Long ago, when the fi rst movies were being made, actors did all of their own stunts. Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin were famous for their funny—but very athletic—stunts. They called these stunts “gags.” That term is still used, though most stunts today are very serious. The people who do them have an exciting job, but they are very serious about their work, too.
Getting into the Business
How do people become stunt workers? Some of them want to be actors. They get into the movie business by doing stunts, and then they stay with stunt work. Sometimes they stay because they like it, and sometimes directors only want to hire them for stunt work.
Other stunt workers are like the early movie cowboys. They get into stunt work because they have learned
specials skills outside the movie business.
Pilots are a good example of people with special skills. Lots of movies use pilots, especially helicopter pilots. Many pilots learn to fl y in the military. Movie makers often need weapons experts, scuba divers, and parachutists. Those skills may be learned in the military, too.
Stunt Worker Jeannie Epper
Jeannie Epper’s fi rst movie stunt was riding a horse down a cliff. She was nine years old. Twenty years later, she was badly injured in a burning building stunt. “When I woke up in the hospital,” she said, “all my hair was burned off.” At the age of 66, she jumped through a plate glass window in a movie. Epper received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2007 Taurus World Stunt Awards.
Even people with specifi c skills need to learn more, however. Today, there are a number of special schools that train stunt workers.
Not Your Average School
Imagine this. You walk into school in the morning. Your teacher says, “Listen up! This morning you are going to learn how to get hit by a car. This afternoon, you’ll practice falling off a building.”
It Doesn’t Look Good
As a stunt worker, Glen Perkins plans fi ghts carefully, so that no one really gets hit. Accidents do happen, however. Those scenes have to be done over. Perkins says, “For some strange reason, when you are actually hit, it doesn’t look as good as when you’re not.”
At Kim Kahana’s stunt school, in Florida, this really happens. Kahana’s school is a special one for adults
wanting to train as stunt workers. His students study car driving, falls, and more. They take classes in karate and boxing. Students learn to use fi rearms. They practice gymnastics, trampoline work, and climbing up walls
Rick Seaman is a former stunt worker. He now runs a driving school in California. His students learn to do skids, roll-overs, and fancy turns. There are stunt driving schools in Florida and New York, as well.
Sooner or Later
All stunt workers must be athletes, and they need many different skills. Stunt worker Alison Reid gives this advice.
Watch the Action!
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios (part of Walt Disney World) in Florida you can see stunt workers in action in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. At Universal Studios in Florida and California, real stunt workers show how they do their stunts. You can even try some of the stunts yourself with help from trained professionals.
“Try to develop as many skills as you can—horseback riding, driving a motorcycle, climbing. . . .” Reid also says, “Think about it very carefully. Chances are, sooner or later, you’re going to get hurt.”
Today’s stunt workers use careful planning, great training, and modern technology. Because they’re well
trained and so careful, most stunt workers have long and successful careers. Despite all the precautions, though, stunt work is still a very dangerous job.
So You Want to Be a Stunt Worker
Think about these things if you want to become a stunt worker:
• You need to be strong, fl exible, and physically fi t. Gymnastics, martial arts, and rock climbing are skills you may need. Horseback riding, fencing, sky diving, and scuba diving are important too.
• Some schools teach many kinds of stunt work. Other schools teach specialized skills such as race driving and working with explosives. Most of these are in California, near the movie studios. People must apply and pass tests to get into these schools.
• Stunt workers are always needed, though the number needed is small. When movies are being made, stunt workers may be hired on a daily basis or by the week. How much they are paid is often set by agreement between movie companies and unions. Most stunt workers belong to the Screen Actors Guild or another union.