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

— The Editor

First, a timeline to date. Then, the questions that still linger around stand-ins …

May 20, 2020

On May 20, 2020, Stand-In Central posted an article titled “The Coronavirus, and An Open Letter to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding of SAG-AFTRA’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety: On Vulnerabilities Unique to Stand-Ins on Set, and Possible Solutions to Consider.”

As promised by the title, the article declared the unique vulnerabilities stand-ins face in the return to work in TV and film amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Specifically, it mentioned a letter that the editor of Stand-In Central addressed to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, care of SAG-AFTRA national president Gabrielle Carteris, for the doctor’s consideration in the development of health and safety protocols and procedures for risk mitigation. He was working with SAG-AFTRA as a former public health director in such protocol creation.

May 27, 2020

A week, later, on May 27, 2020, Stand-In Central posted a follow-up article titled “The Coronavirus, and Lingering Questions Since Last Week’s Open Letter to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding of SAG-AFTRA’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety: Will Stand-Ins Continue to Have Their Concerns Ignored?

As promised by the title, the article posed lingering questions since the May 20 article. Namely, it posed whether SAG-AFTRA president Carteris forwarded the letter to Dr. Fielding, and whether Dr. Fielding got the letter in any of its forms — mailed, emailed, or posted online as an open letter in the prior week on Stand-In Central.

June 1, 2020

On June 1, 2020, the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force released its safety document titled Proposed Health and Safety Guidelines for Motion Picture, Television, and Streaming Productions During the COVID-19 Pandemic (linked here).

This document was largely referred to as the “White Paper.”

The committee that created the White Paper consisted of representatives from the DGA, IATSE, the Teamsters, the basic craft unions, SAG-AFTRA, and the AMPTP.

June 3, 2020

On June 3, 2020, Stand-In Central released an article titled “The Coronavirus, and One General Recommendation for Stand-Ins from the Industry-Wide Task Force: Will There Be More Than Just This One?

The article noted that the White Paper only contained one explicit reference to stand-ins.

With respect to stand-ins, the White Paper said:

Stand-ins should wear face coverings even if the performer they are standing in for may not.

June 12, 2020

On June 12, 2020, SAG-AFTRA released a 37-page document titled The Safe Way Forward (linked here). It was co-released by a number of other entertainment-industry unions.

The authors of the document regard it as a supplement of the White Paper released eleven days prior.

In other words, the White Paper provides general health and safety guidelines for the entertainment industry in the return to work, and this document, The Safe Way Forward, aims to flesh out in more detail the general guidelines and provide more specific guidlines.

Here is how The Safe Way Forward describes the document:

While that White Paper offered a foundation for the appropriate state agencies to examine the resumption of production and provides guidance employers must follow to provide a safe working environment, it expressly provided that the specific protocols regarding mandatory testing, personal protective equipment, and department-specific procedures would be the subject of further discussions and agreement between the producers and the unions. These guidelines are our recommendations with respect to testing and department-specific protocols related to employees represented by DGA, SAG- AFTRA, IATSE, Teamsters and the Basic Crafts (the “Unions”).

The Safe Way Forward, which apparently had been informed by Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding and SAG-AFTRA’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety, contained zero references to stand-ins within this document.

June 17, 2020

On June 17, 2020, this instant article posted on Stand-In Central.

In addition to giving the timeline above, the instant article outlines the questions thus far publicly presented about stand-ins’ unique vulnerabilities, and whether any of those questions have been answered.

Questions Posed in the Fielding Letter

The letter mailed to Dr. Jonathan Fielding — which was also sent to his email as well as posted publicly online on this website — contained ten points to consider in the creation of health and safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Below, the points are reiterated, along with any responses to them that are now apparent.

Vulnerability #1: Background Actors, Including Stand-Ins, Do Not Receive Preliminary Callsheets, Callsheets, and Safety Information before the Workday.

Status: This issue has not been addressed by either the White Paper or The Safe Way Forward.

Therefore, the lack of advance information about the workday remains a safety liability for stand-ins.

As such, stand-ins may be less equipped to prepare for work the next day compared to other crew members and some background actors.

Vulnerability #2: 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.

Status: This issue has been partly but not fully addressed by the White Paper.  The Safe Way Forward does not address the issue.

The White Paper addresses physical distancing when in transit. It says:

At all times while in transit, cast and crew should wear face coverings per local public health guidance. Whenever it is reasonably possible to do so, cast and crew shall maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from the driver and other passengers, if any. Upon disembarking, cast and crew should promptly practice hand hygiene.

This would presumptively mean that when stand-ins ride in 15-passenger vans, the number of people in these vans will be considerably fewer than 15 to provide adequate space from the driver and from other passengers.

However, the stand-in vulnerability with respect to clock-in times is not addressed in either document.  That issue is that stand-ins are on the clock when they are in a van shooting out of the Zone, but crew may not be on the clock when they are in the van (taking the van as courtesy transportation).

