You also have to hustle and sell yourself in this business and be willing to answer questions from producers, directors, executives and their minions that are at times very pertinent and times very ignorant. And be willing to answer both types questions the same way. With assuredness and confidence. I don’t know how someone does that without knowing their stuff.
All of this means that there are many stunt people who are extremely qualified to become stunt coordinators because of their experience, knowledge and expertise in one or more particular fields. I am very proud and impressed by so much of the fine young talent out there. Sadly, it also means that just because you’re qualified doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a job. The competition is enormous.
So – how to get that first job? I have seen it break down to 3 general avenues. They are inter-related – you will often follow at least one or two simultaneously to some extent. And which ever one or ones you travel, you need to work the industry. Stay abreast of what’s in production. Look for any connection you might have to the production company and/or studio in question. Submit yourself. Follow up.
1. Have a family member who is a stunt coordinator.
2. Have connections with other film professionals, including doubling an up-and-coming actor
3. Have a stunt coordinator mentor
1. Family Members
Are you thinking nepotism? Yep! We got it … got it big … and it’s far from a bad thing. Think of it this way. A stuntman/woman working in the industry has a family. That family grows up around the action business. Horses, motorcycles, trampolines, surfing, scuba diving … their kids learn from a child to understand physicality and how to control their bodies. Pretty soon dad or mom takes them to set and gets them a gig doubling a kid in a car or on a playground. Because he or she knows they can handle it. They’ve been well trained. After 10 or 12 years in positions like that – combined with invaluable stunt talk around the dinner table – the business is in their head. How to run a crew, rig a stunt, answer the questions that directors ask, and deal with all the other departments on set. Everything it takes to be a coordinator has blossomed from a life experience. Dad and/or Mom are coordinators and when one of them has two shows to coordinate, they give one to you … and a new stunt coordinating career has begun.
Make no mistake, a good majority of them are oustanding coordinators. Look at Mickey Gilbert and his three sons. They’re awesome stuntmen as well as coordinators. Or brothers Vic and Andy Armstrong – their sons are tearing up the stunt world.
2. Industry Connections
Another way to go about hustling coordinator jobs is to build relationships within the industry. Line producers, unit mangers, directors and producers are the ones who confer and hire the crew. Trying to build a relationship isn’t always easy … there’s going to be those who you don’t like, get along with or even want to see twice. It’s your call if you want to follow up on people like these because it might mean work for you down the road. I don’t think hustling people you don’t really want to be with is a good use of time or energy or money. But many people you meet are stand-up, although extremely busy. So be professional, make connections, and treat every contact with respect and consider it an investment in your future. This isn’t to say be a user. But do be professional. Make a connection, stay in touch. Be supportive. Share knowledge wherever you can.
Within this is the great good fortune of clicking with an actor as his or her double. As long as you’ve done the work to build your skills and become a pro who is as good as can possibly be, in other words, as long as you’re prepared for opportunity, there is every likelihood that your star as a coordinator, can rise right alongside the star you are doubling.
3. Coordinator as Mentor
When you’re hired as a stunt player, it’s because you are needed for a particular reason. If that coordinator hires you repeatedly, that means you are well liked and are doing a good job. It means that when you’re not doing the actual stunt, you’ve been pulling pads around and folding boxes for someone else’s gag. It means that you’ve been ready to jump in and help wherever you can, even if it’s not your stunt. And if you’re fortunate as well as extremely trained and talented, it means that you’re part of that coordinator’s team. In turn, more often than you might realize, it means that at some point the coordinator is going to ask you to ‘watch the set’ or to ‘take care of this for me with the AD’s.’ After that, it won’t be long before that coordinator will bring you in and give you his “Show No. 2”…just like Dad gave to Junior.
Working the Industry
I’ll close by expanding on an earlier point. If you think that you are ready to take on the challenges of a stunt coordinator, and you don’t have any of the above connections, don’t give up. Put together a resume that reflects your experience – that’s a must. I think that you should also have a Mission Statement and a Bio to let them know something about you that stands out. There’s a boat load of people out there who want to do what you’re doing. Then work the leads you have from “Stunt Contact” or the trades. You have to submit to production companies just like you have to submit to stunt coordinators for a stunt job, and hope that your resume gets in front of the right guy. Look for connections within the production you’re submitting to – is there anyone listed you’ve worked with before? Any connection at all? Mention that in the cover letter you will attach to your submission. Be brief, but be powerful. Yes, most directors and producers have their top couple of stunt coordinators and want them to get the job. And those coordinators want someone on their team to get the job. Even so, the final say is usually the director’s, but there’s always a chain of power above the line, and not everyone gets everything they want. So submit your coordinator’s package where you think you have the best fit and opportunity. And continue to work on building up your connections for the next opportunity.
I would also say that being a stunt coordinator is more work than it may appear. Getting the job may seem the hardest part. Between the politics and power struggles it can be taxing. But not personal. But once you do get the job, whether you’re coordinating on a small budget movie or a mega buck film, your prep, meetings, phone calls and on set duties are the same. That said, you are also, and most importantly, responsible for ensuring safety along with excellence in action entertainment. That is always an exciting and serious challenge.