Stunt Coordinator TJ White with Stuntwoman Boni Yanagisawa
Stunt training actors and actresses is something that elite stunt coordinators and stuntmen do quite often on set. The reason there is an industry in stunts is because in most cases it is impossible for an actor to be able to act and have the ability to perform all stunts. Although in many cases there are a few that insist on doing some of the labor and in more cases the directors are the ones that require the actor to enlist in stunt training so they can get their shot for their action sequence.
Using the Bourne film series as an example of why stunt training actors can increase profit in the box office. These films wouldn’t be as thrilling if you didn’t see Matt Damon speeding through the streets of Paris in a Mini Cooper. The fight sequences wouldn’t be as brutal if you didn’t see a glimpse of Damon’s face versus just the back of his stunt double’s head. Of course his double is there to do more of the extreme and technical aspects but directors know what audiences want and they want to believe their favorite action hero can actually do most if not some of the stunts.
As filmmaking advances with new technology there is an advancement that is happening within the actors as well. With new creative ideas of how stunts can be done and how far the line can be crossed the evolution of stunt training actors has to forge ahead.
Today, it is a fact that stunt training has elevated the action actor into another realm of fame and glory. Tom Cruise’s ability to train and do many of his stunts in the Mission: Impossible film series is due to the hard efforts of the stunt department training and perfecting his proficiency in stunts. Audiences flock to the theater to see Cruise be Ethan Hunt because they believe the action. Fans don’t like to be fooled so when they see their action actor performing alongside their doubles it gives them a sense of relief to know that their badass hero that they just spent $20 dollars to go see at the theater is delivering the goods.
Training begins many weeks and even months before any director ever yells “Action!” In pre-production the stunt training can include motorcycle driving, stunt driving, and various forms of fighting to make sure that the actor is believable when it comes time to film. When the actors have gone as far as they can go then the stuntmen and stuntwomen come into play. Many stunt performers include: college athletes, cirque de soliel performers, high divers, Olympic athletes, MMA fighters, NASCAR drivers, and even sensi’s themselves. These experts will work alongside the actor to create a reality that then can be taken on screen and be creditable.
As always safety is rule number one and stunt coordinators and stuntmen will always be sure to use proper stunt equipment and pads to reduce the risk of injury. It is important to have well qualified coordinators on set and involved with the stunt training because if your lead actor gets injured because he or she thought she could do the stunt, well then your whole picture is postponed and all your momentum becomes deflated along with the studio’s pocket book.
AFI students being stunt trained by TJ White
The classic textbook tale to become a director is that you must first go to film school where there you will start to direct shorts, commercials, and music videos. After many of these trials you could possibly get the chance to direct a full length feature film where here you may have the chance to get your break. This ideology has worked for many but not for the masses. In reality many directors have started their career not in the power chair but in a position that has them closer to the action than any director can possibly get to and that is in the stunt department.
Directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh
When filming, a director calls upon the stunt coordinator or 2nd unit director to create and oversee the action scenes to ensure safety and to certify that the right sequences are caught on film so that they have what they need when it comes time for post production. With the given that these 2nd unit directors and coordinators are in the thick of events it only seems like a natural progression for them to be the ones that are directing the films of today. Many stunt men turned directors are not blatantly obvious to the general audience but when you look deeper at their body of work you can see the difference and realize why this happy marriage between these two fields workHal Nedham and Burt ReynoldsA couple of the most famous stunt men that became directors are Clint Eastwood Million Dollar Baby (2004), J.Edgar (2011) and Hal Needham The Cannon Ball Run (1981), Smokey and the Bandit (1977). These successful directors learned their craft while performing and supervising action sequences on film sets. In addition to those greats, there has been many more up and coming directors like TV and film director David Barrett The Mentalist, Blue Bloods. Along with Steve Boyum stuntman turned director for Hawaii 5-0, Supernatural.
Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds
More success stories include Dan Bradley who 2nd unit directed for such blockbuster films like The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Bradley just wrapped the remake of Red Dawn in which he directed. Brian Smrz directed Hero Wanted with Cuba Gooding Jr. and came from 2nd unit directing pictures like Iron Man 3, X-Men:First Class and Live Free or Die Hard.
Making a name for himself in the thriller genre is 2nd Unit director David Ellis who did the 2nd unit on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone along with The Matrix Reloaded. A few of his directing titles include Final Destination, Cellular, and Shark Night. The majority of action in these films were computer effects that Ellis designed to give the audience the thrill of their life. Being a seasoned stuntman gave Ellis the vision of what looks good on film and what the audience craves.
Studios, producers and directors alike have always relied on Stunt Coordinators to get the action footage needed to balance out the film. With the experience of directing stunts and camera angles it is more evident that a 2nd unit director would make the smooth transition into the director’s chair telling the entire story through their well trained eye.
Director David Ellis instructing Actress for next shot.
Most recently the box office hit Act of Valor was produced and directed by two stuntmen Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh. With the well choreographed dance of high fleeting action and explosions created by McCoy and Waugh the audience responded by spending millions of dollars in the theater proving that the formula of stuntmen turned directors works and is profitable. Who better to direct a film then the ones that are in the trenches?
With the success of the Act of Valor many may see this stuntman turned director a trend. To attest this we must say that it is not a trend but it is the way it has always been. Smart and sophisticated stuntmen can make this an effortless conversion. If you are already shadowing the director or in most coordinator’s or 2nd unit director’s case showing the director exactly what needs to be done then it makes sense as to why these men have been such a success. Act of Valor may have been the most recent of films to prove this point but it most definitely won’t be the last.