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Stunt doubles go where film actors fear to tread -- off high buildings, into raging infernos, and through high-speed, high-danger car chases. For risking grave injury and even death, professional stunt doubles are well compensated on a daily or weekly basis. Although the training is rigorous and the work environment can be somewhat less than ideal. As with actors and other movie technicians, average salaries vary widely.
Each movie has a budget that allocates a specific amount for stuntman work. The basic job of the stunt double is to take physical risks the producer doesn't want the principal actors to take. It's a financial calculation: injury to a movie lead or supporting cast member can cause a costly hold-up, and in some cases force the director to shoot with an alternate cast member or script. Although some actors insist on doing their own stunts, the final decision lies with the producer. They're the individual responsible for avoiding budget overruns and production delays, and who can buy some insurance against these problems by employing a stunt double.
Stunt Double Job Requirements
Stunt doubles can negotiate daily and weekly fees for taking falls, engaging in sword fights, driving cars in chases and staged accidents and using high wires and harnesses. The fee varies with the experience and skill of the stunt double, the risk of the stunt and the movie budget. The annual average salary ranges from $62,000 to $70,000 for a stunt double, but the figure will vary widely depending on experience and availability of work. Some stuntmen can make over $100,000 or even around $250,000 but that isn't as common.
Rates and Considerations
Stunt doubles belong to the Screen Actors Guild, a union of theatrical workers that sets minimum day and weekly rates for stunt work. As of 2014, the daily minimum had reached $899 -- which is the same amount for a stunt coordinator -- and the weekly rate is around $3,200. Three-day minimums exist for "television only" contracts, at a rate of $2,347 for a half-hour or hour show, and $2,556 for a longer show. Some stunt doubles make around $50,000 a movie, but that number has gone down now that some production has moved out of Los Angeles and into less expensive states.
Stunt doubles can negotiate a higher fee if the production calls for a longer engagement or higher risk. Their only work-related costs are transportation, which the production might cover in the contract. The stunt crew doesn't buy safety equipment or handle their insurance; each movie production buys coverage against accidents and other hazards on the set. The more dangerous the stunts, the higher the premiums; insurers can restrict stunts and insist on maximum use of safety gear.
Hours and Working Conditions
The Screen Actors Guild sets minimum day rates because a movie production has no set hours of operation. Stunt doubles must be willing to work from the pre-dawn hours until well after dark to get a shot or scene right. Stunt coordinators prepare the action with meticulous planning, diagrams, special equipment and often-grueling rehearsals. Most productions need stunt doubles to work under varying weather conditions and be in excellent physical condition. Training and experience are the key to landing work and better-than-minimum compensation.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.