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How To Be a Stand-in

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To be a stand-in, you need to be focused, professional, and on-call

By Jamie Painter Young

When actor Stephanie Bowles got a call out of the blue a few years ago to be a last-minute stand-in that night for Andie MacDowell on Wim Wenders' feature film The End of Violence, she was asked by the assistant director, "a relative of a relative of a relative," as Bowles put it, if she had any previous stand-in experience.

"I didn't even know what a stand-in was, but I was so excited just to get on a movie set that I lied and said yes," recalled Bowles, who had moved to Los Angeles two months before from Chicago, where she worked in theatre. Fortunately, Bowles had a friend visiting her who knew about stand-in work and filled her briefly on what she would be asked to do. She was also fortunate to work on that film with another stand-in, filling in for Bill Pullman, who showed her the ropes. "He taught me how to be a stand-in, basically. I stayed on that movie until the end as Andie's stand-in and photo double. From there I just started booking [stand-in work]." Bowles has since stood-in for Gwyneth Paltrow on Bounce, Madeleine Stowe on Imposter, and Amanda Peet and Ashley Judd on High Crimes, among others.

Details of the Job

Like many people who do stand-in work, Bowles fell into it without having prior experience or knowledge of what the job required. Still, there are some pointers worth knowing ahead of time should you ever get that call to stand-in for an actor, or you're interested in working as a stand-in.

The first thing you should know is that being a stand-in does not mean that you will just be "standing around." A stand-in (or the "second team," as stand-ins are referred to on-set) is an off-camera body double for an on-camera actor and takes the place of the actor while the camera department (and sometimes the director) prepares to shoot a scene. While stand-in work falls under the category of background performing, stand-ins answer directly to the camera department.

As Laura Mancini, a part-time stand-in, explained of the job: "You are basically a member of the camera, grip, and electric team, because without you they wouldn't know exactly how to shape the light, where to put the lights, or how to set up the shot without seeing that person--you--in that space."

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