compensation is not outlined in all SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements around hazardous work, so it may ultimately be up to on-the-spot negotiation between production and the stand-in to agree upon a higher rate of compensation for removal of protective equipment when standing in. Unfortunately, the practicality of such negotiations taking place the moment a cinematographer (who has no authority to bargain directly with a stand-in about compensation) asks a stand-in to remove a mask or eye protection is unrealistic, especially when an assistant director may not be on set to witness such a request of the stand-ins, intervene, and/or negotiate. In practice, the stand-in is in a weak and high-pressure situation to comply with any demands made of him or her by the cinematographer, and the support of SAG-AFTRA in those situations would be of utmost importance, especially if the stand-in feels pressured into making a risky choice that may jeopardize his or her health or safety in light of the pandemic.
To resolve this matter, first, in the event that crew are required to wear masks, eye protection, or some other form of protection, stand-ins should be notified by casting directors before they report to work of that safety requirement.
Then, the moment stand-ins are asked to remove any face masks or eye protection, SAG-AFTRA needs to have already negotiated with employers that in such an event, clearly the stand-in work becomes of a “hazardous” character, and that additional, substantial compensation is due to the affected stand-in for such evidently hazardous work.
That additional substantial compensation should be promulgated by SAG-AFTRA at a high minimum as a starting point for all forthcoming requests by similarly situated stand-ins, considering the actual danger of coming down with COVID-19 includes potential loss of stand-in work, hospitalization, and even death. This is to say that the additional compensation should be so high as to reflect the risk of removing the protective gear and to even discourage the production from asking stand-ins to do so except when it is willing to pay a substantial price. For example, no stand-in should receive a mere $25 bump for removing a facial covering, and even a $100 adjustment for doing so seems paltry in comparison to the realistic risks that the stand-in may face from other stand-ins in close proximity or other crew members working around the stand-in when required protection is removed.
Furthermore, in SAG-AFTRA securing these kinds of reasonable arrangements, the stand-in must not lose the ability to decline a request to remove a mask, protective eyewear, or related protection; the stand-in must retain protections against retaliation as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement; etc. This is so that the stand-in is ultimately in control of his or her own health and safety and should not feel at risk of being retaliated against for such assertions.
9. SHARED SET PIECES & PROPS
|VULNERABILITY:||Stand-Ins Use Set Pieces and Props Principal Actors Also Use.|
|RESOLUTION:||As Required, Productions Should Have Substitute Set Pieces and Props for Stand-Ins to Use, and/or Should Lay down Protection on Shared Surfaces. Productions Should Design a More Sanitary Process for Distributing Props That Does Not Involve Providing Identification.|
For some scenes in which stand-ins work, set pieces and props are central to the lighting, camera setup, and rehearsal. In these cases, stand-ins may be asked to use set pieces and handle props in order light or rehearse the shot.
In practice, stand-ins use set pieces that principal actors use. Some common examples of set pieces shared between principal actors and stand-ins are chairs, tables, desks, beds, pillows, couches, etc. While automobiles are technically considered as props, they function a bit like set pieces for driving shots in that they constitute the entire world in which an actor may work within a shot. Principal actors and stand-ins alike may both handle the door handles, keys, buttons, steering wheel, seats, seatbelts, rear-view mirror, etc.
Using the same set pieces that a principal actor uses poses a risk to the stand-in if the principal actor is unknowingly infected with SARS-CoV-2. Vice versa, the stand-in poses a risk to the principal actor if the stand-in is unknowingly infected with SARS-CoV-2 and uses a set piece that the principal actor also uses.
The same concerns exist with respect to props, but props have additional concerns. On rare occasions, stand-ins may be asked to give to someone in the props department a form of identification (IDs, such as a SAG-AFTRA card) in exchange for a prop. The sanitary situation is worth considering in such a situation. First, there is the question of whether the prop is sanitized, then whether the prop remains sanitized when the props department personnel gives the stand-in the prop. Second, there is the question of the cleanliness of IDs, which may never have been sanitized up to that point. When the crew member in the props department takes the ID, usually he or she inserts it into a plastic sleeve in a binder with others’ IDs, which likely has had other unclean IDs inserted into its plastic sleeves before. Later, the stand-in returns the prop, likely in an unsanitary state. From there, the props department returns the ID, which had been within the plastic sleeve amid others’ IDs during the time the prop was checked out. The risk of contamination is apparent in this practice of exchanging IDs for props, and also of concern is whether props are sanitary to begin with, not to mention how they are sanitized later when they are returned.
