On Set: Week Two

September 3, 2008

Walking around a TV set all day, you begin to wonder who all of these people are and what they do.  There are the obvious jobs:  the hair and makeup people who carry their tools of the trade on their belts, the camera men with their cameras on their shoulders, the stage managers with their headsets and walkie-talkies.  Even the guy who maintains the snack table (bless him) is usually holding a bag of chips or a case of water bottles.  But my new favorite job, and one I never knew existed until I started working on TV shows, is the celebrity stand-in.

Of course it makes sense.  The celebrities are way too busy, I’m sure, to sit around all day while everyone is making all the elements fit together.  Things happen over and over in rehearsals.  Sometimes they go wrong, and you have to do them again.  Yesterday the baton twirler came out to do his twirling routine and his batons were pre-set in the wrong place.  Today one of the pyro sprays sent sparks in the wrong direction.  We run a number, and then we sit around while the director watches the video playback to make sure all the camera shots are correct.  We adjust the mic levels.  A lighting cue is changed.  Frantic PAs run around looking for a missing hat or a misplaced prop.  (How do you think I have time to do all this blogging?)

And while all that is happening, there are three people sitting in the judges’ chairs.  I’m told you can make a whole career out of being a stand-in (though I don’t imagine it buys you a house in the Pacific Palisades).  These are the same stand-ins who do everything in town — the Grammys, the Oscars, American Idol.  Two of them I even recognize because they were the stand-ins on “Grease: You’re The One That I Want.”  The best part is when we rehearse the “judges comments” and the stand-ins get to speak directly to the performers.  They’re directed to say only positive comments for the rehearsal run-thrus, and they say things like “Wow, that was so amazing, so original.  You have obviously practiced so much and I’m sure you’re going to be in the top five.”  And then the real judges come out, two hours later, and rip the contestants to shreds on national television.
The stand-ins even kind of look like the celebrities a bit, too.  The more the show goes on, the more they try to say things the actual celebrities might say.  And what’s amazing is that each contestant seems so relieved that someone liked his performance.  Even if it’s a celebrity stand-in.  Even if the stand-in has been directed to say only nice things.  Even if none of it is true. 
I continue to think it’s such a weird time we live in, when reality shows rule television and everyone around is looking for his fifteen minutes of fame.  A job is just a job, I guess, but if for two or three hours a day you get to pretend to be someone famous, well then perhaps that makes your job just a little more glamorous.

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