Stunt Performer

The Job and What's Involved

Stunt performers work in the film and television industry. They are employed by production companies to take the place of actors when dangerous or specialised actions are specified in the script, or to perform specific skills such as martial arts, diving, boxing etc. Stunts can include jumping out of, or on to, a speeding car, high falls, being set on fire and taking part in fight scenes and activities such as parachuting, abseiling, skiing or horse riding at speed.

Stunt performers are highly trained and skilled at their job, which can be a very dangerous one. They are extremely fit and athletic. They must be qualified to the required standard in at least six of the following categories, one of which must be in the first group:

- Fighting - martial arts, boxing
- Falling - trampolining, high diving
- Riding and driving - horses, cars, motorcycles
- Agility and strength - gymnastics, rock climbing
- Water - swimming, sub aqua

Their work is overseen and accredited by the Joint Industry Stunt Committee's (JISC) Register of Stunt/Action Coordinators and Performers (the Register), which is operated by Equity, the actor's union, together with the BBC, ITV and the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT). The Register has strict entry requirements.

Although their actual work on sets or locations may not take long, stunt performers also have to carry out meticulous research to ensure that stunts are performed safely and accurately match the body language of the actors they are replacing. They also have to perform detailed risk assessments and keep comprehensive records.

Stunt performers work variable hours, according to the jobs they are contracted to do. Working hours can be long when filming is taking place, with long waiting periods between scenes. There can be very early starts and late finishes. Stunt performers have to arrive before filming starts for make-up, hair and costume fittings, in the same way as actors.

Work can be inside or outside, depending on the scenes being filmed for each production. Stunts are sometimes uncomfortable to perform - for instance, spending long periods of time in the water or underground. Protective clothing, harnesses and helmets may be needed for some stunts.

Stunt performers usually travel and live away from home when working on different jobs.

Starting salaries for junior stunt performers may be around £12,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are estimated to be only around 300 stunt performers in the UK, with probably less than ten per cent in regular work. They are usually freelance and employed by production companies on a contract basis.

Competition for jobs and available work is fierce. Only about 10 to 12 people are admitted to the JISC Register each year. Stunt performers often take other work to supplement their income.

It is possible that stunt performance opportunities may decrease further because of advanced digital technology. This can mean that some stunts can be enhanced by computer graphics without using a stunt performer.

Stunt performance work may be advertised in The Stage magazine, on the Equity website and on other independent websites. Work is often found through previous employers or word-of-mouth contacts.

Education and Training

There are no set academic requirements for stunt performers. Entrants must be 18 or over and meet the requirements of the JISC Register.

Applicants must provide:

  • Evidence of qualifications to required standards in six or more disciplines in the following categories - fighting; falling; riding and driving; agility and strength; and water. At least one year's experience is required in each qualification.
  • Evidence of having completed 60 days work in front of the camera.

Once they are accepted onto the JISC Register they must work for at least three years as probationary members and a further minimum of two years as intermediate members or stunt performers, before they can progress to full membership.

At each stage of the grading process members must keep meticulous records, including JISC logbooks and original stunt contracts, which are submitted to the JISC. Evidence of work must be witnessed as true by the relevant stunt coordinator, producer, associate producer or first assistant director and must show a variety of work.

Equity can provide a detailed list of current requirements, including levels of qualification in each discipline needed to become a member of the register. Requirements are subject to change according to current legislation.

There are no specific training colleges or courses for stunt performers. Qualifications and skills for entry must be self-funded and costs can be considerable.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The JISC probationary period for performers to join their Register provides on-the-job training in the techniques of film and television stunt work.

Stunt performers can also add to their skills by doing additional courses in specific disciplines.

Stunt performers need to maintain high levels of fitness for the job and keep up to date with their skills.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A stunt performer should:

  • Have strength and stamina as well as specific physical skills.
  • Have meticulous research and planning skills.
  • Be able to communicate effectively with other members of the production team.
  • Be willing and able to work in dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations.
  • Have a strong nerve and be able to react quickly to changing circumstances.
  • Be familiar with current health and safety legislation and requirements.
  • Be able to identify hazards and take appropriate precautionary measures.
  • Understand the production process.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced stunt performers may have the opportunity to progress to stunt arranger or coordinator of other performers. Stunt performers progress by consistently providing highly-skilled performances.

Some stunt performers may move into other areas of the film and television industry such as direction work, especially of action scenes, or acting.

Get Further Information

The JISC Stunt Register,
Joint Industry Stunt Committee,
c/o Equity, Guild House,
Upper St Martins Lane, London WC2H 9EG
Tel: 020 7379 6000
Website: www.equity.org.uk

Skillset, Focus Point,
21, Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline - Tel: 08080 300 900
Website: www.skillset.org

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