To resolve these matters, with respect to shared set pieces and props, productions could provide substitute set pieces and props for stand-ins to use. However, the burden of storing such amounts of additional set pieces and props may be too difficult for productions to bear.
Where the burden would be too difficult to bear, for set pieces stand-ins share, productions may devise ways to lay down protection on shared set pieces so that the stand-in is not interacting directly with the same surfaces that the principal actor was during rehearsal and will be during performance. This is sometimes done on sets where stand-ins lie in beds or hospital gurneys where principal actors also lie, but not with usually for reason of preventing infection.
The simple workaround for props would be to instruct stand-ins never to handle props – which on some sets is the general, albeit unspoken, policy. When props are required to be handled by stand-ins, though, productions should have sanitized, substitute props for the stand-ins to use exclusively. Of course, this creates additional work for the props department (including sanitizing the substitute prop before and after use), so a less costly solution would be for stand-ins to never, ever handle props.
But as mentioned before, a more effective solution would be to minimize the use of stand-ins and not bring them to set at all. That way, if a principal actor is unknowingly infected with SARS-CoV-2, the risk of infecting his or her stand-in is minimized and relatively contained.
10. THE “COMMON SENSE” THAT SAG-AFTRA WORKERS CANNOT ALWAYS WEAR PPE
|VULNERABILITY:||The “Common Sense” Is That SAG-AFTRA Workers Cannot Do Their Jobs While Always Wearing PPE.|
|RESOLUTION:||Research Needs to Be Conducted to Answer That Question, to See If “Common Sense” Is Correct or Incorrect.|
There is arguably no better time than during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic to question “common sense” in the entertainment industry, especially when that “common sense” comes at the risk of jeopardizing workplace safety and worker health.
SAG-AFTRA’s president Gabrielle Carteris has said as recently as this month that “We were among the first to be hit by the virus and may be among the last to come back – simply because we work in high numbers and in very close proximity where PPE cannot always be utilized.”
It appears that Carteris believes that the work of many in SAG-AFTRA cannot be performed by always wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). She would not be alone in such a belief or pronouncement, and naturally one assumes that SAG-AFTRA workers cannot do their work if they are always wearing PPE. This would mean that, following this “common sense,” upon the return to work, stand-ins and actors should not be expected to wear PPE at all times when working, which could needlessly put them at risk of SARS-Co-V-2 infection when they return to work.
However, other “common sense” beliefs in the entertainment industry have crumbled during this pandemic, which is why the “common sense” Carteris shares should actually be challenged. For one, production has resumed on nearly all major late-night variety shows that are SAG-AFTRA signatory productions. They have resumed in many cases with the hosts (in most if not all cases SAG-AFTRA members) hosting these shows from their homes or other isolated locations. They have used teleconference software or other similar transmission means to bring together actors, guests, and musicians. The notion of shooting a large-budget late-night variety show, that typically shoots in front of a live audience in a large studio, over instead what is effectively a webcam in a home, would have seemed preposterous before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Now, the notion is commonplace, and not only is it commonplace, it is tested by late-night variety shows, with data that can be researched. Arguably, the constraints of the pandemic sparked creativity and innovations that led to resumptions of production of late-night variety shows in ways that ran counter to “common sense” prior to the pandemic.
There is no reasonable belief that such creativity and innovation will cease in production as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic continues, inevitably overturning additional unquestioned “common sense.” This is largely to say that productions wherein the actors and stand-ins always wear PPE have not been tested. While it may seem like “common sense” that a period piece, say, about characters in the 1800s, would not feature actors wearing modern-day PPE in the shots, this is not to say that such a production could not succeed – without testing the notion first. If that idea is a stretch, it would be less of a stretch to consider a production about an ICU especially during a pandemic, in which all of the characters would naturally be wearing PPE. In such a production, it is reasonable to believe possible that the actors and stand-ins could always utilize PPE. Producing such a production would help to challenge the potentially dangerous claim that SAG-AFTRA workers cannot do their work while always utilizing PPE.
This is all to say that to claim that SAG-AFTRA workers cannot do their work in a way that requires at all times PPE be utilized is an empirical claim about the work that can should be tested and researched before it is assumed as “common sense.” I expect as a research-oriented professional, you will understand my point that the claim cannot be sustained merely by authoritative profession or dictate, but instead by data. To this date, there is no data to back up the claim by Carteris and similar claims made by others that SAG-AFTRA workers in close proximity cannot always utilize PPE.
