How to Get Into Stunts

- by Manny Siverio

Why this page?
I wanted to nip in the butt the E-mails that I would be getting from readers seeking to get into the stunt business. So please read this section carefully and do not E-mail me with such questions as, "How can I get into the stunt business?"or "Can you hire me as a stuntman or recommend me to someone who is hiring stunt people?", etc. If you do, I simply won’t answer. Not because I’m stuck up, but because this page will give you all the material I would normally send in one of my replies. This site is mainly for those interested in learning more about me, hiring me as a Stuntman/Stunt Coordinator/2nd Unit Director or seeking information on my martial art articles, books and tapes. I take this opportunity to wish you success and the best of luck in your journey.
Manny Siverio (October 24, 1997)

What do I need to do first?
The first thing you should do is get a good 8 by 10 inch B&W head shot. Make sure it’s of professional quality and not a Polaroid or cheap snap shot. This will cost you some money, but if you are serious about getting into the business, then you better invest. Remember that a head shot is like your business card in the film industry. If someone sends me a photocopy, Polaroid or cheap snapshot, I won’t give it any serious thought. Most probably it will end up in the garbage. A cheap looking head shot projects an unprofessional image from the sender. Get your hands on some stunt head shots to get an idea of what others have done before you.

Do I need a resume?
Yes with a capital Y -E- S. A good resume should include your name, address, height & weight along with other basic measurements (shoe size, etc.), contact phone numbers (home, service, pager), union affiliation (SAG, AFTRA), Film & TV credits (if any) and a list of skills or special abilities that make you marketable as a stunt person (rock climbing, martial arts, swimmer, diver, boxer, scuba certified, etc). Remember not to lie on your resume. Be honest. Don’t make up film credits or lie on special skills. The stunt industry is a small community. Everyone either knows everyone or knows someone who knows someone. Too many times have I seen people get caught lying about their film credits (like telling a stunt coordinator that they worked on a film that that very person coordinated). I’ve also seen others lie about their skills (i.e. Boxing) in order to get hired for a job. Its so sad to see them later prove that they actual have little or no skill in that field. I understand that new comers are hungry for work, but being caught in a lie will cut off your stunt career before it can ever get started. I know if I caught someone in a lie once, I’ll never believe them, let alone hire them again. A stuntman earns respect by developing a solid reputation. That takes time and trust. There is no short cut.

How do I get my first job?
Well, first you got to get your SAG and/or AFTRA union card.

What is SAG? What is AFTRA?
SAG is short for the Screen Actors Guild, while AFTRA is an abbreviation for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. These are the two major unions whose jurisdiction covers Film, music videos and TV. SAG/AFTRA Stunt Coordinators can only work on union films. Therefore they can only hire union (a.k.a. SAG & AFTRA) stunt people to work for them. SAG and AFTRA are two separate sister unions. Just because you are in one of them does not mean you can work in a project that is under the jurisdiction of the other. SAG is considered to be the bigger and most powerful of the two. Most stunt people eventually end up becoming members of both.

How do I get into SAG or AFTRA?
Here we come to the good old catch 22. To get your SAG or AFTRA union card you have to be in a SAG or AFTRA project, but in order to be in a SAG or AFTRA project you need a SAG or AFTRA union card first. There are two ways that I know of to get your union card. The first is to be waved into the union. This happens only when a production and or a stunt coordinator is not able to find a suitable stunt person with the combination of skills and built that you (in this case you lucky stiff) only have. For example lets say that the production is looking for a 6 foot, 9 inch stunt man that could do a fight scene while parachuting into a lake. The film production can’t afford to fly someone into the location area and there is no one except for you in the vicinity that can pull it off. Then I’d say your chances of getting in are pretty good. The second way I know of getting your union card is to try to get work on a SAG film and get a extra’s voucher. Collect three vouchers for three separate extra’s days worth of work and you are now eligible to join the union (please remember that this is easier said than done).