With respect to temperature checks that some productions may require (temperature checks are not widely recognized as authoritative considering asymptomatic infection), stand-ins’ workplace starts at the van, while those riding as a courtesy do not arrive at their workplace until the van lands. This means that stand-ins could be riding with others who have not had the same health screening.

Vulnerability #3: Stand-Ins Complete Payment Vouchers That Are on Paper, and That Are Handled by Multiple Other People throughout the Work Day.

Status: This issue has been partly but not fully addressed by The Safe Way Forward. The White Paper does not address the issue.

With respect to vouchers, The Safe Way Forward says nothing exactly. Instead, with respect to the guidelines for productions offices, it describes the accounting department as:

Ideally paperless. Start work paperwork, contracts, timecards, invoices, etc. should all become digital.

However, stand-ins’ paperwork is vouchers, which are not provided by production but usually provided by outsourced payroll companies. The Safe Way Forward says nothing with respect to the obligations of payroll companies to create “paperless” versions of vouchers.

So, whether stand-ins may still be trading paper vouchers for color cover may continue, meaning the risk to stand-ins as well as the additional crew who handle the vouchers remains unaddressed.

Also remaining unaddressed is how the transaction in procuring color cover for stand-ins will proceed.

Vulnerability #4: Stand-Ins Use Side That Are Paper, and That Are Handled by Multiple People throughout the Day.

Status: This issue has been partly but not fully addressed by both the White Paper and The Safe Way Forward.

With respect to sides, the White Paper says nothing specific. Instead, it has these recommendations about paper:

Whenever possible, use of paper should be minimized. Alternatives such as electronic scripts and electronic sign-in/out should be explored.

The White Paper also says:

When paper scripts are unavoidable, they should be assigned to a specific individual, clearly labeled with their name, and not shared between others.

The Safe Way Forward is much more specific about sides. It says:

Scripts/rundowns, memos, call sheets, production reports, schedules and lists should be in digital form, including “sides.” If sides are printed, they should be individual use and assigned to a specific individual and clearly watermarked with that individual’s name.

So, the recommendation is toward paperless, “digital” sides. It is not addressed how stand-ins will receive such sides digitally, since they are not usually included on production email distribution lists — especially when they are day-playing stand-ins.

But when sides are paper, the recommendation is to watermark sides with the stand-in’s name (or some other method for linking the sides to the specific stand-in, like “Stand-In #1”).

Vulnerability #5: 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.

Status: This issue has not been addressed by either the White Paper or The Safe Way Forward.

It would seem this issue will not only continue, but also could potentially be exacerbated amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This is because given the need to keep group sizes low and potential limitations of travel around a set, stand-ins may be more easily prevented from hearing important safety briefings.

No document seems to address the issue with respect to safety briefings and those employees not in at crew call, those arriving later in the day, and those day-playing.

This means that those arriving later may easily not be aware of important safety information for the day and, as a result, be more vulnerable.

Vulnerability #6: Many Productions Limit the Use of Mobile Phones and Photography on Set, to Reduce the Potential for the Compromise of Confidentiality.

Status: This issue has been partly but not fully addressed by The Safe Way Forward. The White Paper does not address the issue.

The Safe Way Forward seems to assume the righteousness of mobile phone bans on set. For example, it contains this statement:

If a set cell phone ban is enacted, the production may require additional walkie rentals.

But more specifically, The Safe Way Forward contains this somewhat ominous passage about “unauthorized use” of mobile phones and recording equipment:

In episodic television, no images or sounds may be transmitted from the stage or control booth without first informing the director. In addition, the continuous, unrestricted electronic transmission of images and/or sounds throughout the workday (e.g., a fixed ‘open mike’) from the set, stage or control booth to a location outside the production area is prohibited. This includes the unauthorized use of iPhones or other recording devices on the set unless such recordings or transmissions are approved and made for publicity or marketing purposes.

As pointed out earlier, mobile phones are a means for concerting activity for mutual aid or protection, which is protected employee activity under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Confidentiality concerns are different from concerns about aid or protection, so confidentiality concerns are not a valid reason for banning mobile phones and their recording capabilities.

Amid the health and safety challenges in the return to work, mobile phones and their recording abilities may be a critical tool for ensuring health and safety, and their ban may be a critical method for productions to hide provocative or violative health and safety activities.

Furthermore, always having mobile phones on the person may aid in contact tracing, in the event the person has a contact-tracing app installed on the mobile phone.

Neither document talks about violations of the NLRA that might come with a ban on mobile phones amid this pandemic, nor how contact tracing might be undermined by mobile phone bans.

Vulnerability #7: Stand-Ins Occupy the Same Localized Spaces as Principal Actors.

Status: This issue has not been addressed by either the White Paper or The Safe Way Forward.

In general, stand-ins’ work has gone unaddressed in both documents. That stand-ins tend to occupy the exact same spaces as their respective actors, both stand-ins and actors may be vulnerable to contracting any contagion either might carry.

