So you want to know how to become stuntman? A career as a stuntman can be fun and exciting, but just because you want to do stunts doesn’t mean you have what it takes to go pro.
US Stunt Performers are protected by SAG-AFTRA, the same Union that protects Actors, Singers, Dancers, Broadcasters, Background Actors and Puppeteers. This is because stuntmen are not daredevils, they are performing artists. Yes, stunt performers are artists and they face all the same struggles and challenges that Dancers, Singers and other hopeful performing artists face. Every year thousands of hopeful young performers try to become a stuntman, but only a few make it. In reality here is not enough work, what you look like matters and talent reigns over all.
- Stunt People are a special breed of Performer. Whether doubling a big time actor or playing a bit part a stuntman are performing for the camera. Just like actors, stunt people play the character from the time cameras roll until the director says cut.
- Stunt Performers are professional Athletes. There are exceptions, but if you want to be a stunt performers and you are not an incredible athletes, you will not work. If you want to go pro you have to bring talent and skills to the table.
- Courage and pain tolerance are key. If you are soft, scared or weak just stop now. Stunt performers must have a healthy relationship with fear and they should expect a full dose of pain every day they go to work.
- You gotta have the Look. Fortunately for many of the best stuntmen you don’t have to be pretty. There are loads of jobs for scary looking stunt guys. On the flips side, if you don’t have the right look you will never work.
The Stunt Community
The SAG-AFTRA Stunt Community is small. SAG-AFTRA reports around 2,500 registered Stunt Performers in their membership. It may sound like a lot, but at any given time there may be fewer than 800 SAG-AFTRA stunt performers making a living just off stunts. Its like a small midwest town where everyone gossips and knows each other’s business. It can be a bit much, but when you trust someone else with your life, it becomes more than just work. You become part of the Stunt Family.
Every stunt performer gets into the business for their own reason. Whatever the reason is, if you are not willing to become part of the community, you will not make it. Doing stunts is very different from military service except in the way that you are part of a family. One day, you might find a rope in your hand that is holding the life of a man 100′ above certain death. You might hate that guy. He may have slept with your wife or snaked a job from you in the past. If you do not know that you will do everything in your life’s power to protect him, you should not do stunts.
The SAG-AFTRA Stunt Community is a tight family of strangers who are responsible for protecting the lives of people who make films. That goes far beyond the safety of just stunt people. Every crew member from Directors to camera guys to the lowliest PA rely on SAG-AFTRA Stunt Coordinators to protect them when filming dangerous action. If you believe you are a person that can stand up for safety and belongs in a professional community of stunt performers, keep reading.
Every legit Stunt Coordinator in the US is a SAG-AFTRA member. We work with the biggest celebrities in the world and keep them safe. If you are ever asked to do a non-union stunt, don’t do it. Request a qualified SAG-AFTRA Stunt Coordinator to be on set. If your employer can’t afford to have a qualified SAG-AFTRA Stunt coordinator on set, they can’t afford to do the stunt.
What Makes a Great Stuntman?
People from all walks of life try to get into stunts but only a handful succeed. The luckiest and most gifted stunt performer might get a break after being in LA for 2 months, but that exception is not the norm. Most first generation stunt professionals that make it in the biz spend 5 years training, networking and chasing work before they can support themselves exclusively on stunts. It is not easy, it takes time and patience, but it can be done.
On the flip side, most people who try to break into stunts fail. There are thousands of reasons why people don’t make it, but to keep the list short we will discuss why people succeed.
- You look like a scarry bad guy. That means you will get cast to play a scarry bad guy. Generally bigger and sacrier is better, but don’t compromise functionality and mobility if you can help it. We are making movies here, not Pro Wrestling.
- You look like a bunch of actors or actresses. Men that are 5’10” – 6’2″ and women that are 5’6″ – 6′ can get a lot of work doubling actors. Skinnier is generally better, but keep your body functional. The shape of your body matters a lot, so if you have a big butt, tiny head, ears that stick out, stunt doubling might not work out.
- You are the best in the world at something. No, it doesn’t matter if you can eat peanuts faster than anyone else you know. Watch an action movie and pay attention to the actual stunts that are happening. Car work, fights, parkour, fire, falling and so on. If you are one of the best at any of this, continue.
- You are one of the best athletes you know. Many stunt performers are great all around athletes who train all the relevant stunt skills. Stunt performers are pro athletes, if you are not on that level, don’t fool yourself.
- You can take direction. A huge part of performing stunts is being able to listen to what people want, process it, then give it your own flair. It is both technical and artistic. You have to follow direction and stay in character.
- You are a performer. Some people just have a twinkle in their eye and a bounce in their step. A lot of people want to be performers, but all the greatest stunt performers have their own internal star that flickers on when its time to perform.
- You have decent networking and social skills. The most talented Stunt Performer is not always the best Stunt Performer for the job. If you can’t keep your cool next to your favorite Actor, if you can’t sit still and wait for your turn to perform or if you just have trouble getting along with people, stunts may not be for you.
- You know your own limits. Not all stunts are life threatening, but every stunt is dangerous if not performed by and/or under the supervision of trained stunt professionals. If you say yes to a stunt that is outside of your limit, you can die.
It is not necessary to satisfy all of these criteria, but each one helps. The better you are at each, the more you will work.
Breaking Into Stunts
If you are still seriously considering pursuing a career in stunts, here are some things you should expect and some things you should keep in mind.
- Move to a major film hub like Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta, New York, Bollywood, or some other physical location where there is enough film and stunt work to sustain your career.
- Train with other stunt people and train like it is your job.
- Keep your mouth shut and your ears open.
- Pay close attention to the people you admire.
- If you are in the US, do everything you can to get into SAG-AFTRA as fast as you can.
- Get a real job. Give yourself 5 years to break into the business. If you don’t have enough money to support yourself for 5 years, you will need a job.
- Just because you get a call doesn’t mean you are working. A job is real when you sign your contract.
- Disappointment is part of life. Remember there are 20 other highly qualified people after each job. Don’t take it personally.
- Maintain your stunt network, its where your best jobs will come from.
- Be happy for your friends when they get the job you want.
- Keep friends who are happy when you get the job they want.
- Meet as many new stunt people as you can.
- Go above and beyond what is expected of you on set.
- You should always be close and stay out of the way.
- Learn as many different stunt skills as possible.
- Do as many favors as you can (for film makers and other stunt people).
- Enjoy the lifestyle, the struggles, the defeats and the victories. It is all part of the amazing life of a Hollywood stuntman.
Check out this great video from our friends at the “AWE me” Youtube Channel for a more general look at “How to be a stunt” for more info.
Our site is packed with action movie and stunt articles that can help you understand the skills and experience required to pursue a career in the industry. Read on, train hard, and good luck with your journey. If you would like to leave feedback, please don’t hesitate to Contact Us with any questions!