What is a stuntman? Stuntmen and stuntwomen, collectively known as stunt performers, play a pivotal role in the film industry. Though they don’t receive the same level of acclaim as the movie stars they work alongside and sometimes double, stunt performers do vital work. Working as a stunt performer can be both dangerous and rewarding. We will explain exactly what a stuntman does, distinguish between the different types of stunt performers, and offer tips for becoming a stunt performer yourself.
What is a Stunt Double
First, let’s define Stuntman
The duties of a stunt performer can vary from production to production. We’ll provide a general definition to get started, then we’ll get into more specifics. If there are any other film crew positions that are unfamiliar to you, our ultimate guide to film crew positions is a great resource for looking them up.
What is a Stuntman?
A Stunt Performer works directly under the Stunt Coordinator and performs physical feats on camera. Stunt Performers may serve as a Stunt Double to a particular actor or may appear on screen utilizing acting talents of their own. Some performers specialize in particular types of stunts such as high falls, pyrotechnic stunts, or stunt driving.
What does a Stuntman do:
- Performs physical feats
- Can be specialized or general
- Works underneath the Stunt Coordinator
Different types of stunt performers
Stunt performers can specialize in a variety of different stunt avenues or they can work as jack-of-all-trade type members of a stunt team. Some specializations a stunt performer may focus on include stunt driving, burns and pyrotechnics, high falls, fight scenes, parkour, acrobatics, piloting, and even under-water stunts.
Stunt performers frequently have experience in multiple or even all of these categories. This series from Corridor Digital offers a wealth of insights from working stunt professionals.
Also on the team are stunt doubles. These stunt performers have the same duties as the rest of the stunt team, but they specifically serve as the doubles for the actors of a film. Doubles are often chosen based on a resemblance to the actor but a resemblance is not mandatory in all cases.
Whereas many stunt performers will move with a stunt coordinator from production to production, a stunt double may stick with a movie star they resemble and follow them from production to production instead. The majority of action stars make use of a stunt double for at least the most dangerous stunts. Be sure to check out our list of the best action stars of all time.
Movie Stuntman Career
How to become a Stunt Performer
If you are considering becoming a stunt performer yourself, be sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Stunt work can be dangerous and is frequently extremely physically demanding. The hours can be grueling, the pay is typically far lower than that of the stars, and the job comes with much less glitz and glamour as well.
If you are on board for all of these challenges and more, then stunt performing just might be a good fit for you, but breaking into the industry at any level is a serious hurdle to clear.
Much like the rest of the entertainment industry, breaking into the stunt world can often come down to knowing the right people. There is a high level of trust demanded with the stunt performer community, and most stunt coordinators prefer to bring the same team with them to each film shoot.
This can make getting in the good graces of a stunt coordinator a real challenge, but once you are in, the work will, hopefully, be more steady. Stunt coordinators sometimes take on the role of second unit directors as well.
Networking with stunt performers and stunt coordinators is a good way to ingratiate yourself into the stunt community. Another good place to start is with smaller, independent productions.
Finding work as a stunt performer for smaller projects like short films, YouTube videos, and low-budget indie films will almost always be easier to attain than finding work on a major studio production without a strong referral or other “in.” But be aware, working in low-budget spheres can sometimes mean lower safety standards, so be sure to keep your own health in mind when looking into indie productions.
How to Become a Stuntman
How to give yourself an advantage
Breaking into the mainstream stunt industry might be challenging but it is far from impossible. There are a number of things you can do in advance of a career in stunts to best prepare yourself for when opportunity comes knocking. One of the first things you should learn if you have aspirations to work in stunts, is how to fall safely.
Start small and gradually work your way up. Do not attempt any high falls without the proper safety equipment, such as crash pads and descenders.
The most common movie stunts are falls and fight scenes. Having a background in martial arts is a boon for any stunt performer. It is a good idea to take martial arts lessons if you hope to be a stunt performer but don’t have any previous fight experience. Martial arts training will come in handy in any action film, not just martial arts films.
For examples, check out our lists of the best martial arts fight scenes of all time and our ranking of the finest action films ever made. But, it is also important to keep in mind that film fighting is different from real fighting, which is taking stage and/or screen combat classes is worthwhile as well.
There are also stunt schools and workshops available in certain parts of the country. These can be useful for learning and training but they can also be quite costly and will by no means guarantee a career in stunts after completion. What’s more valuable may be a dynamite demo reel.
A good demo reel can serve as your calling card. It shows that you know what you’re doing and that you have experience. If you don’t have any previous work to show, then create opportunities for yourself. Try out for short films with action sequences and add any exciting footage you get to your reel.
You can even choreograph your own fight scenes and plan out your own stunts for practice and to incorporate the footage into your reel. Our guide to writing action scenes will help you plan out your own fight sequences.
Doing all of these things can give you a leg up over the competition when the opportunity finally comes around for you to make a break into the world of stunt performing.
Ultimate Guide to Film Crew Positions
Does a career as a stunt performer sound like a good fit for you? Perhaps you know you want to work in the film industry but are unsure which position is the best fit for your talents? Our ultimate guide to film crew positions will give you the lowdown on every film production position so you can see which role speaks to you the most.