To resolve this matter, SAG-AFTRA and others in the entertainment industry should not enforce as “common sense” that stand-ins and actors cannot at all times wear PPE when working. There may be a case that they can always wear PPE and also do their jobs. There is nothing to the work in the entertainment industry or in SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements that obligates workers to subject themselves to health risks like a SARS-CoV-2 infection “in the name of entertainment.” In fact, health risks during this pandemic may be the very reason PPE should never be removed, with the entertainment industry adapting accordingly rather than seeing themselves as an exception. Only then will the “common sense” be evidenced – or collapse.
Lastly, I wish to say that I appreciate the time you have taken to read this far. There are more unique vulnerabilities faced by stand-ins in the entertainment industry than I list above, and I wanted for this already long letter to be brief.
It is my expectation that as one interested in data, you will carefully consider these perspectives with attention and care as you devise safety protocols for SAG-AFTRA workers in the return to work. Should you want to learn more about these vulnerabilities faced by SAG-AFTRA stand-ins, or if you should want to learn about more vulnerabilities that I can disclose to you at another time, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via email or phone.
I thank you for your time, and I look forward to seeing how your research will help toward the safe return to SAG-AFTRA jurisdictional work.
 Namely, the Theatrical Agreement and the Television Agreement.
 Namely, the Theatrical Agreement and the Television Agreement.
 According to the EEOC in “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act” (https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pandemic-preparedness-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act), the Commission says:
During a pandemic, may an ADA-covered employer take its employees’ temperatures to determine whether they have a fever?
Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. If pandemic influenza symptoms become more severe than the seasonal flu or the H1N1 virus in the spring/summer of 2009, or if pandemic influenza becomes widespread in the community as assessed by state or local health authorities or the CDC, then employers may measure employees’ body temperature. […]
Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions as of March 2020, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. As with all medical information, the fact that an employee had a fever or other symptoms would be subject to ADA confidentiality requirements.
 E.g., Run A Better Set (RABS) advertises digital vouchers, and even speaks to the need for SAG-AFTRA to use them here: https://runabetterset.com/sag-aftra-rabs-digital-vouchers/.
 For example, in the Theatrical and Television Agreements, Schedule X, Part II, Section 47, reads in part: “Producer shall give each background actor at the time of reporting to the set a contract and/or voucher which is the background actor’s property until dismissal […].”
 Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act reads, “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as authorized in section 8(a)(3).”
 Cf. Section 6 of the SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract, https://www.sagaftra.org/files/sagaftra_commercial_cntrct_ebook.pdf.
 Anecdotally, I have heard that at least one season of the television production The Deuce employed stand-ins but would not bring them to set for exact reasons that are not clear to me.
 For example, in the Theatrical Agreement, both Schedule X, Part I and Part II, which cover stand-ins in the Los Angeles Zone and New York Zone respectively, contain a Section 7, “Work of an Unusual or Hazardous Character.” It reads in part:
The Producer shall notify the background actor at the time of the call of the character of the work when background actors are required to do night work, “wet” work, work in airborne dust or debris created by Producer, work in smoke created by Producer or work of a rough or dangerous character. When a background actor is not so notified, he shall have the right to refuse such work and receive a half-check or compensation for actual time worked, whichever is greater. Failure to notify a background actor of the character of such work involved shall not, however, limit the Producer’s right to require that background actor to do other background actor work, in lieu thereof, if such other background actor work exists.
Background actors who are hired on the minimum check and who thereafter accept hazardous work shall be entitled to additional compensation, and the amount of additional compensation shall be agreed to between the background actor and the Producer, or the Producer’s representative, prior to the performance of such work. A background actor will not be discriminated against for refusing to accept hazardous work.
 For example, see the language of the prior note.
 Cf. “Adam Schiff to Join SAG-AFTRA’s Gabrielle Carteris, IATSE’s Matt Loeb for Virtual Town Hall,” https://variety.com/2020/film/news/adam-schiff-sag-aftra-gabrielle-carteris-iatses-matt-loeb-virtual-town-hall-1234602529/.
 For example, Samantha Bee’s late-night variety show Full Frontal is hosted from the woods rather than at CBS Studios, with her husband operating the camera.
 Notably, Saturday Night Live coordinated at least three episodes in which their actors performed in a large part from their own respective homes.