It appears to be generally assumed that when an actor is on camera, that actor will not be wearing PPE. This may mean that if the actor is infected, that actor’s stand-in may be potentially at more risk for contracting the infection the actor has.

While stand-ins appear not to be required to ever remove facial covering per the White Paper, it does not go without saying that stand-ins may sit in seats, couches, etc., or touch surfaces shared by actors.

This means both stand-ins and their respective actors are vulnerable to each other, and with actors potentially going without PPE when they are acting, stand-ins may be at greater risk when they step back in after a shot to stand in.

Vulnerability #8: 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.

Status: This issue has been partly addressed by the White Paper.  The Safe Way Forward does not address the issue.

As mentioned earlier, the White Paper says:

Stand-ins should wear face coverings even if the performer they are standing in for may not.

This seems to answer the question of whether stand-ins should remove any face covering when lighting the shot. Per the White Paper, that answer is no, stand-ins should not remove face coverings. Instead, they should keep face coverings on.

The White Paper does not address eye protection and whether a stand-in should remove it in the event the stand-in is wearing it.

Vulnerability #9: Stand-Ins Use Set Pieces and Props Principal Actors Also Use.

Status: This issue has been partly addressed by the White Paper and The Safe Way Forward.

In general, both documents speak to sanitizing props and set pieces. Whether in practice that will happen when stand-ins come in contact with props and set pieces will have to be seen.

One would think that if first-team actors do a rehearsal that involve set pieces, then before the stand-ins step on set, those set pieces would need to be sanitized.

Then, when the stand-ins are excused, one would think that those same set pieces would need to be re-sanitized.

It is to be seen if productions will remember that stand-ins may be interacting with set pieces — not just the actors.

Vulnerability #10: The “Common Sense” Is That SAG-AFTRA Workers Cannot Do Their Jobs While Always Wearing PPE.

Status: This issue has not been addressed by either the White Paper or The Safe Way Forward.

In other words, it seems that it is generally assumed that actors when working on camera will not be working while wearing personal protective equipment.

The Acting Income Podcast covered the logic of having actors without PPE in Episode 38. It also presented ideas assuming that actors are required at all times to wear PPE — from doing medical-dramas only, to wearing PPE anachronistically, to not shooting at all until such PPE is not necessary.


Other Lingering Questions

Most of the questions posed in the week after the open letter to Dr. Jonathan Fielding have also, to date, gone unanswered.

Below are the unanswered questions, followed by the few answered questions.

Unanswered Questions

Did Gabrielle Carteris give Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding this letter?

If so, when?

If not, why not?

Did Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding receive either of the two aforementioned emails from Stand-In Central’s editor?

Did Dr. Fielding receive the voicemail message left by Stand-In Central’s editor?

If he received the second email which had attached the letter mailed to SAG-AFTRA headquarters, did he read it?

If so, when?

If not, why not?

What editorial processes led each notified publication not to cover (to date) the issues presented in the open letter to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding?

How many stand-ins will become sick with COVID-19 while working SAG-AFTRA jobs?

How will the proportion of stand-ins infected compare with the proportion of (principal) performers infected?

How will the proportion of stand-ins infected compare with the proportion of background actors or extra performers infected?

How will the proportion of stand-ins infected compare with the proportion of other crew members infected?

How many dead workers working under a SAG-AFTRA contract does SAG-AFTRA approve as reasonable?

In order to achieve that approved level, what protocols is SAG-AFTRA promulgating?

If that number is any number greater than 0 dead SAG-AFTRA workers, how could the protocols be changed to greater potentiate 0 dead SAG-AFTRA workers?

Answered Questions

Will the eventual safety protocols published by SAG-AFTRA explicitly mention stand-ins? (Answer: No. SAG-AFTRA’s The Safe Way Forward did not contain any references to stand-ins.)

Will safety protocols never mention stand-ins? (Answer: No. The White Paper has one reference to stand-ins.)

Will there be specific protocols and guidelines on the use of stand-ins and their unique safety concerns? (Answer: Not yet. The reference to stand-ins appears in the White Paper, which is a “general” document.” The more specific document, The Safe Way Forward, did not address stand-ins, so stand-ins still await specific protocols and guidelines for their unique production work.)

Final Thoughts

As of this post, work in TV and film is starting to return.

This may be a matter of great excitement for some, and a matter of great anxiety for others.

Taking work may be a calculation: A calculation in trying to gain an income and qualify for health and pension credits, in the hopes one won’t also become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and develop COVID-19 … and/or die.

If you are a stand-in, sadly, it appears you will need to look out for your own unique work situation when you return to work — unless specific protocols for SAG-AFTRA stand-ins are eventually released.

If you have additional questions or insights as it relates to the topic of SAG-AFTRA stand-ins and safety protocols upon the return to work, please post them in the comments below.