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How to Become a Stuntman: Movie Magic

We have all watched action movies and thought, I’d love to do that! But how do you become a stuntman in Hollywood and risk life and limb to entertain worldwide audiences? Do you have what it takes to double for your lookalike actor or actress and be willing and ready to risk death daily? 

How to Become a Stuntman

Stunt work has been performed on the movie set just about as long as moving pictures began to grace the silver screen. Even in the silent picture era, stuntmen were in high demand to perform bigger and better stunts with every feature. 

The magic of movie-making is an incredible thing. Your favorite action star can be seen jumping off a bridge,or fighting three guys with knives. Of course there’s a high speed car chase, and you love every minute of it. However, more often than not, the action star was not even on set. Instead, their stunt doubles were performing those death-defying, jaw-dropping stunts. 

(Photo by iStock)

Do You Have What it Takes?

Let’s be real. Not everyone can become a stuntman or stuntwoman. Getting your foot into the door takes a lot of physical work, and many people are unsure where to begin. First, you need to be fit and in tip-top shape. This is for realism in the movie and keeping yourself as safe as possible during a stunt. Regularly visit a traditional gym or find a specialized workout center that dabbles in parkour or obstacle course-like equipment. 

Next, taking some martial arts, boxing, or self-defense classes is wise. This will give you a background in the fighting world and help to beef up your resume. You will also gain knowledge to teach others, so that you can create a seamless and believable scene. Along with the gym and martial arts, it’s best to study a wide range of skills. Horseback riding, stunt driving, learning to fall, and explosives and fire safety will all help give you a diversified background.

A Special Set Of Skills

Having a well-rounded repertoire is important when looking for work in the stunt world. However, having one or two specialized skills can catapult your chances of landing a job. Learning how to both use firearms and realistically look like you’ve been shot is one such skill. So is sword fighting, being a free-runner (parkour), being an expert at car crashes, and being experienced at “falling.” 

When a specific stunt is needed in a movie, and you have that skill, your chance of being selected increases extensively. In addition to physical skill specialization, you should also take some acting classes. This could include traditional acting, learning about movement, being comfortable in front of a camera, and fighting choreography classes. Remember, stuntpeople are still actors (although their faces are nearly always hidden unless they are the “bad” guys) and must perform diligently on camera according to the director’s instructions. 

Certification and Insuarance

In the United States, there are industry certifications for stunt performers that provide insurance for the stunt people and set a standard that illustrates that you are a qualified professional stuntman or stunt woman. These programs involve physical tests that demonstrate a person’s proficiency in a variety of stunt work and written tests that cover all aspects of the realm of stunts. 

Two main certification centers are the go-to place for those serious about getting into stunt work as their career. The Stunt Performers Association or SPA offers three certification levels, including associate, complete, or stunt coordinator positions. Additionally, they provide helpful information, job resources, and networking to get you started in the field. 

The Joint Industry Stunt Committee, or JISC, is an organization that established safety standards for stunt work and offers certification in either a primary form or an advanced. Basic requires a physical test and safety course, while the advanced focuses on these areas and additional training in specifics like driving skills and aerial rigging stunts. 

Being an expert driver can help you achieve a career as a stuntman in Hollywood.
(Photo by iStock)

Heading Towards Retirement

As a stuntman ages past their prime and beyond, it may seem like their career would virtually disappear. But this isn’t the case. A person doesn’t retire from stunt work, but rather the stunt business retires the person, is both true and false. Yes, as a person ages, their body can’t handle the rigors of intense, hardcore stunt work. 

The risks of injuries, especially long-term, go up substantially. However, they can choose stunts without high intensity or risk and stay employed as they grow older. Additionally, if they have been in the business for a long time, know the ins and outs of stunts, work on a movie set with hundreds of other people, and have a creative and commanding personality, they could slide into a stunt coordinator position. 

The stunt coordinator oversees all stunts on a movie or television series and is in charge of hiring the stuntpeople, determining the best way to execute the stunt, and ensuring all safety standards are being met. Becoming a consultant in the field, teaching stunts, or going into mainstream acting are viable options after retiring from traditional stunt work. 

Competing with CGI

Today, one may think that computers have taken over and replaced these unknown heroes. These digital effects cause no bigger injuries than perhaps carpel tunnel syndrome for the tireless computer programmer. But this isn’t true at all. A great stuntman still factors into movies today and is still in demand.

With CGI used in almost every movie, the question arises: will a stuntman become a thing of the past? Again, there isn’t a simple answer. While CGI can be used to create stunts that are far too dangerous for humans to perform or logistically impossible to stage, they can’t replace the thrill and excitement from the audience knowing a real human being is doing a particular stunt. 

A CG explosion, car crash, or fall from a tall building doesn’t pack the same invested punch for the audience, especially if the CG is bad and extremely obvious. The Mission Impossible series of movies and James Bond movies (especially from the seventies and eighties) packed moviegoers into their seats because they knew they were going to see spectacular stunts performed by real men and women and not insulting CG scenes causing cringe or eye-rolling reactions. 

Ready for Stuntman School?

If you aspire to become a stuntman, the time to start is now. Even though you may be a few years away from implementing your dream job, you’ll get ahead of the game by preparing now. Start working out, take some classes, and become proficient in weapons and fighting. Lastly, start reading and absorbing all things “stunt” related. By entering the field with some skills and knowledge, you may get your foot in the door and pass others less ready to take on the sometimes brutal yet personally rewarding field of stunt work. 

Gun shootouts are an action movie staple.
(Photo by iStock)

Love the idea of becoming a stuntman? Are you a huge fan of Action Movies? Check this out: Top Action Movie Shootouts

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