For stuntmen, each day is different, as this dangerous job has no limits. One day a stuntman may jump of a building, the next he will be in a high speed car chase, and after that he will skydive from a helicopter into the ocean. This high adrenaline, high rush job is variable, wild and interesting. Stuntmen travel around the world between movie sets, work with the most famous actors and perform insane stunts.
But this job is not all glamorous – injuries are common, fatalities do occur, and irregular work cycles can place stuntmen out of work for weeks and months, and just as quickly stuntmen find themselves working 14-16 hour days for weeks. This is definitely a special job, for special people.
Job description: Stuntmen (or stuntwomen) exist so that actors will not be injured during movie shoots. If an actor is injured or killed, then the production of the movie is delayed or cancelled, and a lot of money is lost.
Stuntmen therefore perform the dangerous stunts and activities instead of the actors themselves. Stuntmen basically perform three different types of stunts:
- Practical effects – fighting, short falls and slips etc….
- Mechanical effects – any stunt (like a long fall) that requires the help of machines, such as wires or cables.
- Vehicular stunts – any stunt that involves vehicles – cars, boats, planes or any other vehicles.
Stuntmen can fall, crash car or planes, skydive, drown, fight, catch fire, and perform any other dangerous feat they can think off – there are no limits, and creativity is important and encouraged.
Stuntmen also coordinate and plan the stunts – which includes choosing the equipment, making any mathematical calculations needed and putting a large emphasis on safety and emergency procedures.
Stuntmen can also guide actors through stunts, and work closely with them to make the stunt and movie as credible and perfect as possible.
Work environment: Stuntmen work on movie sets – meaning that they may perform stunts anywhere around the world, at any location, weather environment and time.
Stuntmen can perform any stunt imaginable (and unimaginable) – be it a one man fall, group skydive or a violent pub brawl.
Stuntmen put themselves in harm’s way and walk straight into dangerous situations – but they always work in a controlled enviroment (usually a movie set), where emergency and medical services are at hand, and strict safety procedures are taken.
Fatality rates: There is no reliable data regarding current stuntmen fatality rates, but some studies claim that in the 1980’s the death rate was 2.5 per 1000 stuntmen -a very large death rate, but safety standards have increased immensely since then, and computer generated imagery (CGI) has also helped lower the fatality rate. Currently the fatality rate is much lower. Injuries occur quite often, but are not well reported and documented.
Gender: This is a dual-sex occupation, as there is a need for both stuntmen and stunt women. Naturally there are more stuntmen, but there is always a need and demand for stuntwomen to, especially as more films involve female actors in physical and violence related roles.
What makes it a dangerous job: Stuntmen face nearly every danger there is: falling from heights, car, boat and plane crashes, gunshots wounds, burn injuries, cuts, animal related injuries, and any other way of harm imaginable. The stuntmen’s job is to create dangerous situations, and to perform dangerous acts.
The real danger lies in improper planning and coordination of the stunt, and choosing the correct equipment and crew to work with – a properly planned, properly equipped stunt will be performed without a hitch.
Hours / Lifestyle: This is a difficult business to work in – stuntmen are part of the screen actors guild – just like actors. While working on site and on a movie set, stuntmen may work long hours, up to 16 hours a day, for as long as he is needed on the movie set. Stuntmen may experience long periods of time when they have no work at all, and other periods when they are in different countries and locations shooting films and executing stunts – this job does not follow any schedule.
Pay: The stuntman’s salary is based on experience, negotiation and the stunts he is performing. Some estimates place the average annual salary for stuntmen at $70,000, but the actual salary can vary widely – some stuntmen can earn over $100,000 annually, while others will leave the profession as they can’t find enough work or sufficient income.
Stuntmen will usually earn a daily rate of several hundred dollars, and receive adjustments according to the stunt they are performing.
Requirements: Basis requirements from stuntmen are athletic and physical capabilities, basic acting skills (after all, they perform instead of an actor), and a background in gymnastics can be very helpful.
Stuntmen need a variety of skills to perform – martial arts, rock climbing, skiing and snowboarding, skydiving and scuba diving are the most important.
Training: There are some schools that offer stuntman training, they are not a must but can help in developing a stuntman career.
Career opportunities: This is a tough profession in an even tougher business. Most stuntmen explain that being the best won’t definitely get you more work – but the contacts you have and the networking you do. Finding work is a very difficult part of this profession.
Stuntmen may advance into stunt coordinator roles and advisors on movie sets, and plan and guide stuntmen through stunts.
Job opportunities: Job opportunities lie where entertainment and show-biz exists – and there is a need for stuntmen. The business can be cyclical – and periods of no work can occur.
Job prospects: There will always be a need for stuntmen – as technology progresses, stuntmen progress with it, and push its boundaries. However, tough competition and an irregular industry make this occupation a tough one.
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Photo by: Alfo23 / flickr