From left, Juliet Cesario, Yolanda Snowball and Terri Hadley share their best and worst moments standing in for some of Hollywood’s favorite actors at the MOVE L.A. Standing Up for Stand-Ins panel at SAG-AFTRA Plaza on Nov. 21.

Ever thought about being a stand-in but were unsure what a stand-in does? SAG-AFTRA MOVE L.A. thought that might be the case, so the committee organized the Standing Up for Stand-Ins panel, moderated by event chair and L.A. Local Board member Linda Harcharic on Nov. 21. 

The discussion focused on an overview of the job, skills required and tips. Guest panelists were Central Casting’s vice president of business development Adam Hochfeld; TV assistant director Kevin Koster; camera operator Reid Russell; SAG-AFTRA National Director, Background Fatna Sallak-Williams; and stand-in actors Juliet Cesario, Terri Hadley, Yolanda Snowball and Larry Toffler.

To begin, panelists explained that prior to filming, a stand-in substitutes for the actor for technical purposes such as lighting and camera placement. However, the role entails much more, since the efficiency of professional stand-ins save productions time and money, making them some of the hardest-working people on set. They must focus at all times and take notes on the actors’ every action and direction given by the director or crew. Contractually considered part of background and hired by the day, stand-ins earn a higher payrate of $204 per day under the TV/Theatrical contract and other rates on other contracts. They also may be asked to read off-camera dialogue or act as a photo double.

On a typical day, panelists shared, they arrive on the set and check in to receive their voucher and sides. While the cast, also known as “the first team” rehearses, the stand-ins, or “the second team,” watch and take copious notes, paying attention to everything from how the character is holding a drink, to how they behave, sit, stand, walk and talk. Not only must a stand-in be able to relay notes to the actor, but in the rare case that the actor is late or can’t show up, the stand-in may additionally be asked to step in for the rehearsal and must be prepared. After rehearsal, the second team is called in to work with lighting, camera and other crew to set up for filming. Prior to rolling the camera, if there have been blocking changes made by the director or crew, the stand-ins must review with the actor where they need to move and be throughout the scene. Notes should be taken throughout the entire process.

The level of participation a stand-in will experience depends on whether the production is single-camera or multicamera, an awards show or a game show. These first two terms refer to the production style. Single-cam shows utilize one main camera and, at times, up to two more, and often shoot at different locations. They also tend to have more liberal production schedules that allow for multiple takes and require less reading and creative intervention from the stand-in. On the other hand, multicam shows are filmed in a theatrical style, often in front of a live audience, and on a few main “fixed sets,” where the majority of the action is filmed. These types of shows require faster turnaround and, subsequently, a more integral role from stand-ins. Many actors will diagram or “shorthand” within their scripts. A stand-in must be able to quickly understand the character, replicate what they do, and hit the blocking and marks precisely, since they could be asked to do off-camera reading, sometimes act as a photo double, or give notes or lines.

In both single-cam and multicam scenarios, stand-ins should be similar in height and hair color to the actors they are covering, familiar with the character and match the cadence of their speech. These requirements are enhanced for game and awards shows, where additional skills like dancing, singing, reading from a prompter, and the ability to mimic foreign languages and ad-lib may prove very helpful. A few extra tips that apply in all three situations are to not look down when being marked, since the crew are looking at the stand-in’s eyeline. If invited to break, the stand-in should stay nearby and try to not be in anyone’s way. Finally, stand-ins should stay off their phones, as focus is key.

For SAG-AFTRA members looking to break in, panelists advised that it mostly comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Doing background work will get you on set, provide experience and, hopefully, get you noticed. A reputation for reliability is always a big help and, while a resume isn’t required, it’s always good to have. 

Stand-in work isn’t for everyone, but generally speaking, the profession is great for sustaining a career, both to maintain professional focus and financial security. However, it is not without its cons. For instance, those looking to act but who are committed to a show can’t just leave to audition. Also, working with different directors can be trying but, on the bright side, it is invaluable experience that provides ample opportunity to network as well as to grow one’s flexibility and people skills.

Photo: From left, Juliet Cesario, Yolanda Snowball and Terri Hadley share their best and worst moments standing in for some of Hollywood’s favorite actors at the MOVE L.A. Standing Up for Stand-Ins panel at SAG-AFTRA Plaza on Nov. 21.


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