Watch any big blockbuster – or, for that matter, almost any production that involves any scene that could be potentially dangerous if not managed correctly – and it’s hard not to marvel at the various people who contribute to making things look that good. Despite the continued lack of acknowledgement at the Oscars, there’s a growing respect for the people who risk life and limb and – if the job is done well – do so safely and with you hardly realising they’ve ever been there. Without the support and expertise of the stunt-community, most of Hollywood’s biggest action stars wouldn’t have their careers.
So perhaps it is not surprising there’s a growing interest in wondering more about that industry and even the idea of joining it. Being hit, kicked, thrown off or under things has never seemed so attractive! But what is the reality?
Robert ‘Bob’ Chapin is in a prime position to offer some pointers on that question. Stuntman, visual-effects artist and creator of award-winning online series The Hunted he has been involved in many major Hollywood films and seen the way the industry has evolved. But, as his new guide, ‘So, you want to be a Stuntman?‘ notes, some of the basics have remained constant…
Rather than a weighty, dry and door-stop definitive tome, the book is more of a handy, breezy guidebook, aimed at those who think the stunt-world sounds exciting but need to know the touchstones and reality if they want to take a practical interest any further. It’s a chatty, informal entry-level guide to those even considering the profession.
Some of the advice contained in its pages may sound like pure common sense – be prepared, be sensible, train well, be respectful are the cornerstones – but ask anyone in the entertainment industry and they’ll tell you how amazingly often people don’t apply such logic and sensible ways to approaching their goals. There’s a significant difference, Bob notes, between being ready to actively ‘hustle’ ie: to make the most of any situation and raise your profile with those who could hire you… and those beginners and acolytes whose actions could alienate or even endanger others before they’ve started . Luck, he notes, might put you in the right place at the right time, but if you aren’t up to the job already, such luck can backfire spectacularly for you and others. The lessons are there upfront: People often go into acting to get recognised. Want to be a stunt professional? Don’t expect fame or fortune – it’s a job famous for its anonymity and generally low wages. Don’t lie about your talents – learn what you’re good at and how to get better. The reason people hire the same staff time and time again is likely nothing to do with nepotism, it’s because of proven records, experience and reliability. Unprofessional people or conduct in such a dangerous job simply won’t be tolerated because of the potential damage to life, limb and reputation.
The idea of stuntmen (or stunt-people as Bob notes, because women have been making a significant impact longer than they’ve been publicly-recognized for such) is often envisaged as that figure falling off a tall building or crashing a fast car, but Bob reminds the reader that the more common need is for simple faux-combat: the ability to throw or receive a fake punch or to simply roll with such. Equally, being genuinely good at a martial-art may prove incredibly useful in some situations, but while the sport and ability teaches you to hit and deflect, the needs of the entertainment industry and its stunt community are to pretend to be hit. In short, you could be an Olympics-level master of your craft and still have to relearn some of it if you wanted to be a stunt professional with the same equipment.
The book provides not just advice, but a glossary of terms with which an enthusiast should be familiar – from the specifics talents often looked for through to the equipment used. For instance, swords and guns can be manufactured to look like the real thing, but genuine padding for a long day in the proverbial trenches is nothing short of crucial. Owning a copy of this book could be pretty useful as well!