As the fall television season rolls around, we are being inundated with previews for upcoming shows. While watching one of those, a female law authority (I believe U.S. Marshall,) jumps off a very high bridge, safely landing in the water. It was a breathtaking sight, (I hate high places,) and made me wonder who was the “real” person that performed that jump?
There are many creative persons involved in the making of movies and television programs. The director spends most of his/her time with the actors, while the stunt coordinator and second-unit director work with the stunt persons to plan, practice, measure, and rehearse until every aspect of the scene is perfect and as safe as possible. Persons who love to feel the adrenaline rush and have certain skills that most of us wouldn’t dare try, are the faceless, nameless acrobats that produce those most thrilling moments on film. In many ways, they are the “real stars!”
Special effects are an important role in the entertainment industry. There are sophisticated systems, such as computer generated images, (CGI), that add excitement to films. However, there are many things that still require a body double/stunt person to accomplish, using their experience and talents to thrill us all.
It takes years of training in fighting, throwing or taking punches, taking falls, being set on fire, staging car explosions, wrecks, and just about any daring action you can think of. Those who jump off high buildings fall into air mattresses, and shorter falls have cardboard boxes with the corners removed for safe landings. For car wrecks, the cars are modified with special safety equipment such as roll cages and on-board fire extinguishers. Although it may seem glamorous, stunt persons may have to spend all day in extremely cold or hot places, waiting for time to film their scenes.
When a scene requires a person to be set on fire, layers of protective clothing, fire-resistant materials and special gloves and hood are worn. There is a small breathing apparatus with an oxygen tank inside the hood they wear. Multiple medical personnel, such as paramedics, must be present during filming. After the filming is done, digital special effects may be used to complete the project.
If you are good in gymnastics, motocross, flying a plane, motorcycle riding, or just a big thrill-seeker, this may be the profession for you. Persons who are agile at rock climbing, skydiving, scuba diving, skiing, high performance drivers, horseback riding, and activities such as these are good candidates to learn stunt skills. It is a very competitive business, and may take years to become established. Even though California laws and Hollywood union rules have added regulations to protect stunt persons and film crews, sometimes deaths occur. In the early days of film, deaths were common. Filming sequences that require stuntmen/women are still risky. Every safety precaution is taken to protect them; they are a unique brand of people doing dangerous work.
Another type of stunt person is the rodeo clown. These guys not only entertain the crowd, but they are extremely gifted athletes who can climb in and out of a rolling barrel that can be pushed around by a 1,000 to 2,000 lb. bull who just ejected his rider. Their main purpose is to save the lives of cowboys, and they earn every dollar they make.
If you have, or know of a dangerous type of job, please send me your comments. We live in a very diverse world, and it’s fun to learn about jobs that are different. Safety first is the key to success in all jobs.