If you are shooting a TV show or a movie on a sound stage, you will hear the distinctive ring of bells at various points throughout your work day as a stand-in.
What do those mysterious bells mean?
Here we cover the meaning of the bells on a sound stage, and what they may mean for you when you are standing in.
Listen to the Number of Rings
In general, no matter what sound stage you visit, the bells you hear will have meanings that carry over from stage to stage.
Sometimes you will hear a bell ring once. (“Ring!”)
Other times you will hear it ring twice. (“Ring! Ring!”)
Still other times you will hear it ring thrice. (“Ring! Ring! Ring!”)
Each phrasing of the bells has a different meaning.
The Meanings of the Bells
Bells indicate to the crew — especially the crew who may be on the sound stage but not close to the action — what is generally going on.
Working backwards, if you hear three bells, that means the cameras are about to start rolling. Just before you hear three bells, you might hear the the 1st AD call out “Three bells!” Moments after, you may hear the 1st AD call out “Rolling!” In other words, three bells indicates to the crew that the cameras are about to roll — in order to shoot the scene.
If you hear two bells, instead of shooting the scene, that indicates the actors are about to rehearse. Often these are private rehearsals among the actors, the director, and some select crew members, but they could indicate other kinds of rehearsals.
Lastly, if you hear one bell, that indicates a cancellation of whatever was just going on — whether it was shooting a scene or rehearsing a scene. In most cases, one bell comes right after the director or 1st AD calls “Cut!” It could also ring after private rehearsal has stopped and there is a move to, say, a marking rehearsal.
Lights and Bells
Oftentimes, when bells sound, any recording lights outside the sound stage entrance doors will also light up.
These lights might simply be red lightbulbs near doorways, or they could be light boxes with the word “RECORDING” or some similar phrase on them over doorways. In general, one should not enter the sound stage when the red light is lit up because usually shooting is going on.
Once “Cut!” is called, the sound of one bell will ring out, and the red light should turn off. That typically means it is now safe to enter the sound stage.
Who Operates the Bells?
In most cases, who will be “on bells” will be a PA (production assistant). The PA will also usually control the lights.
If lucky, the PA will get to sit. (PAs frequently aren’t “allowed” to sit on the job except in special cases!)
How Bells Affect Your Stand-In Work
The bells are helpful to you as a stand-in.
Of course, if three bells ring out, that means you should be quiet on the sound stage. It indicates shooting is about to begin. You might want to position yourself near a monitor or turn on your smartphone app to view the scene.
If you hear two bells, that means rehearsal is about to start, usually of the next scene to be shot. You should stay close to set if your actor is working in the scene. If you are able to watch the rehearsal from afar (if it is a private rehearsal), you can get a leg up on learning the blocking for your actor when you hear two bells. Otherwise, two bells indicates you should be quiet on the sound stage so that rehearsal can be done without distractions.
If you hear one bell, that may help you to judge whether you should run back into the sound stage if, say, you are at craft services getting food, or start making your way directly over to set because the 1st AD may be about to yell out, “Checking the gate! Second team!”
Obviously, the bell system is not that hard to understand, and even if you didn’t read about the meanings of the bells from Stand-In Central, you probably figured them out from clues when working as a stand-in. But now the meanings should be clear!
Have you ever encountered different meanings for bells? Do you have any fun uses you’ve had as a stand-in for the bells? Post your stories in the comments below!