Stephen Gallagher took issue with my post yesterday:

“For those of you who don’t know, a stand-in is quite possibly the most perfect manifestation of how lazy actors are.”

Seems kinda harsh both on the actors, who usually seem to use the chunk of time between blocking and shooting to get their lines, and stand-ins, who may not have the most demanding job in the world but can screw up everybody’s day if they fail to observe and repeat the moves.

Wow!  A real showrunner–or at least someone claiming to be one–reads my blog!

Before I did the due diligence on who I was responding to, I had prepared a snarky retort about lazy actors and people whose job could adequately be performed by a mannequin.  Then I realized I was about to tell off someone who knows a hell of a lot more than I do about the workings of a television show.

And then I remembered that I applied to be the writer’s assistant on Eleventh Hour, and I didn’t even get a call back!

More to the point, my readers don’t come to this blog for mealy-mouthed, sycophantic, half-apologetic rationalizations of previous posts.  They expect me to hold forth with vigor and aplomb, whether I know what I’m talking about or not.

One of my favorite aphorisms is, “You don’t need to be a chef to know the cooking’s bad.” Or, to adapt it to my purposes, “Even the escuelerie can tell the sous-chef is lazy.”

Everything I know about cuisine comes from this movie.
In this metaphor, if my readers are Linguini, that makes me the rat?

Okay, back to the topic at hand.

All due respect to Mr. Gallagher, these are kind of lame excuses. Actors “use the chunk of time between blocking and shooting to get their lines”?  Seriously?  What were they doing for, oh, the last three weeks they’ve had the script?

Of course, scripts change, but should they really be cramming for the final exam like that?  Memorizing lines is part of the basic task of a professional actor.

Or, if by “get” you mean, “Study the subtleties of the characterization and the lyrical nature of the text,” that’s even worse.  No amount of last-minute study is going to reveal the deeper meanings of the scene.  That takes advance preparation with the director and the other actors.

Again, I don’t know what Eleventh Hour was like (despite my best efforts).  Maybe a famously intense actor like Rufus Sewell spends his free time preparing with the writers.

But on the shows I’ve been on, I’ve never seen a producer down at base camp.  I, on the other hand, spend a good amount of time there, and unless you count playing stick ball with the DGA trainee, hitting on the make-up girls, or napping as “preparation,” I’ve never seen an actor prepare between setups.

As far as stand-ins having the ability to screw up everybody’s day, well…

Yes, I've used this picture before.  Doesn't make it less true.
I realize this applies to me just as much as to them.
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5 Responses

  1. All due respect to Mr. Gallagher, these are kind of lame excuses. Actors “use the chunk of time between blocking and shooting to get their lines”? Seriously? What were they doing for, oh, the last three weeks they’ve had the script?

    You see how much respect I’m due?

    I can’t claim to have been the showrunner on Eleventh Hour, Cy and Ethan had the reins on that one. I was creator, freelance contributor and constant interfering pain in the ass.

    But of all people on a set a PA should know the kick, bollock and scramble that doesn’t resolve into an illusion of calm until someone calls action. It’s as true for the actors as much as anyone else. They’re lucky if they know which episode they’re in, which to me makes it even more awesome when they fire it up and do what they do.

    The day players tend to turn up line-perfect because they don’t dare to risk messing up. But on my last show the series regulars would stumble through the blocking with their eyes on the script, run the scene for the crew with the occasional glance at the words, and return for the take with a full performance in place. You could throw them a line change between takes and they’d recalibrate, no problem, with a sincerity that could bear the close-up scrutiny of a zillion pairs of eyes, now and forever in reruns.

    I’ll give you one thing about stand-ins, though. Some of them are very strange people.

    Oh, and Rufus had the PA write out all his lines on Marley’s forehead.

  2. 3 weeks? Really? On a show in production? That would be bliss. In my experience, they have the script for the 7 days of prep, and it is being constantly revised out from under them, and if they’re series regulars, they’re filming episode 9 and need THOSE lines in their heads, not the ones for episode 10 that shoots next week.

    Features are different, I’m told.

  3. Don’t forget that actors often have to go through hair and make up after the blocking during the lighting set-up. This takes a fair bit of time and it saves production money to have a stand in.

  4. Wow. I’ve seen people berate actors before, but never with such vigor and zeal.

    Seriously though, you are probably being too harsh. Though the work of the cast and crew demands a lot of time and physical exhaustion, nobody is taxed as much emotionally as an actor. While we can spend time writing characters and creating beautiful shots, we do so as ourselves. An actor is asked to inhabit the skin of another person for a while, and spending time standing around so the G&E crew can get the lighting right is no way to get yourself in that frame of mind.

    I’m not an actor. I’m G&E by trade and hope to be a cinematographer someday. But I still have a great deal of respect for what an actor, at least a good one, is supposed to do on a film. That said, neither them or their characters need to be assholes to the crew.

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