The Stand-In’s Routine
Getting to your stand-in job 15-30 minutes before your calltime usually gives you plenty of time to get everything you need to get done, done. It gives you time to get your voucher, fill it out, get your label, claim color cover from wardrobe, and eat breakfast.
Arriving early also gives you a buffer against problems in your commute. Believe it or not, you are an integral part of production, and if you are late, you can slow down production.
Usually you will report to background holding, though sometimes casting will inform you to report directly to set. When you’re standing in, it’s not uncommon to be needed on set the minute the company is in. Whatever the case, when your scene is up, you are ready and nearby set.
When company is in, rehearsal with the director and principal actors often begins. In most cases, this rehearsal is dubbed a private rehearsal, and only a select few can watch it. After the private rehearsal is done, you may hear “Marking rehearsal!,” along with a call for department heads and second team. At this time, you immediately make your way over to set to watch marking rehearsal. The background PA and the 2nd 2nd AD will make sure you’re there, as they’re the people most directly responsible for you. Should you have any questions when you’re on set, you ask them.
In marking rehearsal, the principal actors rehearse for the crew. It is called “marking rehearsal” because at this point the principal actors’ marks are laid down on the floor as they go through their blocking. During the marking rehearsal, the crew studies what will be done in the scene, analyzing how it will be shot and lit.
As you watch marking rehearsal, you carefully study every movement your designated actor makes, taking notes on your sides. As you watch marking rehearsal, you are oriented to details as well as the greater picture. You do your best to figure out the blocking on your own or possibly consult with other stand-ins on what they saw. After marking rehearsal, other crew members may rely on your observations of what your actor did so they can prepare properly. Essentially, during setup, you are the scholar of your actor’s blocking.
In case it’s not obvious, you don’t typically ask the principal actor or the director for information on the blocking. You leave them alone. If you have any questions, you consult the background PA or the 2nd 2nd AD.
Each time you stand in, you feel out just how immediately you should step in. Sometimes the crew needs to move set pieces before it is even safe for you to step in. Whatever the case, when first team steps off, you are ready to be on your mark should the director, DP, or ADs need you.
When you step to your first position, you line your toes up flush with the mark. Your actor has a specific tape color, so as you move to your second position and later positions, you hit the marks matching your actor’s color. As you are asked to shift off of a mark into a new mark, a camera assistant will re-mark your position. You don’t re-mark yourself.
While the crew sets up a shot, the DP will look at you, observing how the light and shadow hit your face, perhaps clicking a light meter very close to your face to get a light reading. The camera operator will frame you and ask you to move from first position to second position and so on. A camera assistant may walk up to you and take a measurement near your eye, or the camera assistant may send a tape measure out to you and have you hold it at the side of your eye. At times it may seem as if you’re not being used, but you won’t always know when you’re being used. Often, you are being used without knowing it!
Because of these factors, when you are working, ideally you are silent, still, and focused. There is a lot of chaos swirling around you that can easily distract you as you stand in. Although you may be tempted to chitchat with the stand-in working next to you, it may get in the way of your concentration.
Once the lights are set up and the camera has been worked out, the 1st AD may call out “Second team rehearsal!” Background actors may or may not be included in this rehearsal. Background actors will start moving on the command “Background action!” You, however, will start moving just after, on the command “Action!“
By this time, it’s probably been clarified whether you’ll be reading the lines of the scene. As a stand-in, sometimes you read the lines, sometimes you don’t. Sets vary on what they need the stand-ins to do. You are rarely required to emulate the exact performance of the principal actor any more than doing the exact blocking. Of note, not all stand-ins are actors, nor are they expected to act.
When the 1st AD dismisses you (usually with a “Thank you, second team“), or when your designated actor has arrived to take your place, you step away from set. However, you don’t do this until you’re certain none of the crew around the camera is still using you to set up their shot.
When you step away, you go find a monitor in order to watch for changes in the blocking. Oftentimes things do change. While you need to watch takes for changes, stand-in presence at the monitors is a lower priority than the presence of other crew members. If the monitors are private, you may want to quietly watch the monitors at the sound cart.
If you need to head to the bathroom, once cameras are rolling is your best opportunity to tell the background PA or 2nd 2nd AD that you are “10-1” (heading to the bathroom). However, return quickly as it could be only one or two takes before you hear “Cut! Checking the gate!“
When you hear “Checking the gate!,” it’s time to get back to set. (Depending on the production, you might also hear “Check that!” or “Checking the chip!“) If the gate is good, there may be a new setup or a rehearsal for a whole new scene. But if there appears to be a problem in the gate, they may do another take.
When you are standing in, you are considered part of the crew, and although you may be held with the background actors, you eat before the background actors eat. This is mainly for logistical reasons: Eating with the crew allows you enough time to eat in order to be back on set when company is back in.
If you are still on the same scene after lunch, you return to your marks when company is back in. If you are onto the next scene after lunch, you prepare to watch marking rehearsal if your actor is involved in that scene.
If you are onto a new scene, keep in mind that you may be standing in for a different actor, and/or you may need to change your color cover.
Once you’ve been wrapped for the day, you turn in your color cover to wardrobe and get your voucher back. On your voucher, you make sure to check off “Stand-In” or write it in the notes. The background PA will sign you out in holding, or if you are a regular stand-in, the 2nd 2nd AD may sign you out on set.
If you are a regular stand-in on the production, at this time you might take a look at the prelim or callsheet for the next day to have a sense of what the next day looks like. Otherwise, you’re out.
Lastly: Stand-In Terminology »