The MARVEL of STUNTS
Gives us an inside look into the inner circle of stunts.
Belive it or not, the art of stunts is practically separate from the art of acting. Many are under the impression that film actors perform their own stunts. While that maybe true in some cases, it is more common that actor's are given stunt doubles to perform a range of actions that can be as simple as a fall, or as complicated as an entire fight scene. Stunts take planning, choreography, memorization, and hours of practice. Imagine a dance routine, but with flips, kicks, punches, and falling over all day long. One would think there are several bumps and bruises along the way, and there can be, but most of the time, a good stunt actor has perfected what they call, "the art of falling gracefully."
Stunt expert (and some may even say stunt celebrity) Christopher Troy (@christophertroyofficial), took us behind the scenes at the Joining All Movement (JAM)gym located in Reseda, CA. JAM is one of the central training spots for the inner circle of stunt performers in Hollywood. Tucked away in a plaza, JAM offers a realm of space and crash pads/pits for professionals preparing for the next big thing. Christopher, who generally goes by Troy, was already in session when LIA arrived at the scene. Troy has an array of stunt credits for major feature films and television shows including Shameless, S.W.A.T., Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Walking Dead,and even Christopher Nolan's up and coming TENET. Troy's next big project is choreographing a fight sequence with fellow colleagues Michaela Mcallister, Jenn Khoe and Emmy winning director Mickey Finnegan for Mom Fight@momfightmovie.
Troy began the interview by making introductions with the talented team members and then took us through his warm up. It is important to get the blood flowing and the muscles flexible when preparing for a sequence that involves a heavy level of kicking, jumping and even fencing. After twenty minutes., everyone was ready to review the choreography with Troy, who oversaw what movements work and what movements needed to be adjusted. The process took hours, but Michaela and Jenn kept at it even after the interview concluded. Another normal day in the stunt world. It is better to be over prepared than under prepared. Communication between the stunt coordinator and director is key in an effort to make the sequence look its best, while watching out for the safety of the performers.
Q: We hear getting into the stunt world is tricky. How did you get your big break and how can others learn how to break into the business? A: I started out in the entertainment industry as a professional breakdancer way before I even considered stunts as a career. I had the advantage of already working on film and tv as a dancer so when I made my decision to focus on becoming a stuntman I was lucky enough to know a couple of people in that field of film. I was teaching dance class at Joining All Movement (A training facility owned by top talent stuntmen Travis Wong/Aaron Toney/Jake Huang) When I got my first real stunt job because of Travis Wong (thank you). I was hired to be an actors breakdancing
double, then later in the same episode I was thrown through a table. After that I was hooked on stunts! With that said, stunts is very much about safety first. I was hired because Travis had known me for a few years and trusted me to perform the job without hurting myself or others. When thinking about becoming a stunt performer a few things that could help you get started are training with those already working in the field-Building your skill set up to be good at different types of stunts like rigging, fire and fire safety, water safety, weapons training, and driving. (Just because you can fight and are willing to hit the floor does not make you a stuntman)- Doing freebies. Basically, tell everyone who you admire that you’re free to help them with there projects. It’s the perfect way to show your abilities and to build a trustworthy relationship.
Q: Is it true that it is difficult to be both an actor and do stunts? Why are the two encouraged to be separate fields? A: Yes. From a stuntman’s point of view it’s like this. I need a stunt team that are full of the best performers. There are a ton of people trying to break into the industry by any means necessary and will lie about there skill level to book a job. We can’t have someone lie, mess up and then accidentally kill someone or themselves. So a coordinator can be hesitant about hiring someone who lets them know they are not 100 percent committed to stunts as there career. At the same time, we have really excellent stunt performers who are wonderful actors. They usually have proven themselves competent as a stunt performer outside of the acting world. Q: Do stunts audition for roles? Or is it mostly referral based? Is a stunt reel necessary? If so what do you recommend be included in the reel? A: Stuntmen do audition but it is pretty rare. If the script says Bad guy #2 yells “Don’t move or I’ll shoot!” The coordinator may have you send in a self tape to get you approved through production. Other auditions may be from a stunt team looking to add one more person that fits a certain look to the core team before starting up a show. For the most part it is by referral, again stunts is safety. A stunt reel is a very smart thing to have.
It’s just another tool to use when meeting a new coordinator. seeing you do something as opposed to taking your word usually works best. In your firstreel keep it short and to the point, show what you’re good at, hopefully it’s wrecking, fight choreography, and fire high fall or driving. If not, work at it until you are. End it with your contact info and a picture of yourself. Q: What are your thoughts on those like John Bernecker and Olivia Jackson, who have suffered serious injuries or even death doing stunts?A: It’s heartbreaking. Injury is definitely something that comes with this job and everyone who signs up knows what they’re getting into. Occasionally something will go terribly wrong and the whole community feels it. This is why safety comes first, nobody should lose life or limb for a make believe show. Both of these performers did there job exactly and something was mismanaged on set leading to such a result. Q: Have you ever had any close calls? Any stories you can share?A: Depends what you mean. There are plenty of times right before they yell action I laugh to myself and say “I could probably die right now.” Fortunately that never happens. I have been to the hospital a few times though. I have had cuts bruises, torn muscles and scratched corneas. I received grade three concussions resulting in vomiting from landing too hard from a fall and I put my front teeth through my face getting tripped in a fight. Q: Would you recommend having an agent or manager? Why?/Why Not? A: Within the stunt industry it really isn’t necessary, your coordinator can hire you directly and they usually let you know your rate.
Q: What project(s) are you working on currently? What can you share with us about them? Who is involved? A: I was fortunate enough to just finish up on a Christopher Nolan film with Robert Pattinson. I am currently Action Designing a feature film that will be going into production by the end of the year. Along with that I will continue to fill my time with shooting short films and working on TV shows. Q: What has been the most rewarding thing about stunts? What is the most challenging?A: The most rewarding thing about stunts to me is the amount of creative control you receive when working on a project. We get to build all the action which is usually the fun stuff. The most challenging is the vast amounts of time spent working and training. If you aren’t obsessed with action or filmmaking then I don’t think this job is for you. I spend almost everyday that I’m not getting paid to do stunts training stunts at the gym or filming my own projects. Q: If you could change or add anything to the industry, what would you change or do Why?A: I would change the notoriety of the stunt team. most of the time the most memorable part of the movie was an action scene. People can name the actor and director but not the stunt double and stunt coordinator who built and executed your favorite part of the movie. Q: Are there stunt awards like there are Oscars for actors? A: There are, its called the Taurus Awards and the winners get a giant winged statue much bigger than an Oscar.Q: Any closing thoughts for aspiring talent?A: If you have a passion for stunts, work hard, work hard, work hard. It’s a marathon not a sprint. See you at the movies!