Read A Day on Set of The Gifted: Part I here
In a flash, the stand-in cave under the stairs empties as second team makes a dash of Olympic levels into the headquarters. (For those not in the know, “first team” is the name given to the actors. Thus “second team” refers to their stand-ins and photo doubles.) At this point, we join the mass of crew members crowded around as the actors get into place for a marking rehearsal. As they do their thing, one of the camera assistants zips in and out placing neon coloured taped underneath the actors. This ensures everyone knows exactly where the actors end up. Meanwhile us stand-ins are watching the actors’ moves like steely-eyed hawks, memorizing their every turn, head tilt, posture, and walking directions.
“Alright, the crew has it!”
This is usually when quick ‘good mornings’ and ‘hellos’ between first and second team occur. Of course, Emma Dumont and I have to take it up a notch with a secret handshake. Because we are just too cool for school. From here, the set becomes a bustling hive of activity as the director teams up with various department heads to set up the shot. Cameras get set up on their dollies, grips scurry to set up lights, and P.As position background extras in the scene. Although there are attempts to keep this process quiet, it rarely happens. The amount of people and activity in one spot makes for noise. (Although it can be frustrating for a half-deaf gal like me to hear as I swear they always call out directions on my left/deaf side…thank goodness for other stand-ins keeping an ear out for me!) Due to sizes of lenses, camera angles, and lights, us stand-ins get shuffled around A. LOT. But it’s why we’re here – to help set up the shot so the actor’s can just come in and do their jobs. Standing around for hours can wear you out or at the very least, make you quite antsy. So while it’s an extremely low-paying and often thankless job, it’s a very necessary one.
I’m going to stop here to make an important note of one of the reasons I love working on The Gifted. In the previous post I mentioned how Emma makes me feel like an equal. She is not the only one. Our executive producers Derek Hoffman and Craig Siebels (my favourite director I have EVER worked for) are always there with a smile, a friendly chat, and make the set feel like a safe, very fun place to be. And then there’s our showrunner, Matt Nix. I once had the embarrassing notion of thinking he was the head writer and not the uh…show creator. So when he visited set for the first time from LA, I brazenly waltzed right up to say hi and chat over the silly Instagram posts from the writer’s room. After the initial, “Hi, what do you do on set?” the very next thing out of Matt’s mouth was, “So, do you like comics?” DO I. Thus began a 30 minute super geeky conversation about X-Men (which truthfully is my favourite comic series. Always has been). It wasn’t until the series premiere when I saw his name on the title screen that I realized my error. Oops…
Now, back to set!
My body is aching. I’ve been holding this position for the last hour. Dear Emma has a habit of perching on chairs and tables which work perfectly for Polaris, but can be a bit tricky to hold for 1-2 hours. Behold the perching gargoyle (I started calling her halfway through the season)…
Everything is now in place. The call goes out over the walkies to invite in first team.
“10 POINTS TO SLYTHERIN!”
Emma yells as she bursts onto set. Each actor arrives and trade off with their stand-in. I smile and say good morning to the other actors on my way out. “Morning, love!” Sean Teale’s Colgate smile greets me with a hug as he dashes onto set. I don’t know whether it’s his infectious smile or the fact that he reminds me a lot of my boyfriend, but I do so enjoy running into Sean on set (same with Jermaine Rivers (Shatter) and Hayley Lovitt (Sage). I like trying to see how big I can get the 3 of them to smile. What? They have great grins!)
The stage grows quiet and I peer over the producers’ shoulders to watch the monitors (despite setting up the shot with us stand-ins, things almost always change once shooting begins. So we have to be aware of any changes made). I watch it two times through and once I realize that nothing’s changing in this long, scene, I go to crafty to get my morning cup of tea. Back in the stand-in cave, I settle in to the quiet conversation happening. As per usual, the topics of conversation range from opinions on various geek-related things and acting.
Most stand-ins are newbie actors, struggling actors, or actors who’ve fallen on hard times. So you’ll get a range of folks who take acting seriously and are using their stand-in job as a sort of Masterclass to learn from their actor while others are feeling out their place on set, to see if acting is a really a thing for them or if they like a different department better. (Still others spend their time complaining about not having gotten anywhere career-wise, but that’s when it’s best to have a book to read on set and ignore them without seeming rude).
Personally, I find myself in the undecided category. I love acting and previously had an agent, done many auditions, etc. I fall into a natural rhythm on set acting out the sides or with doing line rehearsals the actors. But with the industry being SO competitive and much of one’s hard-earned money going to tools to help one get work with usually little to no return, it’s a struggle. But I try not to fall into the trap of whining endlessly about it on set as some do, but to problem-solve this with my fellow stand-ins and to be grateful for where I am. Many do not. Many stand-ins I meet on sets are discontent and bitter they haven’t “made it” yet. I can understand a frustrating day here or there, but a sense of perspective gets lost. Perhaps one day I’ll be a working actress. Perhaps I’m meant for something else. But every day I try to make the choice to be grateful for what is given to me. I could be stuck on a terrible set. I could be stuck with an actress who wants nothing to do with me. I could be stuck nowhere near an industry I love.
Stay tuned for what happens in the lunchline and afterwards in Part III!