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A stuntman (or stuntwoman) often fills in for the star of a movie or television show, performing dangerous falls or getting into car crashes or fights. The stuntman is rarely filmed up close and seldom stars in the movie or show. They are usually the unsung heroes of a movie, taking the gunshots, the punches, or falling off bridges or the tops of buildings. Some of the early stunt work took place in cowboy and western films where stuntmen fell off of roofs during big gunfight scenes or were dragged behind a horse through the streets with a boot caught in a stirrup.
It is not unusual to see a stuntman being attacked by animals, jumping off a bridge, strapped on an airplane wing, taking a punch or involved in an explosion and fire. There is a risk in all stunt work, whether it be television, film or stage work.
Sometimes the stunts, while looking extremely dangerous, are rigged with safety mechanisms. In filmed productions, these visible safety mechanisms can be edited out. On the other hand, some stunts are as dangerous as they appear. Of course the most risk is taken when done in front of a live audience.
As a stuntman, you can specialize in three broad categories of stunt work:
Practical - everything from fighting to short falls
Mechanical - any stunt that would need help of a machine, for example long falls, wire work etc.
Vehicular - everything from cars to boats to planes
A stuntman works on location wherever the movie or television show is being filmed. You may have to work from 4 AM to 11 PM and then get up at four again the next morning. A stuntman's work is done in all types of weather, most likely outside. This line of work can take you to many different locations in the world, and can take you away from home for extended periods of time.
Men and women who don't mind taking risks and love the thrill of danger may want to consider this as a career choice. No specific certification or degree is required to become a stuntman or stuntwoman. It would be very beneficial to have somewhat of a diversified background in various activities, such as gymnastics, fencing, sky diving, scuba diving, rock climbing, martial arts, dirt bike racing and stage combat to name a few. The most important skills required are physical fitness, stamina, strength and coordination.
Getting employment as an apprentice to an established stuntman would be extremely helpful, as hands-on experience is priceless. Also, knowing anyone in the film industry that can lead you in the right direction or introduce you to the right people would definitely help.
Stunt training academies offer seminars and courses on how to perform various stunts. The International Stunt School in Seattle, Washington, or the London Stunt School in London, England, would give you some good field experience. Listing a stunt training school on your resume may draw attention within the industry and help you get an interview. It is also highly recommended that you send video of yourself performing several stunts along with your resume to as many professional stunt coordinators as possible.