What is a Movie Stand-In?

I remember when I first got a phone call from the casting director for the Demi Moore film, “The Joneses.” I had worked as an extra, not a featured extra or anything fancy, the day before and I had sent him a text message afterwards telling him how much fun I had. Well, low-and-behold, during this unexpected phone call he asked me if I would be interested in working on the movie throughout the duration of production as Ben Hollingsworth stand-in.

Ecstatic, I said, “Yes, of course!” and after a brief pause, “What exactly is a stand-in?” I know, I know. As an actor who has worked steadily for the previous five years or so, I should have known what a stand-in was. While I had a vague idea about this crew members’ purpose, I wasn’t 100-percent clear.

After a small chuckle, he went on to explain the role and purpose of a stand-in. While compiling this article, I will use information gathered from that fateful phone conversation as well as vital tips and information cultivated from working on not only “The Joneses,” but also numerous other major motion pictures as a stand-in.

Basic Definition

The purpose of a stand-in is to “stand-in” for the lead actors within a scene so the lighting and camera departments may set up the technical aspects of the shot. As a stand-in, you repeat the movements and actions of the actor you are standing-in for, and slowly the lighting crew will illuminate the set and the camera crew will establish he shot. Once the crew has finished setting up the shot, and the actors have returned from make-up and wardrobe, the stand-ins are dismissed to go chill-out by the craft-services (food!) table and enjoy the day…until the next shot.

Day on the Job

As with any other job, the daily duties can vary; however, after spending countless hours on set I’ve found the daily life of a stand-in to be rather uniform.

Upon arriving on set, you check-in with the production assistant assigned to make sure you show up. This P.A. will become your best friend while on set, and I’ve always cultivated a good friendship with any P.A. that is responsible for my whereabouts. While this P.A. can be chill and relaxed, others can be up-tight and rather rude – tis life.

After checking in, you will either be rushed off to wardrobe to put on the same outfit as the actor you’re standing-in for (which is always cool) or you’ll go to set, grab a cup of coffee, and wait until the crew is ready for you to step in.

Before a shot is truly established, the lead actors arrive on set to rehearse the scene. As a stand-in, it your responsibility to carefully watch the actor you’re standing-in for during rehearsal so you may mimic his movements exactly.

You will know when it’s time for you to arrive on the rehearsal set, as the Assistant Director (A.D.) or a Production Assistant will yell, “Second Team!” This refers to stand-ins. It’s fun to have your own title while on a film set.

Once the actors depart to prepare for the scene, you stand-in…literally. Following their movements, you will repeat the actions of the scene numerous times, and then stand still so the camera can focus-in on you, and the lighting guys/gals can illuminate the scene.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about the professionals you’re working with, examine how some of the leading directors set up a shot, and observe the makings of a feature film – all-in-all, it is quite exciting.

After the lighting and camera crew are finished establishing the shot, you are dismissed. You can either stick by, and watch the scene unfold, or you can draw back, find a comfortable seat, and read a book or eat a snack until Second Team is called in again.

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