Ballpark Estimate: $100 to $4,000 for stunt classes
The Scope of the Field
If you thrive on action, adventure and risk and love to be in the limelight, perhaps becoming a stuntman (or woman) for television and movies might be the perfect role for you. Many actors and actresses rely on trained stunt people to perform dangerous moves for them, such as jumping from great heights, throwing themselves out of a speeding car or from a burning house, fighting with weapons and performing impressive acrobatic displays.
What It Entails
Filling in as a stunt person for a well-known actor or actress may sound like a glamorous lifestyle. The truth, though, is that performing difficult stunts is very, very hard and can require you to work long days in the most taxing positions and situations. For instance, you may be asked to stay in icy cold water for hours, or to act out a knife fight again and again in the dead heat of the desert. Keep in mind that preparing for such stunts requires much planning and setup, as well as rehearsals and multiple takes in order to get the scene perfect. In addition, you often have to “double” as the actor, so you need to study his style in order to replicate his body language, appearance and mannerisms to make your performance completely believable.
For all of this effort, you aren’t likely to become rich. In fact, stuntmen who are just starting out typically get small paychecks. It is only a small group of people who have carved out a name for themselves in the field that will get compensated much more generously.
Getting the Lay of the Land
The way stunt performers are hired can vary depending on the set, but in many cases, there is a designated stunt coordinator who oversees the stunt sequences and hires people to fill the roles. Often the movie director is coordinating the filming of a scene in one location, while the stunt takes are filmed separately. Later, the different film is merged together seamlessly so it will look like it all happened at one time and place.
What You Need to Succeed
While some parts of stunt work can be taught, many of the characteristics that make a good stunt performer are ones that you simply cannot learn. This includes great strength, stamina and coordination, which are strengths most stunt performers bring to the table. You also have to have a love of danger and a willingness to take real risks, but in the safest way. In addition, you should keep in mind that raw talent coupled with best training in the field cannot ensure success in this endeavor. You also need a fair amount of luck on your side, as it can be difficult to break into doing professional stunts and getting enough steady work to turn this passion into a lucrative career.
In order to get a job as a stuntman, you will want to join one (or both) of the unions that govern this field, which are the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. In order to work on a union film, you will need to be part of the group. Just keep in mind that joining can be challenging, since you need to have a job in a union project to be allowed to belong. The way around this, however, is to become an extra. By getting several days of extra work, you will be eligible to join and therefore can be considered for future roles.
Many Paths You Can Take
Once you have your union card, keep in mind that there are many paths you can take to try to break into the field of stunt work. If you happen to have the right connections and can get a successful stuntman to take you under his wing, you may be able to learn right on the job. This is the ideal situation, but also the most difficult of which to come by. There are also various training programs in which you can participate (see the training section below). Experts in the business also recommend that you become adept in many areas, such as martial arts, gymnastics, scuba diving, rock climbing skiing, horseback riding and high performance driving. These are skills that could come in handy for a variety of stunt roles.
Some successful stunt performers are former acrobats from the circus or professional gymnasts. But even if you have never stepped foot in a big top or did flips on a regulation tumbling mat, there are other ways you can get up to speed as a stuntman. While there is no set degree in stunt performing, there are several well-respected training schools where you can pick up the basics and hone your skills. Taking classes in the field is certainly not a requirement for the job, nor a guarantee of work. But if you are determined to succeed in this area, the experts agree that getting some designated training, either through a variety of ongoing classes or through a few intensive seminars can be a very good idea.
What It Costs
What you will spend for stunt training depends on what type of classes you want to take, where you want to go for them and how much time and effort you are willing to spend. But keeping in mind that you can find programs available at different rates, here are some of the most popular options available, along with a rundown of the costs you can expect and what you get in return:
- The International Stunt School which is run by the United Stuntmen’s Association, offers a three-week training session with lessons presented by some of the best stunt performers in the field. The cost to attend is $3,900.
- The L.A. Stunts Training Center located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, provides state-of-the-art training in a variety of stunt work. A two-day intensive training session costs $550, or a more in-depth “boot camp” that runs for 6 days, costs $1,850. In addition, if you want to become a stunt driver, a course in this exciting aspect will set you back $1,200.
- Hollywood Stunts in New York City offers an intensive three week program for $2,800. Individual classes that introduce participants to a range of stunts are from$45 to $65 per class and can also be valuable experiences.
- For an international edge, consider the London Stunt School. They offer a variety of classes, including a one-day intro to high falling, which costs about $150, a one-time class on stair falling for about$350 and a 10-class course on film fighting, which is about $750. (Of course, you need to consider the cost of airfare and accommodations as well if you won’t already be in England.)
So you can expect the least expensive individual stunt classes to start at under $100 and go up from there, while more in-depth training sessions can run as high as almost $4,000. Just keep in mind that investing in stunt training will likely be an ongoing endeavor and not a one-time event.
The Changing Landscape
While learning how to be an expert stuntman can be exciting and lucrative if you make it in the field, it is important to be aware that advances in technology have been changing the nature of this business lately. Many stunts that were formerly performed by stuntmen are now simulated on the computer. Digital technology, special effects and editing capabilities make it easier than ever before to achieve the desired effect. That being said, though, the final creation is often a magical blending of a stunt professional’s amazing performance coupled with the magic of technology to create the perfect scene.
What You Can Expect to Make
If you do make it as a professional stunt performer, you won’t get rich quick, but you can at least expect to get a paycheck. Stunt people who are just starting out may be hired for live shows at amusement parks such as Disney World, where the going pay rate is about $12/hour. While this may not sound like much, remember that this experience can help lead you to higher paid roles in the future. If you are lucky enough to land a part on a union production, you can expect SAG stunt people to be paid close to $800 for a day’s work. The amount is typically adjusted upward for the degree of difficulty involved with certain stunts.
If becoming a stuntman appeals to your inner quest for adventure and excitement, there are several resources that can give you a more in-depth overview of what to expect. Consider picking up the book, So You Wanna Be a Stuntman: The Office Stuntman’s Guidebook. This resource, which you can find used on Amazon for under $50, provides valuable advice for would-be stuntmen. You may also like Stuntman: A Freelancers Guide to Learning the Craft and Getting the Jobs. This book was published a decade ago so some of the information may be a little out of date, but some professionals still say it is worth the $100 investment to own this blueprint for making it in the challenging field of stunt performance.