This is the number one question people ask me when I tell them what I do. And then I tell them, well I rolled into it. I could do a trick and some people saw my trick, apparently they liked it, and they asked me if I wanted to work with them. And that is in a really short answer how I became a stuntman.
But now the serious answer, the long one, the one that if you have the ambition and passion to become a stuntman answer. But I can only speak from my own experience. I try to break it down and hopefully this will give you a good overview what to expect, before even thinking about getting into the stunt business. I won't go to deep into skills and such, although you might think that’s the most important thing to it. But I know if you have a good athletic background in a sport like gymnastics and/or a martial arts you don't have to worry to much. All the other stunt skills you will learn overtime. On a side note I am not a driver, so if you want to become a stunt driver you need to talk to someone else
Not for the money
If this is your motivation you are always in the wrong place in any job! Yes you can make a lot of money and yes that is a great perk, in the long run its the worst decision you will make in my opinion. But if you chose this path because you love to perform, then this a great career choice. An example: if I hang upside down 25 meters above water in a full body harness on a 17th century replica of the Batavia ship and being released on a quick release and fly 'uncontrollably' through the air in a mummy suit, and I hear cut and everyone is happy with the shot, I feel joy. Why? I did something that maybe not everyone can do, the rush of adrenaline that goes through my body. The satisfaction you get when we work as a team and we created an essential part in a production. That's why I do it. I did something I can be proud of. If you have that feeling of wanting to create something, this is the industry to work in.
I want to clear something up. I see myself as a stunt performer not a stuntman. It sounds the same, but it is not in my opinion. A stuntman will do a stunt without thinking about the performance. A stunt performer thinks about the performance, so if I play a henchman or I double an actor I need to 'act'. I need to be a believable character next or even be the actor(s) (not an Oscar nominee performer). The stunt coordinators I work for are always looking for people that are stunt performers. There are so many people out there that can do a trick, and they may be even better than you in certain areas. But out of experience I can tell you, if a person can perform and still can do the stunt the way it supposed to be done the coordinator wants that person. I suggest you take some acting classes, so you get the basic understanding of acting. This will help you in your career so much!
An essential part of working with different people. It takes a certain type of person to become a good stunt performer. Maybe you can performer really well and your tricks are amazing. But if you can't function within a team, and you can’t show respect towards people on set, no matter which department, I think you will have a short career. And I think it speak for itself, but nonetheless it is something you should not take lightly. A stunt coordinator will think of you again for the next job if you fit in a team.
Willing to work
Another point you might think it speaks for itself, it might even fit within the previous point ‘character’. But I think it is important to point this out. And what I mean by 'willing to work' is not the stunt, that is just a part of your job. There is much more to it then 'just' the stunt. You work most of the time in a team, and when your colleagues are working in front of camera you make sure that you are close to help them out. Maybe you need to build a catcher so they can focus on the stunt. Or you need to get something out of the truck, be there, be ready to work. Help anyone that needs help. Don't just stand there! Even getting a glass of water or ask the AD’s on set to get a glass of water for your colleagues, just so your colleagues can focus on the important things, making the best possible shot.
A lot of people ask me, Nick what is recommend to train to become a competent stunt performer. Martial arts, gymnastics, trampolining and tricking. These are the skills helped me the most. But be careful with some of these skills. If you watch a lot of films you've noticed that a lot of fight scenes and people falling aren't done in the cleanest way. It's always a pretty messy (no pun intended), so be careful with nice clean moves while you are performing. Know when you can switch it on and off. Think about it, if you see people fall on YouTube in this fail video they aren't falling pretty, try to mimic them without injuring yourself. As you can see it all overlap each other, falling is not just a trick it is a performance.
If you think you can’t do it, don't do it! The stunt coordinator you're working with will appreciate it more if you tell them sorry I don't think I am ready to do a car hit. Don't just try it, and then ruining the shot, wasting time, money and losing your credibility. So know you're limits!
Who do I contact?
In the Netherlands it was simple, I got an email address and I contacted them in a polite way. And they responded really well to it. Here in the UK it goes through the English stunt register. So it is pretty clear how you can contact people in the industry. Be assertive but not aggressive, don't show your showreel to everyone, it might even work against you because people might think: this guy thinks he knows it all. You can show if it is good. But don't push it, I did that and I don't always work.
There is probably much more to think of, and I can write much more about it. But for know I want to leave it to this. And as you can see I only wrote a small bit about skills, yes it is really important. But you won't chose a career as a stunt performer if you're not a competent athlete. I believe that being a stunt performer is not just a skill or just a performance, it is the combination of everything. And I believe if you can see that, you can be a great stunt performer and maybe even the best stunt performer and win a Taurus Award.