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
On June 1, 2020, the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force, consisting of representatives from SAG-AFTRA, the AMPTP, et al., 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.”
With respect to stand-ins, the document clearly noted:
Stand-ins should wear face coverings even if the performer they are standing in for may not.
In general, this guideline applied to stand-ins who worked under the SAG-AFTRA Theatrical Agreement, the SAG-AFTRA Television Agreement, and the SAG-AFTRA Network Television Code (aka “Netcode”). (It did not seem to apply to stand-ins who worked under the SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract. However, just because it didn’t apply, didn’t necessarily mean stand-ins would be maskless on SAG-AFTRA commercials.)
Here are some observations about stand-ins wearing masks on set during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, as well as some tips for stand-ins working while wearing masks.
It is now December 2020 with production more or less in full swing. Stand-ins seem to be working while wearing masks in accordance with the guideline of the White Paper.
Anecdotally, productions seem to require KN95 masks, which the productions provide to stand-ins and other crew members. However, the requirement of KN95 masks may also vary from production to production, with some productions possibly simply requiring facial covering of some sort, even if it is not a KN95 mask.
One issue with respect to stand-ins wearing masks is lighting.
More often than not, KN95 masks are white. White reflects light, so when lighting a stand-in, the effect of essentially a “reflector on the face” can make lighting stand-ins problematic.
Perhaps more problematic is the effect of white on camera. White may pop or glow on camera in an undesirable way, making lighting a shot with a stand-in wearing a white mask more challenging.
Black masks may create their own undesirable effects, absorbing rather than reflecting light.
Furthermore, masks with patterns may create distortions or strobing effects on the screen. Masks with messages on them may be distracting to the task at hand.
Some masks also have bendable metal on the nose bridge to provide a better fit. However, that metal may also reflect light.
What is a stand-in to do?
Mask Color Cover!
When it comes to wearing masks, as a base layer a stand-in should wear a protective mask. If a production mandates wearing KN95 masks, as a base layer, stand-ins should wear that KN95 closest to the face.
But in the event that the coloring of this base mask is problematic for camera, stand-ins should consider their own skin tone and ask for — or bring — a mask that approximates their skin tone. We’ll call this secondary mask, “mask color cover.”
That secondary mask can be worn on top of the base mask. Doing so will help DPs light a shot better than in the event a stand-in’s KN95 mask glows or reflects light in a problematic way.
Not all productions ask for or require mask color cover, though some DPs may prefer it over bright-white or jet-black masks. Furthermore, productions may not be in a position to provide masks matching skin tones if stand-ins ask.
A shade of brown mask that roughly approximates your skin tone may be a safe bet for most stand-ins seeking mask color cover, especially considering that light brown is not bright white and dark brown is not jet black. For those stand-ins with lighter skin tones, pink shades like mauve might be suitable. Of course, other shades may complement or bring out the colors or tones in your individual face.
While Amazon.com provides a number of color options for masks, sometimes the color pictured may not be the actual color that arrives. The reviews may provide feedback and additional photos for stand-ins to figure out whether a mask might be suitable mask color cover.
Other Mask Considerations
Slippage of Mask Color Cover
If you are wearing mask color cover on top of a KN95 mask, one thing stand-ins deal with is slippage of the mask color cover, thus exposing the white mask underneath or otherwise creating an unkempt appearance.
Some KN95 masks have a texture to which the coarse side of Velcro will adhere. So, on the face-side (back side) of the mask color cover, affixing some pieces of the coarse side of Velcro may mean that when then worn on top of a KN95, the mask color cover will stay in place. A more industrial strength of Velcro may survive washing.
Similarly, this effect can be achieved with double-sided tape on the face-side of the mask color cover. However, this tape may lose its stickiness over time, as you replace your KN95 masks for fresh ones.
For some people, masks can pull uncomfortably on the ears. Some people look to adjustable mask straps to protect the ears.
Adjustable mask straps are worn at the back of the head. The mask’s ear loops fit into positions on the straps in order to fix the mask on the face, rather than have the mask loop around the ears, causing irritation.
Most mask straps are adjustable for comfort, though they may make the mask wear more tightly to your face. This may be good for protection, but it may be bad for comfort. However, many people seem to prefer wearing these than dealing with the discomfort from having a mask looped around the ears.
Mask “Lanyard” Straps
Stand-ins take their masks off to eat. The problem is, where to put the mask when eating? The problem also is remembering to put the mask back on after eating!
Some stand-ins attach lanyardlike straps to the ear loops of a mask. That way, when they take off their mask to eat, the mask drapes in front of them around the neck rather than on a table or somewhere else of questionable sanitation.
Doing so may also help some stand-ins remember to put the mask back on after eating — or at least have the mask nearby, in the event of standing up for second helpings of catering!
In the event you work outdoors in the sun and you’re wearing a mask without sunscreen on your face, you may end up with tan lines on your face from your mask!
Make sure to apply sunscreen not just around your eyes and forehead, but also on the sides of the face where the straps are. Otherwise, when you take off your mask, you may find you have stripes on your face where your mask’s straps were!
Keep Your Eyes Visible
Some masks take up a lot of facial surface area. DPs generally need to at least see your eyes. If your mask rides up on your face, the DP may have a tough time seeing your eyes to light you.
So, make sure you safely provide enough access to your eyes when wearing a mask. Avoid having your mask ride high on your face close to your eyes, if at all possible.
Masks and glasses are rivals. It seems many crew members who are required to wear eye protection complain that their glasses end up fogging up when also wearing a mask.
If you have eyewear that prevents fogging, you may be in good shape when wearing a mask. Wearing your glasses slightly away from your face may reduce the fogging, but that may also prompt headaches or eye strain from the suboptimal placement of your glasses.
Inhaling quickly may be a spot treatment for defogging your glasses (you’ll suck in the humidity!) — however, that may also be a recipe for hyperventilation.
A defogger spray may be a helpful solution for glasses that fog up.
The above issues are some that come to mind when standing in wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic. What’s great about standing in now is that it affords you a lot more protection than other SAG-AFTRA unit members when working, because you are not required to remove your mask when you do your work.
However, sometimes stand-ins also work as photo doubles or are also asked to do background acting. In the event you are asked to do such work, consider that more than likely you will have to work without a mask. If that is a safety consideration for you (and why you choose to work as a stand-in now to begin with!), make sure you speak up. You are speaking up for your health and safety, which would likely be a concern the production would take seriously.
Have any other tips about wearing a mask when standing in? Post your tips in the comments below!