GET INTO STUNTS (UPDATED 2021)
This is the most in-depth article you are going to find explaining how to break into and work in the stunt industry, parkour athlete or not. At least from what I've googled.
Let's be clear about one thing: There is no half-assing your way into stunts. There is no half-committing. There is no "testing the waters." If this is what you want to do, you need to be prepared to go balls-to-the-wall and do whatever it takes to get in. This requires hard work, financial sacrifice, and patience. It seems to take an average of 2-3 years to really break into the industry and start getting consistent work according to the people I've talked to. However, once you break in, it can be one of the most rewarding careers out there(financially and otherwise).
First thing's first: I'm still da realest
• HEADSHOT & RESUME: Please refer to the previous article, "Documents You Need" for more detailed information regarding your headshots and resume. The types of headshots most commonly used in the stunt industry are 3/4ths Headshots and Composite Headshots. Your headshot and resume should be printed on the front and back of a single page. Semi-gloss cardstock paper is my recommendation. No multi-page headshots/resumes and no staples. Period.
• LOCATION, LOCATION: With stunts, you have to move to where the work is. There is absolutely no getting around this. You may get some lucky requests from out of town here and there but you're not going to get consistent work unless you live in one of these cities. Many productions prefer (and are even required) to hire "locals" as listed in their SAG-AFTRA union status or otherwise. If you don't have an address in their zone, you are not a "local." This isn't something that you can lie about or work your way around.
Here are the cities where most stunt performers live and thrive:
- Atlanta, Georgia - Lots of big budget movies, Netflix, and now the massive Tyler Perry Studios.
- Los Angeles, California - The birthplace and home-base of American Movie-making.
- New Orleans, Louisiana - The "Hollywood South." Increasing number of television and movie productions shooting here.
- New York, New York - Mostly TV shows and advertisements.
The vast majority of stunt performers that I know work in Atlanta and LA. Those are the two big ones- however, here's a site that features some more cities to consider.
SKILLS & TRAINING
Here are the essential skills to have in the stunt world. It is highly recommended that you at least be moderately proficient in ALL of the following areas:
• Martial Arts: Tae Kwon Do & boxing are the most recommended
• Pratfalls: "Pratfall" is a flexible term used to describe falling to the ground from a standing position without getting wrecked. This is not to be confused with falling techniques like Aikido Ukemi. Pratfalls are meant to look like actual, unplanned, painful falls- without actually being painful.
• High Falls: Falls from high locations (20', 30', 50' et al) to resi-mats, boxes, or airbags (not water. These are not high-dives good lord don't ever do these to water).
The high-falls you need to know are:
- Suicides: Go down feet first, fall in a chair position & land flat on your back
- Headers: Go down forwards and headfirst to rotate over your head & land flat on your back
- Backfalls: Go down backward in a flat or chair position to land flat on your back
- Face-Offs: Fall flat, face-down, and do a half-turn at the last second to land flat on your back
Watch a video of these High-falls here
More experienced stunt performers and acrobats can do advanced acrobatics in the air and land safely
• Parkour: Don't be one of those losers that did a punch-kong off a springfloor in an open gym once and tells everyone they do parkour. Actually learn parkour. There are gyms and classes for that. Or watch this video to get started.
• Taking Hits: Learn techniques for taking believable hits without getting whiplash or hurting yourself
• Rigging: You should at least know the basics of rigging. "Rigging" refers to setting up the wire systems that will yank you around at their mercy. Learn the knots, the different wire setups, the basic physics of it. It is IMPERATIVE that you understand how this works in order to keep yourself safe at all times.
Here are some other very useful skills. You can often find classes and/or workshops for these, especially in big cities:
• Aikido Ukemi: Falling techniques you can resort to in actual, unplanned bails. This is meant to keep you safe and prevent injuries, not to be used for camera (unless they want that).
• Wire-work / Ratchet Pulls: Wear a harness and get yanked around
• Fire Burns: ONLY TRY THIS WITH AN ACTUAL, LICENSED EXPERT. IT IS A RIGOROUS PROCEDURE AND YOU SHOULDN'T SKIP A SINGLE STEP.
• Tactical Firearm Training: Don't look like an idiot using guns and running around with them
• Wushu: Chinese Martial Arts. This encompasses various styles and sub-disciplines. Staff (Gunshu & Nangun) and Broadsword (Dadao) are very useful wushu weapons styles to learn for stuntwork.
• Stunt Driving: This can be an incredibly useful asset to have. Many productions need simple car stunts- and many others need very advanced ones. There are many stunt performers that get hired exclusively for car and motorcycle stunts.
• Horseback Riding: They have these classes everywhere right? 'Murica. People love cowbows and period pieces.
• Tricking: If you don't know what that is, think of it as an acrobatic expansion of Tae Kwon Do
• Animalistic Movements: Like quadrupeding. Used in creature-work; often used for mo-cap (motion capture)
Any other miscellaneous or specific skills that you may have such as dance, baseball, scuba diving, rock climbing, et al. are all still relevant and should be present on your resume if you have the space for it.
