How Do You Become a Professional Stunt Performer?
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Hollywood stars rarely have the physical abilities to perform their on-screen stunts, and it's a risky choice for studios to put a lead actor in potentially dangerous scenarios. Instead, when it comes to that thrilling explosion-filled sequence, films hire trained stunt professionals. These performers are used for a vast array of stunts across every genre and medium in entertainment. As a result, becoming a professional stunt performer can be a lucrative career path, but it requires significant training and experience.
Stunt performers generally need to possess skills in the following areas: fighting (martial arts, boxing, or swordplay), falling from heights, riding and driving (including motor vehicles and horses), swimming and scuba-diving, and agility and strength. It's useful to have a diverse range of skills. However, Greg Tracy – a stunt driver who has appeared in films including The Bourne Ultimatum and G.I. Joe – recommends having a very specialized skill to concentrate on in order to help yourself stand out.
Professional stunt work in the U.S. doesn't require a college degree or specific certification, but if you're looking to hone your skills in any of the previously mentioned areas, enrolling in a training program or stunt school could be useful. Even if you feel confident in your abilities, a program can help you diversify your stunt resume, perfect a certain skill, and learn relevant industry lingo. Training programs like L.A. Stunts Training Center and Stunt University are located in Los Angeles at the heart of the entertainment industry, but there are courses available all across the country. It's important to note, though, that while these programs provide safe and professional stunt training, they cannot guarantee you a job and are not required in the industry.
Breaking into professional stunt work requires similar determination and self-marketing as any actor in the entertainment industry. Start by getting some 8-x-10-inch headshots. A good headshot does not necessarily need to be taken by a professional, but it should look polished and clearly show your face and body type. Next, build your resume. Your resume should include relevant training courses you've taken, a list of your abilities and, if necessary, descriptions of your skill level within each of them, physical measurements including height, weight and shoe size, any film, TV or live performance credits and any union affiliations. Lastly, consider putting together a stunt demo video that demonstrates your abilities. Remember that directors and producers use these materials not only to discern your skills but to evaluate whether you'd be appropriate for a certain scene or for doubling for another actor, so it's important to show off what you look like as much as what you can do.
Build Your Portfolio
With training and materials, one way to break into the industry is as a background performer, also known as an extra. As an extra, you'll get the opportunity to be on set, accumulate credits for your resume, and receive vouchers that you can possibly use to join a union. While working as an extra, your relevant skills may convince a stunt coordinator to hire you as a Special Ability Extra. In addition to helping you grow your portfolio, this upgrade allows you to begin building a relationship with a stunt coordinator, who may hire you for your first real stunt. Continually building your credits and professional relationships are crucial throughout a career as a stunt performer.
Stunt experience does not limit you only to working as a performer your entire career. Stunt coordinators lead the stunt department for a film, creating action scenes by designing stunts, hiring crews, overseeing performances and more. Stunt riggers handle the mechanical requirements for stunts, setting up equipment and ensuring safety precautions are followed. Second unit directors often handle filming action sequences independent from the main or "first" unit, which usually films principal actors, and can be similar to or the same as stunt coordinators.
There is no set path to becoming a professional stunt performer, and the career choices listed here may not necessarily result in receiving work. Patience is extremely important, not only as you develop experience but even from one job to another, which may not always be consistent. Lastly, as a career dependent upon your physical abilities, it's crucial to train routinely, stay healthy, and work to perfect your skills. Age may be a prohibition to entering or continuing stunt work; most performers are between the ages of 20 and 40. With hard work and constant practice, you can maximize your chances of achieving a long and successful career.
Ben Marx is a writer from Los Angeles, California. He earned bachelor's degrees in English and Sociology from Kenyon College.
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