TBA Online: News & Features: May 2018

The Business of Show Biz: Becoming a Stunt Performer

Wednesday, May 2, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Velina Brown

Q: I really want to do stunts for film and television but I have no idea how to get started. How do I break in?

Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.

A: Well, since I’m not a stunt performer I did some research for you! 

First, I checked out stuntman Chris Jai Alex’s informative YouTube video. Among the many tips he shares, he explains that you need to be able to do what he calls “the three F’s: Fights, Flips, and Falls”. 

Next, I spoke with a friend who has many years of experience as a stunt performer and would only talk on condition of anonymity because she wants to cross over into the leading lady lane and no longer wants to be known as a stuntwoman. She explained that if you are known as a stunt performer, “You don’t get the calls for regular acting roles.” 

She referred me to a performer she called “The Man” in the Northern California stunt scene, Rocky Cappella. I contacted Cappella and he kindly took time out of his extremely busy schedule to share with TBA readers.

Cappella advises, “So besides very thick skin (which everyone in the business needs), a sports background in boxing, martial arts and tumbling will be beneficial [for getting into the stunt business]. These are great foundations to perform your physical stunt work. The whole key to stunts is to make it look like you're getting hurt when your not, right? So some acting classes would be very beneficial as well. Take college classes for film making; grab a camera and go out and shoot; or work as a PA (production assistant). This way, you'll learn what everyone on the set does, their responsibility, and how to respect each person’s position on a film project.

What you also need is a lot of car experience. If you are going to be a working stunt person, knowing how to drive a car (safely, professionally, and smartly) is essential.  You aren't going to get hired to do the big stunts at first, not until people know they can trust you, so until then, be patient. There are several great [driver training] programs available at the race tracks, like Bob Bondurant, Skip Barber, and Jim Russell, all great driving experience. There is also a terrific program in LA, specifically set up for people interested and involved in the stunt industry, Rick Seaman's Motion Picture Driving Clinic

As far as working in the Bay Area, it is much tougher because of the fact there isn't a lot of work here, at least for stunt people. Probably the busiest place for films right now is Atlanta...but if you don’t want to go there, LA, NYC, New Orleans, Chicago and Canada are still getting their share of the business. SF gets a lot of corporate work and commercials, so these are good platforms to focus on if you're going to stay in the Bay Area. I travel a lot. This year alone, I have already been to Detroit, Chicago, New York, Italy, Nashville, Vegas, LA, Philadelphia, Texas and of course, SF, so if you want to work full time at this business, be prepared to travel. 

To work with our organization [the San Francisco Stunt Association] locally in SF, we are all members of the SAG-AFTRA union and therefore can only work with people in our union.  As far as being a part of SAG-AFTRA, you can call the local office directly about membership. Their number is (415) 391-7510. Any on-film experience you can get is invaluable. It will teach you what each department does and how it may affect your work as a stunt person. Again acting classes are important as well, so try and get into some plays and other behind-the-scenes aspects of film making. The more you know about the business and what everyone does on a set, the better it will make you as a professional.” 

Visit Capella’s website for more information.

In a nutshell:

  1. Work on your acting: take classes, do plays, get on camera.
  2. Get behind the scenes to understand film making as whole. 
  3. Have a sports background: boxing, martial arts, tumbling. 
  4. Be able to do the three F’s: Fights, Flips & Falls.
  5. Have a reel that demonstrates your three Fs.
  6. Have a picture and resume. 
  7. Move to where the work is: LA, NYC, Atlanta or be willing to travel a lot. 
  8. Stunt Coordinators such as Rocky Capella are the ones who hire.
  9. Build your network and community to connect with other stunt performers and get to know stunt coordinators (tip: gyms are great places to meet such folks).
  10. Be willing to work hard and be patient.

 Good luck!

Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at velina@businessofshowbiz.com.