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Watch Out For That Tree!!!
April 2000


Stunts are exciting and fun to watch, but they can also be dangerous. Here"s some inside information on the difference between stuntmen and stand-ins and when they"re used.

What is a stand-in?

If I"m not mistaken in the early days of film a stand-in was synonymous with a stunt-double. Essentially they literally stood-in for the actor when there was a scene that involved a stunt or act that was potentially dangerous or harmful. The name has since been changed to stunt-double. The definition of which is further down in the article.

These days a stand-in is someone who literally steps-in for an actor during situations where the actor is not needed on set. There are two instances where this can occur.

The first instance is during the preparation of a scene. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to prepare the lights, camera and set for a shot. This is where the phrase “hurry up and wait” comes from. It takes hours to set up the scene that could take less than five minutes to shoot.

During the preparations there is a constant checking of the brightness of the lights against the characters, as well as a camera check, including focus and movement Rather than have actors standing around for two hours or so (which can cost money), stand-ins are hired (for much less) who resemble the height, build and coloring of the actor. They stand or walk around all the places on set so the lighting and camera can make sure everything is perfect for the scene.

The second instance a stand-in may be used is when the shot involves a close-up of the characters" hands, feet or any part of their body that excludes the face. This can also include sex scenes where actors may choose not to disrobe. In this instance, the production (or the actor) may decide to bring in a body-double or stand-in to do the nude scenes.

However, we should not assume these scenes are all with stand-ins. Sometimes actors will do the shot, especially if it"s done on set. Otherwise, these close-ups can be shot days or months after the production has wrapped. This is called an insert, when they add a shot later on and insert it into a scene. In that case, stand-ins are more commonly used.

If you ever seen a rough cut of a movie and you see a frame that reads “insert” or “Shot to come” (or something similar) it means that they decided to film the inserts in an environment that was more cost effective, like a studio that specializes in shooting inserts. This way it takes less time away from the regular shoot. Once inserts are filmed, the movie is re-edited and those scenes are added in. Inserts can also include close-ups involving no actors at all, like a computer screen or a clue or some other inanimate object.

What is a stunt double?

A stunt double is someone who steps in and does the stunt or the action sequence. Like stand-ins they usually have to resemble the height, build and coloring of the actor they"re doubling for. The closer they resemble the actor, the better.

What factors determine if a star does a particular stunt or not?

Insurance mainly. An insurance company can have the final say as to whether an actor does the stunt or not, and it all boils down to risk. If it"s deemed too dangerous and the actor gets hurt, there"s a lot of money involved. Also, Agents and Producers get nervous as well, because if the actor does get hurt, they could lose their hottest commodity.

Stunt people are used when a stunt is deemed too dangerous for actors to do themselves. Even ones that don"t look as risky can get agents and producers nervous when an actor insists on doing it. The most simple of stunts can be risky. You can land wrong, or hit something or get hit. So a stuntman might be used.

However, many actors insist on doing their own stunts, because it makes the scene more believable for the audience. Stuntmen are still required on set, since they are the professionals. They"re there in case the decision is made in the last minute not to have the actor perform the stunt. If the actor does go ahead with it, the stunt people serves as technical advisors to the actor. They also check over any stunt equipment to ensure safety.

There"s no better sense of teamwork on the set than among stuntmen. These guys band together. Sure the action sequences are dangerous, but these people are well trained, conscientious and never hesitate to be right there assisting those involved in the stunt. It"s really impressive to watch these guys in action.

How you can tell when a stunt double is used?

You"re not supposed to. That"s the magic of TV and movies. Personally I"d rather not tell you how to spot them, because I believe in enjoying the film as a whole. Once you start noticing details like stuntmen or camera movement, then there"s something wrong with the final product, unless you"ve watched it a million times and are searching for those minute details. For me to tell you how to look is like giving away a secret. And while it"s fun to seek this stuff out. I think you"ll find out soon enough how to tell the difference.

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