How to Become a Stuntman

By Eric Hammer

So you want to become a stuntman (or a stuntwoman - actually these days, it's usually stuntperson, though men still outnumber women in this business by a significant number). Well, first of all, if you have no experience and know nobody in the stunt business, you have a much harder job ahead of you than the person who has friends or family who are actively involved in being stunt doubles.

That's because in order to become a stuntman, it pays to know people who are already doing the job. Often, the work is handed down from father to son, though there a number of stunt schools that you can attend in order to learn the business.

Another thing to know about being a stuntman is that it's a lot like being an actor. And no, we don't mean being Brad Pitt. We mean being the nameless, faceless guy who struggles to make a living until he gets his one big break (kind of like a Joey Tribiani type of person, though hopefully without screwing up an interview and getting fired from a soap opera). Except that you will almost never go beyond being the nameless, faceless guy. Unless you end up being someone like Steven Seagal, who frequently does his own stunts (though some are still performed by stunt doubles), the whole point is that nobody ever sees your face clearly enough to identify you.

How Much Can You Make?

Depending on whom you ask, stunt work pays really badly or incredibly well. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Thinkquest suggests that most stunt people earn between $5,000 - $70,000. That's a per year amount by the way, not per movie. By comparison, several stunt schools claim that stunt people regularly earn in the mid six figures per year and often get paid for sitting around on a set and doing nothing at all.

So who is correct? Probably both are. Someone just starting out who doesn't have the right connections may very well be happy to earn $5,000 for the year (obviously, you'd need a second job to make the rest of your salary, unless you live in Bangladesh, in which case stunt work is likely hard to come by). On the other hand, those who become a stuntman and are lucky and persistent enough to get into lots of movie sets and do lots of work probably do make lots of money, though certainly not the millions that top actors and actresses make.

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Remember those old TV shows where they would say something like "don't try this at home boys and girls?" That's actually very good advice. Stunts are often quite dangerous and if done incorrectly, can lead to lifelong disability or even death. Therefore, while that dirt bike jumping scene might look cool, it's best not to build a ramp and try it yourself until you've learned what it takes to do it safely. That means going to stunt school (unless you've grown up around the stunt business, in which case you likely don't need this article to find out how to become a stuntman).

Beyond that, remember that, like professional sports, this is a young person's game. Very few people over 40 are able to continue working as stunt people because the demands of the job are so grueling (18 hour days should be considered the norm, rather than the exception).
On the other hand, if you love traveling, you'll love stunt work since you always go where the movies go, which often means exotic locations for shooting scenes. You'll also get to meet famous actors and actresses, though you'll also quickly understand that while they may be famous, they're still people like anyone else.

Qualifications / Requirements

If you didn't grow up around it, you'll want to go to stunt school before you try to land a job as a stuntman. While it is certainly possible to simply jump in headfirst (in many cases, literally), stunt school will give you more than just knowledge of the techniques you need in order to stay alive in this business. It will also give you contacts with people who can get you into movie sets where stunts actually take place and where you might get hired to do the job.

Beyond that, you'll need to physically fit, preferably without any particularly distinguishing features (though camera angles and makeup often can cover up the fact that it's you and not Tobey Maguire leaping around the tall buildings of New York City - the mask in Spiderman happens to help too). You should be relatively young and you need to have dogged determination. Breaking into this business will take time and you will have many frustrations along the way. However, once you do get into it, the job can be very rewarding.

First Steps

Start by talking to people at various stunt schools (One example is listed below. You can find other examples by searching the Internet.). Find out what they charge. Ask to speak to some alumni and ask probing questions about what their experiences have been with the school. Ideally, you want to got a school where you'll not only learn how to stay safe while being set on fire but also where you'll gain the valuable contacts you need for this job (more than most, this is one of those "it's not what you know, it's who you know" jobs).

Resources

Check out these helpful resources to find out more about becoming a stuntman (or stuntwoman):

Thinkquest: Stuntman Career - A bit lean on how to get into the business, this article mentions more than once that quite a bit of luck is involved, though it does offer a good introduction (and as for luck, we're of the opinion that people who really want something make their own luck. Those who don't simply blame lady luck for their failures - a valuable lesson, especially if you plan to work in stunts).

Get Into Stunts - This one is a bit gushing about how wonderful it can be to become a stunt person (almost the diametrical opposite of the link above), but again, it offers some useful information.

United Stuntmen's Association - A school where you can learn to become a stuntman.


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