When it comes to knowing how to make movies, there’s one area independent filmmakers can not ignore. Stunts.
Pretty much everything else, you can “fake it, ‘til you make it”, but when it comes to stunts, you need to know what you’re doing. They’re dangerous and if you don’t have professional training, you’re creating an incredibly unsafe set.
A happy set is a safe set.
I love stunts. Watching Tom Cruise perform death-defying stunts in the Mission Impossible franchise are always a highlight. I mean, come on guys! The man hung off the side of one of the tallest buildings in the world. And, he held on to the side of a plane as it took off!
It’s inspiring to see stunt performers in action. They’re one of the most tight-knit community in film. Which, honestly, is no surprise because they have to trust each other with their lives.
As an aspiring director, I wanted to know what stunt professionals look for in a director. I reached out to a few and here’s what they had to say…
Kyal Scott, SAP
Kyal is an incredible actor and stunt professional. He’s performed death-defying stunts as several iconic characters at Warner Brother’s Movie World in Australia.
“What I look for is trust. A stunt person doesn’t want to risk injury or death for the sake of a slightly better camera angle or perform a stunt that is deliberately difficult because an alternative action doesn’t adhere to the storyboard.
“If a stunt person knows that their safety is the main concern then they will push their fear to the limit and risk their lives to create something incredible for the director to capture.
“Trust also helps both director and stunt person be far more efficient. Time is money after all.”
I think he’s hit the nail on the head. The biggest thing a stunt performer needs from their director is trust. They are putting their very lives on the line to serve the vision of the story. If they can trust they’re working with a director who will think outside the box to ensure their stunt performer is safe, the performer will work harder for them too.
It’s a mutual road.
Daniel Nelson, SAP
Daniel currently works at Warner Brother’s Movie World in Australia and already has an impressive list of films under his belt as a qualified stunt performer.
“Sometimes directors don’t always have the same eye for action that stuntmen do. So having access to playback footage of each take and seeing what it looks like on camera is very handy. Particularly in a fight sequence.
“Directors can also spend too much time on the actors’ dialog that there is no time in the day for the stunt sequence. So a director who is aware of his time is definitely beneficial.”
This is great advice for the aspiring director. Keep an eye on the time. Stunts require a lot of work and time. The crazier the stunt, the longer it’ll take to make sure everything is set up and safe for the performer. The more a director honours this, the more a stunt person wants to make things work to serve the story.
Daniel Weaver, SAP/ Stunt Rigger
As well as working for Movie World, Weaver is also a Stunt Rigger and most recently worked on Thor Ragnarok as a SPX Rigger.
“One of the things I look for in a director is being easy to communicate with. [There’s] nothing worse than trying to understand what someone wants to see if they are not clear. Some directors climb all over the ground and grab performers to show what they mean prior to shooting, so a director who is clear and not afraid to get their hands dirty is great!”
“Another is a director that understands action filmmaking. It’s awesome when you get a director that knows the value in seeing the stunts rather than a director that will just cheat the stunts to speed things up. A good director knows the time it takes to provide quality performance and maintain safety.”
I think Daniel makes an excellent point about being clear with what you want from a stunt person. The more concise and articulate you can be as a director the better. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say, learn their lingo. Find out what different stunts are called, it will save you time on set and I think it’ll make your stunt professional’s day.
Jason O’Halloran, SAP
Goldstone (2015) & The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Jason also works for Movie World and has had an impressive career, working on shows like Sea Patrol and Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner.
“I like to see a director that’s excited about action. If you get on set and the director is pumped about the scene then everything just naturally goes up a notch.”
Jason gives some great advice here. At the heart of what I hear in this is, have passion for the action you’re creating. The more passion you have, the more your entire crew will want to get behind what you’re doing. Passion is a huge support to creativity. It gets the juices flowing, so to speak, and you may find your stunt professional coming up with even better takes for what you want to create.
“All of the stunt men – these are the unsung heroes. They really are. Nobody is giving them any credibility. They’re risking their necks.” – Jason Statham
The next time you work on a set with stunt professionals, I hope you keep this advice in mind. What Jason Statham says above is so true. They really are the unsung heroes on set.
While it takes extreme effort for every crew member to serve a project, keep in mind these guys and gals are going the extra effort. Support and honor this community and listen well to this incredible filmmaking advice.