I’m working as a Stand-In at Disney. A Stand-In. It’s almost like an understudy. You are the body and talking head they use for the actors when rehearsing a scene, planning camera angles and shots and lighting the set. Going from starring and co-writing a TV show in South Africa, to doing background again and then standing in for a 13 year old on set was humbling to say the least. But I get to study a multi cam show everyday. I get to learn about the shooting schedule, what a script supervisor does, different names of shots, how to do fight scenes and stunts, how those are shot, how different directors work, how the swing sets change each week, script re writes, table reads….. the list is endless. It pays my bills which in turn allows me to audition without desperation. They have a keen sense of smell for that here. Don’t let them smell the blood……sweat…and many tears.
A question I often get asked is “Have you seen anyone famous?” I have worked with a few on set, but I’m really bad at that game. I have lived here a year and a half and consciously seen perhaps two celebrities. My latest encounter happened a few days ago. So I’m back at gym, because I ate America, and I look up to see what I thought was a very nice looking older man. He smiles at me, I smile back, whilst in a very unattractive, no make up, sweaty stretch. I thought I recognised him, so I ask my trainer friend who he was…. “Oh Mel Gibson.” I posted this on Facebook and one of the comments was “is he still relevant.” Wow, that’s what being a celebrity means. How famous you are ties in with how relevant you are. How fickle the adoring public of “What Women Want, “Braveheart” and “Lethal Weapon.” Perhaps being a jobbing actor is safer after all. In fact you probably wont recognize most actors here. This is because the actors that are making a living are probably making it off co-star or guest star roles in CSI, Law and Order SVU, NCIS and other programmes with acronyms in the title. Any of which I would give my eyeteeth to audition for of course.
I honestly believed I would be working on my first TV show in a series regular role, or shooting my first studio- backed feature film by now. The reality is, in a year and a half, I’ve successfully shot a low budget indie horror feature, a number of great commercials, done a few short films and bounced between a few agents and a manager, (presently I have neither) and have just booked a lead in a play. In Hollywood, that’s reasonably impressive while you wait for your big break. Ah, the “big break” – that’s like winning the lottery here.
Remember the saying “ There are no small parts, only small actors,” well the same goes here. Don’t let your pride dictate the fact that you miss out on another growing and networking experience. However small my cog is in the wheel, I try own it and treat it like it’s my starring role. That attitude pays off. Nothing annoys me more than a newcomer to LA asking for help, and then saying they couldn’t possibly do background or Stand In work. Not after their lead role in Isidingo! You’re totally right! What was I thinking! Nice to meet you and don’t trip over that ego on your way home. We are all nobodies here when we start, no matter what you’ve done elsewhere. It’s a bitter pill. Building relationships takes time. Prepare yourself for the long haul. In the meantime, take a job that pays the bills and allows you the freedom to audition. Whatever that may be. My motto: Don’t wait Create. I have very little regard for “actor apathy.”
I wouldn’t give this experience up for anything. I am learning an inordinate amount about my industry. So much so, that I am confident enough to start writing and producing my own short films and a new webisode I’m currently working on. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Baby steps, big breaths and a kiss for Lady Luck. Call time tomorrow 7:30am, and I can’t wait. HIGHER!