What should I do after I get into SAG or AFTRA?
I would go to the local SAG office and get a copy of that months Production list. The production list contains the address of all the local productions that are shooting in your area that are SAG signatory (are union projects). This list is made available from SAG to all union members. Mail a copy of your head shot, resume and a brief letter to the stunt coordinator. The letter should state your interest in getting into stunts and asking him or her to keep you in his files for future reference. While waiting for the phone to ring, I would suggest that you try to get some background (extra) work. Learn from your time on set as an extra. See what life is like on set, become familiar with what its like to be on set. This way you won’t seem like your are out of your element when the phone does finally ring. On the same token, once you are in the union, you can no longer take on non-union work. If you do and get caught, it will mean a fine, the loss of your union card or both. Its simply not worth it.

When is it Okay to call a stunt person?
Never, unless the stunt person in question is expecting your phone call or he gives you his phone number and permission to call.

What happens if I meet a stunt person on set?
If while working on set (as an extra or a PA a.k.a Production Assistant) you discover that a stunt person is nearby do not...I REPEAT..DO NOT pester that person. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go speak to that person, I’m saying that you pick and choose the correct time to do so. Try not to hover around, follow or push yourself onto that person. It is one thing to be assertive, its something totally different to be annoying. Remember that a percentage of the stunt business relies on that personal touch. We all know or know of each other. We tend to work with people we have worked with before because we know that they can do the job, we trust them and we like working with them. Now if you annoy someone, that person will not want to be near you. A.K.A. that person will not want to work with you, recommend you or hire you. So IF you do meet a stunt person on set, choose a moment to introduce yourself. Be brief. Describe your interests, skills and experience. Ask that person if they would be kind enough to keep one of your head shots in their files. Then politely walk off. Leave a good impression.

What should I not do around stunt people?
I would suggest that you do not lie about your skills, hover around them, follow them around, try to show off in their presence (a.k.a executing kicks, hand stands, etc), join in uninvitedly in their conversations, touch their equipment with out their permission or assist them without asking for their permission.

When should I hustle a set? When is it cool to come to set?
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the stunt community is a small community. Most people get to know about each other as they become more experienced and develop a rep in the business. For the most part, in New York people do not hustle sets (visit sets to seek out work). When they do its either because they’ve been invited by someone on set or they know the coordinator running the show. If you are new to the business and are hustling a set for work. Be brief. Get to the person you want to see and speak to them. Come equipped with head shots and resumes to hand out. Try not to over stay your welcome unless you’ve been invited to stick around.

What should I do when I get my first job?
Simple. Look, listen, learn and do a good job. How well you do on your first job will determine if you ever get a second job. Don’t push. Don’t try to impress. Just go on and do what you are told. Your first couple of jobs will probably be simple ones. No brainers. People will see how well you work. When I first started, I was told that stunt coordinators look for talented people, but they also look for those who can follow direction. The stunt business is a team business, following instructions to the tee will make good impressions. Good impressions create good word of mouth which will lead to good referrals that lead to more jobs. Its a simple equation. Follow it and you’ll develop a good rep. There are others out there who have earn the right to be where they are. Its your job to do the same. As I said before there are no short cuts. Remember that you are new to the business. Look at the pro’s and learn through their example.

After my first job can I call myself a stuntman?
I know I didn’t. I didn’t call myself a stunt man until I had at least 10 credits under my belt.

How long before I get my second job?
I can’t give you an answer there. It might be a week or it might be never. All you can do is wait for that phone to ring. Whatever you do in the beginning, don’t give up your day job. It took me many years before I could finally say that I make a living out of being a stunt man. But this business could be very sporadic. Learn to save for a rainy day. The only sure thing about this business is that there is no such thing as a sure thing.

Good Luck.........

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If you are interested in getting in touch with Manny Siverio (Stuntman,
Stunt Coordinator, 2nd Unit Director, actor, writer) regarding film work.