5 Reasons Doing Movie Stunts Is Harder Than You Think

#2. Stunt Performers Do More Than You Think

James Woodson/Photodisc/Getty Images

So far, stunt work is sounding like a nonstop adrenaline-fueled action-packed thrill ride. You wake up, dive through a bus windshield, grab some coffee, get shot out of an airplane, eat lunch, flip a hot rod over a playground, eat dinner, and go to bed.

D. Anschutz/Photodisc/Getty Images
Crash into bed all like blaaaoooww.

Actually, no -- a lot of stunt shots are just doing things the actor would find too unpleasant, tedious, or annoying. One of my early jobs on The Walking Dead simply involved chasing rats on skateboards around a dusty warehouse (eh, you just need to watch it). No explosions, no breaking glass, just lots of shuffling and zombified snarls.

Season 3, Episode 12, "Clear"
Go ahead, just try to describe that on your resume.

And that's not just because it was an early job: Tammie Baird is a highly accomplished stuntwoman, and her highlight reel of stunt clips includes scenes of her having a tray of drinks knocked out of her hands by Steve Carell and getting a cake shoved in her face on Days of Our Lives. Stunts aren't just the things that are too dangerous for the actors -- sometimes you're filling in for people who just hate dust, rats, and cake.

#1. There's Pretty Much No Recognition

AFP/Getty Images

Obviously it goes with the job that the badass fall you just took is, in the minds of the audience, going to get credited to the famous face on the poster. But what is less excusable is that the work also tends to go unacknowledged by the very people in the industry who should know better. You might have noticed (since we brought it up) that the Oscars don't have a category for best stunts, despite decades of campaigning and support from big names like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Michael Tullberg / Getty
He'll keep right on supporting stunt work until he eliminates it via robot.

It would be easy to think that this is because elaborate stunts are the stuff of ridiculous action movies, and you don't expect Fast and Furious 6 to get showered with gold statuettes either way. But even in award-winning movies, it's often the stunt performers that make the whole thing work. Look at last year's Oscar winners: The Artist credited 16 stunt performers, and Life of Pi had nine. Even a movie like Moneyball had seven people on its stunt crew.


You think Jonah Hill stares his own incredulous stare?

If you want to see how much the stunt work matters even to a "serious" film, look at a movie like the Denzel Washington drunken pilot drama Flight, which was showered with awards. But the stunt work received almost no recognition, despite the entire movie being built on it. The scene that kicks off the movie's story, where Denzel Washington prevents a plane from crashing, involves an interior scene of a plane that's flying upside down. It's the scene that was in every trailer and TV spot. Putting that together required 50 people to hang upside down from mock airplane chairs for hours without losing feeling or hurting themselves or anyone else.

Now think about what that movie loses if that scene -- the event that drives the rest of the plot and that the characters spend the rest of the runtime referring to -- isn't authentic. If the stewardess bouncing her head off the wall had been less convincing, it would come off as comical, ruining the tone right out of the gate. There's an incredible level of skill and dedication (and actual, physical pain) required to make that scene work, but you never even thought about it specifically because they did their job so well.


Contusions are the signpost of quality.

Of course, none of this is a complaint -- you'd have to be crazy to complain about a job where people tie you up in wires, launch you into the sky, and then pay you money for it. It's like being a professional amusement park ride. But everyone goes nuts lavishing praise on Tom Cruise for doing his own stunts, as if it's unthinkable that any mere human could do such a thing. So why not throw some recognition to the people who do it every day? I promise you, movies would not look the same without them.


J.F. Sargent's stunt work can't be seen anywhere because he's afraid to leave his office without a helmet, but you can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Reading: For ANOTHER look inside the film industry, check out these behind the scenes details our Dick Joke Journalists dug up. We've also got the inside scoops on legal prostitution and modern espionage. Oh, and if you've got a flight soon it's probably best to read this expert's perspective on why the TSA sucks so hard.

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