Are you really skilled at one particular discipline? You can improve your chances of standing out and securing jobs by honing a variety of skills but having one outstanding specialty (mine being parkour, for example). As previously stated, anything that makes you unique makes you that much more valuable.
The most important skill of the ones we have discussed is honestly just taking a convincing hit and getting wrecked. Slamming onto the ground. Slamming into the wall. Slamming into a table. Barreling down some stairs. Taking a punch really well. Yeah.
IMPORTANT: When sharing your skills or building your resume, don't ever exaggerate your capabilities. EVER. You 👏 will 👏 be 👏 a 👏 joke 👏and 👏 never 👏 work 👏 again
Some countries (such as the United Kingdom) have a government regulated, standardized qualification system that prerequisites working in the stunt industry. The United States has no such thing. However if you can afford it, I highly recommend investing in some stunt training.
In addition to the skill-specific classes mentioned above, a stunt education center can provide access to equipment that is widely used in stunts but extremely difficult to come by on your own; such as high falls, fire-burns, and ratchet pulls. Stunt education also gives you the opportunity to film yourself on this hard-to-find equipment, making them very useful for obtaining demo reel footage!
Lastly, you will also have the opportunity to network with your instructors. Regardless of whether they have retired or not, your instructors will most likely have active contacts and intel from the stunt community that you may be able to tap into.
I did John Zimmerman's Stunt Camp in Orlando, FL in 2018. I highly recommend it.
It is also recommended that you have the following qualifications:
- CPR/AED Certification: Sign up HERE
- Fire Safety Training: Google in your area (may be included in stunt training class)
- Firearm Safety Training / Certification: Google in your area
Regardless of how much work you're getting, you have to keep training your skills and continually working to develop new ones. Look up stunt training facilities in your area that offer "open gym." The types of gym most widely used for stunt training are Cheer Gyms, Gymnastics Gyms, and Parkour Gyms. Don't be shy about going up to people that you see training stunts there and making connections. I will expand on networking later.
You will need to own an assortment of body pads and armor to work in stunts. The best pads for stunt protection tend to be motorcycle and motocross gear. Here is the gear that you need by relative order of importance:
• Hard Knees & Elbows
Have TWO pairs: one for you and one to keep fresh and brand new to offer for the actor that you are doubling.
• Soft / Flexible Knees & Elbows
Also have TWO pairs of these
• Shin Pads
Both soft and hard. I recommend the G-Form soft shin pads
• Hip Pads or Inserts
• Nude/ Low-Profile Insert Pads (REQUIRED for women)
Ya know, because female actresses often wear slim and revealing clothing when having to do lots and lots of action. I got mine at StuntBumpers
case and point, sis
This is a complete back armor, like a turtle shell. Think you don't need this? How many times have you seen someone get kicked or thrown onto a table and break it in a movie. Yeah, you need this.
• Partial & Soft Gatorback
Have some partial and soft back armor options that are easier to hide underneath clothing.
• Ear Plugs
• Sacrum/ Tailbone Pad
You don't need to have this right off the bat, but this is basically considered a requirement for every stunt performer to own once they work in films and TV. Getting yanked around can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous if your harness doesn't fit quite right, so stunt performers order custom-made ones. Climbing Sutra is the industry standard. People will straight-up look at you weird if you somehow don't get your harness from Climbing Sutra.
• FOR WOMEN: Nude sports bra, strapless bra, and booty shorts
Make sure that you have nude sports undergarments that you can slide pads into when necessary.
WHERE TO BUY
The stunt pad brands that are most highly recommended are:
• Action Factory
GETTING STUNT WORK
Networking is up first because that's how the vast majority of jobs are attained and doled out in the stunt world. The overwhelming majority. But what even iS that and hOw dO yOu nEtWoRk?
Networking is establishing relationships and connections with people that could potentially benefit the advancement of your stunt career.
By networking, you can attain:
- Referrals for stuntwork: The biggest one. Anyone you meet (or anyone who happens to see you training) can potentially recommend you for a job to someone who needs your look or skillset
- Job Offers: You never know whom you're training around or where they'll end up. You may come across stunt coordinators or people who end up becoming stunt coordinators.
- Access to Private Training Facilities: Some people might know a guy who's an expert at fire-burns and does them at his ranch. Some might know a guy who has a high-fall setup in their backyard. Someone might know of a tactical training facility that doesn't charge up the ass. Getting access to these facilities by becoming friends with the people who go there and meeting even more people at those facilities and having them watch your skills in action is only good for you.
- Training Partners: Training partners are incredibly important to have, for all kinds of skills and disciplines. Hold each other accountable and use an objective perspective to provide feedback and improve each other's skills.
- Demo & Video Collaborators: Hey man you need someone to film for you for showreel footage and stuff. And vice versa.
Where to network: Refer to the education section. Generally at open gyms and stuff.
A bit of personal advice- don't do "networking" by being fake and using people. Help others out for no reason other than it being a nice thing to do, and expect nothing in return. Being a good person will get you much further than acting fake to get people to like you and using others to get ahead. Remember that there are other people trying to make it out here too, and they deserve a shot as much as you do. The world doesn't revolve around you.
