Consider this story “Exhibit A” for why I’d make a horrible professional stand-in.
On small shoots, I watch a lot of directors of photography (DP) get frustrated with not having stand-ins. Many of them like having the reference of an actual human face while lighting and often times there aren’t any PA’s around because they’re hovering near crafty.
That’s where I come in.
If I am not particularly busy with my camera assisting duties, I often volunteer to stand-in. I figure it helps the DP from getting frustrated and it keeps things moving. The lower on the totem pole the job I’m doing is, the easier it is to pull this off. For instance, as a 1st assistant camera I can’t usually afford to do this, but as 2nd assistant camera or camera PA, I am much more likely to end up in front of the camera.
Usually the process doesn’t last too long and I’m back behind/beside the camera after a few moments. I will never “block” a scene as a stand-in, I only do it to help with lighting.
There was one time, however, where I ended up sitting in for the lead actor while the supporting actor sat across from me. We hadn’t officially met at this point in the shoot and I was hesitant to introduce myself because I could tell he was concentrating on memorizing lines to himself.
So, there I sat: uncomfortable, awkward and trying to avoid eye-contact.
I am always apprehensive when it comes to interacting with talent. I don’t want to throw off their “groove” or “flow” during a scene, so most times I don’t talk to them at all unless I have to for a focus mark.
The Blind Date
A few minutes went by and I was still sitting in the booth, across from the actor, waiting to be asked to “stand down.”
But the call never came.
Instead they kept lighting and asking me to look across the booth so they could get the proper eyelines. It was at that moment I heard the actor blurt out, “Why didn’t you call me last night?”
“What?” I asked.
He was staring straight at me.
“I was worried sick about you. You can’t be pulling that s**t on me.”
What was he saying to me? And why? I didn’t even have his phone number!
I laughed nervously out of confusion and started to inch towards the exit of the booth. He muttered something under his breath as I pretended to go prep the slate for the upcoming scene.
Some 20 minutes later, I was sitting off to the side of the camera diligently writing camera reports when I heard a familiar phrase. I looked up into the monitor right as the one actor delivered his line:
“I was worried sick about you.”
Suddenly, it all made sense to me. He had been reading his lines to me, as if I was the lead actor, but he never asked or alerted me that he was going to. It came out of nowhere.
At this point I felt relieved that he had not actually been yelling at me, but I also felt a sense of dread that I misread and handled the situation so poorly.
“Rookie mistake,” I thought.
Back Behind the Camera
I felt so embarrassed by the happenings that I never once officially introduced myself to that actor. To this day, I still feel silly about it and wish that we had met on better terms.
That wasn’t the last time I subbed as a stand-in, but now whenever they bring in the actors, I make sure to get up and go behind the camera.
The camera affords me the anonymity of the lens, the shield of the mattebox, and the power of the little red button. That’s where I’m comfortable and, more importantly, where I know when the actor’s are acting.