Stand In Questions

A few questions about being a stand in…

  1. How does someone get a job as a stand in for TV and film?

  2. How much a year can someone working as a full time stand in expect to make?

  3. Other than standing still while lights and cameras are adjusted what other responsibilities does a stand in have?

  4. Is being a stand in a stepping stone to other jobs either in front of our behind the camera?

  5. Do your physical characteristics, height, weight, hair color, skin tone etc. have to somehow match the actor you are standing in for?

  6. Why not just use a 3-D model of the actor instead of using a real human being? Wouldn’t that be a lot cheaper in the long run?

I found this link.
It covers most of your questions. I was on a set when stand-ins were being used, and it looked like really boring work. It makes sense to double up your job, so that’s nice. Maybe an actual stand-in will be along.

Thanks FB. That link was really helpful. When it said “at the time of this writing the basic SAG rate for background is $122 and for stand-in work is $137.” I assume that would be for a day’s work. What does that mean though if you work a short day (a few hours) versus a long day (15 hours). Is there not an hourly rate too?

3-D models can’t run around. “Stand”-in is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more of a stand-walk-run-move-over-there-in. Often they go through all the blocking of the scene and read lines too.

I was a full-time stand in for one season of a filmed (not taped), scripted, serial comedy-drama TV show in the early 90s. It was not filmed in Southern California, where you can hire stand-ins relatively easily whenever you like, so they paid three of us to be on set 12 hours a day or more, 5 days a week. This made my experience somewhat different than is described in the Yahoo article **FlightlessBird **linked.

I answered an audition call I learned about through my agent. I had recently finished a BFA degree in theater and had not yet had any professional work (other than an internship at a children’s theater) on stage or on screen. It was maybe my second or third professional audition. It called for young women of a particular height and coloring. The audition itself was more like a group job interview and less like a typical film or TV audition – no time in front of a camera, no acting to do. The interviewers basically wanted to figure out who would be reliable and easy to work with, as for any entry-level job.

I made what worked out to about $12/hr back then, though base rate was something like $7 or $8 with time-and-a-half after 40 hours per week, double-time if I stayed on-set more than 12 hours in any one day, and occasionally even triple-time. I was guaranteed 60 hours a week and often got more. They also provided good breakfasts made to order, your choice of three more or less gourmet entrees for lunch, dinner if we went late, and snacks/soft drinks at any time (that part is called “craft service”).

First of all, “standing still while lights and cameras are adjusted” isn’t quite what you do. What you do is: Watch while the real actors rehearse, and while they and the director decide on their “blocking”, or how they will stand/sit/move/whatever during the scene. You try to memorize this (though if you forget, various other workers will help you out later on). Then the actors go off to memorize lines, get hair and makeup done, etc. You wait and keep out of the way while the lights, set, and camera are set up (which can take HOURS, depending on the sophistication of the show and the scene, and rarely takes less than half an hour). During this process, you will be asked to “stand in” periodically while they check how things look, then get out of the way again. Seriously, keeping out of the way can be the hardest part – the equipment is bulky and heavy and complex, and there are dozens of people moving it around at the same time. Nothing stays put. Electrical cords drape all over the place.

In my case, I was expected to be a gofer/runner whenever I wasn’t standing in, but this was because my boss, the head stand-in, knew he had a sweet but unusual gig with this full-time permanent thing, and wanted all the job security he could finagle. He was a total suck-up and spared no effort to become indispensable. I fetched a lot of lattes. I even helped with crowd-control when we filmed exterior scenes in public places. Not sure how the union would have felt about that, had they known. (It was a non-union job at the time.)

It depends. For me, it was a stepping-stone to deciding I wanted nothing more to do with Hollywood! Pleh. I gather than many stand-ins HOPE it will get them somewhere, but it rarely does. A few stand-ins that really look like particular big-name actors get to follow those actors around from job to job, and maybe do some work as their double. I’m sure a few others do make contacts that lead to slightly better work that leads on up, but I don’t think it happens a lot.

Generally, yes. Some lighting designers even wanted me to wear the same shade of makeup and powder as the show’s lead actress. On the other hand, because stand-ins were in short supply in that location, I also ended up standing in for all kinds of people I looked nothing like. Standing in for someone shorter than you is a major pain in the … thighs. Good exercise for skiers, though.

Um, no. How would that work? The whole point is that you need someone to physically take up space, to shine lights on, to cast shadows, to move the camera around. You need this to happen start happening immediately after the creative people decide what space you’ll take up, exactly.

ETA: Oh, did you mean an actual 3D model, like a mannequin, as opposed to a computerized 3D-animated one? That makes more sense! Still, it wouldn’t work very well, since actors often move of their own accord, and mannequins don’t.

Great answers!

The basic rate covers anything from showing up to eight hours. From 8 to 12 hours, each hour is 1.5 x (basic rate/8). From 12 to 16 hours, each hour is 2 x (basic rate/8). More than 16 hours, each hour is 1 x (basic rate), i.e., ungodly expensive, and likely to get someone like the director or the producer in trouble to boot.

Here’s a PDF that explains some of this, and shows that the Yahoo article rate is out of date.

The reason there’s a full day rate paid for just showing up, even if they turn you around and send you home, is that before that was the rule, some productions expected stand-ins (and “background players,” a.k.a. extras) to show up every day, whereupon the director would decide whether you got to work or not. This way, the director makes sure to have that figured out ahead of time, and the worker doesn’t waste the trip to the set. In the Hollywood area, just getting to the set can take a hell of a long time.