There’s a refrain among some of us Stunt people, myself included at one time.
“All I need is to get one gig a month.”
Which, yeah, cool! If you’re keeping your expenses reasonable, it’s realistic to think working once a month will work for a while to keep you afloat. I’d like to show you however, how much effort actually goes into working once a month.
Here’s a breakdown of all the steps that led to a recent gig. My hope is not to discourage you, but to give you an idea of the workload, focus, and luck you need to have to achieve the ambitious goal of regular work in the film industry.
Let’s start at the beginning. The beginning for me, was doing theater in school and church in Louisiana. Loved it, crushed the comedy skits during the Christmas festival every year.
That lead to a deeper desire to pursue theater in college, which lead to stage combat classes. Stage combat classes begat a desire to be a stuntman. Getting advice from my teacher, I dropped out of school and moved to LA to pursue stuntwork.
Needing a job to pay the minimum living expenses, I landed at a day spa call center. I told everybody there that I was in LA to become a stuntman and then kept my head down and worked hard. I did extra work to be on set and earn my SAG card, often times balancing that out with covering shifts for other crew members in the call center to get favors later on.
After 6 months of that job, and a year and a half of living in LA, a co-worker brought in an Industry Trade magazine about the Stunt industry. Serendipity and a good attitude had worked in my favor. The magazine advertised a clinic, which I eagerly signed up for. That led to meeting actual real life stuntmen and women, who invited me to a regular workout. From there, I met more stunt people, developed relationships and got some mentorship. This led to regular Gymnastic, Martial Arts, and Improv training. I was able to get my SAG card in this time period as well. This took around 3 years of landing in LA.
What followed quickly was years of regular training and working when the opportunities were right for me. This may sound like the end of the story, but it’s barely beginning. Even though I had gotten some work, I did not yet have a reputation worthy of working regularly, and I certainly hadn’t made enough money to retire young and lavishly.
So I kept it up. Kept working my skills, kept developing connections. Eventually, the time was right for me to move back down south to Georgia. Without my support structure I had developed over 12 years at this point, I felt I was back to square one. I kept on (are you noticing a trend?) training and working on developing relationships with the people I now was going to be working with, while maintaining the relationships I already had.
Regular training schedule led to another serendipitous moment; The gym I was going to work out at had kids classes and a Stunt Coordinator was there watching his kids train. Though we had known each other in LA, we had never worked together. As it so happened, he needed somebody with my look, that he could trust in a fight scene and on wires. On that gig, I met a stunt person who was an assistant for another Coordinator.
3 months later, the assistant posted on Facebook looking for “Stunt Actors.” I submitted to him, including a video of the previous Stunt acting experience I had done. That was kicked up to the Director, who mad the call, and ALL OF THAT was how I managed to stave off unemployment for one more month after after 14 years of handwork, dedication, fortune, and opportunities. The good news is over time, all of the work builds like a pyramid and more opportunities can come your way. The honest news is, reputations and skills decay without attention. Working one gig a month in the film industry is an achievable goal, but it is far from simple and easy. In fact, it’s almost impossible to maintain.
Do it long enough and you’ll either be discovered for talent and dedication and work more often or be found out to not be an asset to the crew and work far less than once a month.
T. Ryan Mooney is Stuntman and Stunt Coordinator In Atlanta. You can see his work on the big screen, Oct. 18th doubling Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland 2.