Stunt Contact is an online subscription that releases a list of pending and active US productions along with their location and contact information every two months. You can go in on a subscription alone or find someone to share it with and split the cost.
Hustling is the most ridiculous thing. The first time I was told about it, I deadass thought someone was playing a joke on me. Alas, hustling is very real. The act of "hustling" is when you show up to a set or production office (generally unannounced) to get in contact with the stunt coordinator to introduce yourself and give them your resume. Wild right?! This is not a career for the introvert, guys. I don't have any experience hustling as of yet, so I'm just going to tell you what I was told.
How do you know where to go and when? Networking, people. When stunt performers go hustling, they often know someone on the set or were told about it by someone they know outside of the set. You could just show up to a set that you learned about on the Stunt Contact listing, but obviously having a mutual associate with at least one person involved in the production will drastically improve your chances of success. Ideally, you know someone that is working or has worked with the stunt coordinator that you are looking for.
Always wear all black when hustling - it makes you look like you belong on set and is standard stunt dress anyways. Also bring your headshot & resume in a nice satchel to look official; don't hold papers or a folder in your hands.
You can either go to the active set or go to the project's production office if you have the address (Stunt Contact often includes it). Go either by yourself or with one other person that does not look like you.
Really act like you're supposed to be there. Exude confidence, not arrogance. You'll most likely have to sweet talk the PA's (Production Assistants) in order to get to the production office or active set for the hustle.
Once on set, say "I am here to visit [Stunt Coordinator], can I get a callsheet?" Once you have it, fold it in half and go where the CS indicates that the stunt coordinator is. If in a production office, just ask for them.
If you don't get the chance to introduce yourself to the stunt coordinator, leave your resume on their desk along with a note.
If you cannot go a set or office in person, feel free to send your information to stunt coordinators from afar. Do BOTH email as well as a physical letter and title both "ATTN: Stunt Coordinator" or "ATTN: [Stunt Coordinator's Name]" when addressing them. Include your headshot and resume.
ONLINE STUNT LISTINGS
There are several stunt listings online that many people use to get their name out there. You pay an annual or monthly fee and build your profile. If you hate manually entering your work history information on site-specific forms I've got some bad news for you 🙃Stunt coordinators often look on these websites to find stunt performers of certain types for their projects.
• Stunt Listing - seems to be the most widely used one
• Stunt POC - (for people of color)
• Stunt Players Directory
The one online account that you definitely need (once you get a couple of credits under your belt) is IMDb Pro
Once you work with or establish a relationship with a stunt coordinator, don't let that relationship go. Touch base with the stunt coordinators that you know every few months or every time you have a significant change in your showreel, resume, or appearance. Give 'em the good old "hope all is well, would just like to send some updated materials your way" in order to make sure that you stay fresh in their minds.
• GETTING SAG
WHAT IS SAG-AFTRA?
SAG-AFTRA is the Screen Actor's Guild union (most of us just refer to it as "SAG").
When you seek a career in stunts, becoming a SAG member is the goal. You can begin your career with non-union work (often in advertisements and small or independent productions), but you will eventually have to make the effort to become union. There's no way around it. That's where the money is, and that's where the future is.
HOW TO BECOME SAG:
In order to become a member of SAG you must first become "SAG-Eligible," then pay your dues into the organization. These are the three main methods of becoming SAG-Eligible as a stunt performer.
You get a union voucher when you work a union background job. "To become SAG this way, you must have completed 3 days of work as a background actor in a SAG-AFTRA bargaining agreement." So get 3 days of background work on a SAG production to become eligible.
• GET EQUITY FIRST:
Equity is the stage actors' union, which is a sister-union to SAG-AFTRA. If you are a registered member of Equity, you are also SAG Eligible. You get Equity through professional theatre work. Some stunt shows in Disney parks give you Equity-Eligible status after working a certain amount of time there, usually like a year. SAG apparently has some other sister unions as well.
• TAFT-HARTLEY REPORTS:
This is the holy grail of stunt opportunities. It is the shortcut into SAG. A Taft-Hartley Report is the form that a stunt coordinator has to fill out when he hires someone that is non-union for a union job.
If you are non-union and get hired to do a stunt in a SAG production, your stunt coordinator will fill out a Taft-Hartley Report and send it to SAG on your behalf. In the industry we call this "getting Tafted." You will then receive a document in the mail informing you that you are now SAG-Eligible.
The most common scenarios that result stunt performers getting Tafted are:
- the stunt performer is highly skilled in a unique specialty that this stunt coordinator needs
- the stunt performer has a striking resemblance to the talent that needs to be doubled
- the stunt performer is a perfect combination of resembling the talent and being decently skilled
I was Tafted on NCIS New Orleans because the stunt coordinator needed a girl to do parkour for a stunt acting scene (a bunch of "gutter punks" running away from police), and I also happened to be a good match to double their guest actress in another scene. He killed two birds with one stone by hiring me.
THE END!! This is the end of my "How To Make Money Doing Parkour" series... for now. Please let me know if there's anything that you feel is missing from this article or series as a whole.
Remember: I can give you a precise roadmap that directs you towards where you want to go, but its up to you to put in the hard, hard work and time it takes to make this happen. Good luck with your endeavors!