Of all the pay-the-bills jobs I’ve had over the years, the one that people seem most curious about is my history as a stand-in for actresses on television and film sets. In case you’ve never heard of this occupation, the sole purpose of the stand-in is to…wait for… it… stand in for the “real” actor/actress during the hours it takes to light and set the scene. Non-“industry” folks are often surprised to learn how unglamorous the job of the stand-in really is. Typically, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait. The stand-in watches the rehearsals, takes notes, and then emulates the blocking (movement) of the actor. That’s (more or less) it. Other than that all you have to do is resemble the actor (especially height, hair color, and skin tone).
Ok, that’s Stand-In 101. But why should you care?
Because a good stand-in and a good storyteller (writer/artist/entrepreneur/politician/teacher/etc) must have an ability that most people overlook as too passive and time consuming to be of real value:
The ability to observe.
Will being the best stand-in in cinematic history ever put you down the path for Oscar gold? Absolutely not. Does being hired to do a job with the sole purpose of emulating someone else, simply because you look kind of like them, drive you slowly insane? Very possibly.
But by spending 12-16 hours a day watching how the pros do it, you learn a thing or two. By silently standing on your mark while two dozen crew members frenetically circle around you and make hundreds of decisions in a matter of minutes, you witness how the parts of the puzzle combine to make the whole. And by essentially being a fly on the wall, you become privy to the unfiltered thoughts of the director, writers, producers… and I do mean unfiltered.
Doormen and security guards aside, I’d be willing to wager few people spend as many hours a day standing around watching the world unfold around them as stand-ins do.
As Yogi Berra said, You can see a lot just by observing.
When we observe, we not only see the big picture, we see all the elements that unite to create it. We learn new ways of approaching situations. As the observer we can briefly take ourselves out of the story, and see the patterns we miss when we’re too close to the subject.
I’m reminded of this in moments when I feel a sense of overwhelm by the daily to-dos, or I’m having a difficult time with a present situation, or just experiencing an over-all sense of feeling stuck. By remembering this is one piece and not the puzzle, the situation at least feels instantly more manageable. And when I’m trying to write or edit or create and I hit an inspirational block, the solution is often found when I stop trying to push through and instead take a moment to step back, get out of my own ego, and observe the world around me.
In order to find the answers within, we often have to turn our focus out.
And now we turn the attention towards you:
When was the last time you took a backseat role in order to better move forward?
I’d love to read your responses in the comments below!