PHYSICAL AND VISUAL EFFECTS - Job Title: Stunt Coordinator
Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionPHYSICAL AND VISUAL EFFECTS - Job Title: Stunt Coordinator, Job Title: Aerial Director/coordinator, Job Title: Visual Effects Supervisor
JOB TITLE: STUNT COORDINATOR
Working closely with the director to determine his vision for the scene, the stunt coordinator creates and choreographs all stunts and action sequences required for the production. “The stunt coordinator is actually setting up and deciding where the stunt will be done, what will be used, what precautions will be taken, and he's hiring the people that will be doing it,” explains action unit director Vic Armstrong.
Proficiency in martial arts, gymnastics, skydiving, motorcycle riding, rappelling, scuba diving, swimming, and the safe and proper use of weapons are skills stunt coordinator/stuntman Steve Gums suggests acquiring. He points out that stunt people must be in excellent physical condition.
He also suggests taking algebra, geometry, and physics courses. “When you're rigging, you've got to have the math [skills] to figure out acceleration. An example of that is: I was rigging a friend's show in the Houston Astrodome. He was doing a 200-foot high fall from the ceiling. We wanted to figure out how hard he was hitting the air bag.
“Strong determination and common sense are also important … Another thing stunt people need is perfect timing.”
Advice for Someone Seeking This Job
To get started in the business, Gums suggests finding a working stunt-person or coordinator you can learn from. “If you can find somebody that works regularly and is willing to let you train with them, or bring you down to the set and let you hang out, that's a really good way to not only learn, but get in with a group of guys that may hire you in the future.”
Action unit director/stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong suggests that prospective stunt people first specialize in one area, such as horseback riding (as he did), fights, gymnastics, and so forth. Then try to land a job based on that special skill, build up film credits, and learn from co-workers. “You have to have a specific ability that somebody wants to use you for, and then you just build on that. Work your butt off and do the rounds and talk to people. Get yourself known and just try to get some credits. It's very, very tough. My daughter is a young stuntwoman and she's finding it hard, even with the contacts I have. You've just got to get a reputation and build on it. I was lucky and took the opportunities I had and made the most of them. I tried to be inventive and original.”
Professional Profile: Steve Gums, Stunt Coordinator, Stuntman and Weapons Specialist, President Kontrolled Khaos
Ever since he was a young boy, Steve Gums wanted to be a stuntman. Following high school, Gums graduated from the firefighter's academy, enabling him to understand the basics of creating burns. A self-taught stuntman, he learned by trial and error, performing stunts in his brother's high school film productions. “When the project was complete I would go to class with my brother Jeff, just to watch the teacher's reaction. Imagine being a high school teacher, watching what you expect to be a typical student video project. Then someone on screen gets hit by a moving car and slides up the windshield, or falls down a flight of stairs, or runs across the screen on fire. We definitely got his teacher's attention.”
During his first year at George Mason University, Gums took a makeup class, which his brother audited. Perfecting their technique together, they landed work doing special effects and aging makeup for a children's television video production company. Over the next several years, they continued to work for the company whenever needed.
Gums also worked as a systems operator/programmer for the IRS while studying computer science at GMU. “They required this incredibly high level math and crazy amounts of calculus. My math isn't that strong, so it was difficult for me. It was really frustrating because I was doing the job I was supposedly going to school for, and I didn't need all the math they were trying to teach me.” He finally determined to change his major to individual studies, which allowed him to devise his own course of study: film and video production.
Still attending GMU, Gums earned certification as an emergency medical technician from Northern Virginia Community College, enabling him to land work as a medic on the feature Born Yesterday. Continuing to progress toward his goal of becoming a stuntman, he also perfected skills in rock climbing and weaponry, and earned a black belt in American sport karate and geng-lung-do. Through his martial arts instructor, he gained stunt experience performing a fight sequence in the made-for-video sci-fi film Invader.
Gums’ first paying stunt job was on an industrial video about rock climbing safety. “I was hired to do some falls. The stunts were pretty minor, but it didn't matter; I was pretty ecstatic because this was my first professional gig. I was actually going to get paid for something that my brother and I had done on our video projects. Everything went perfectly; there were no injuries. The reason I won't forget it, though, is the stunt coordinator kept my money. I never got paid anything for that job. It wasn't an encouraging introduction to the business.”
What do you like least about your job?
“At times, this business is completely selfish. It doesn't matter how good you are or what you know, a person usually gets hired because of who they know. You can be better for the job and repeatedly not get it.”—Steve Gums
What do you love most about your job?
“What I like most about the job is the ever-changing mental and physical challenges. I like the incredible feeling of teamwork when you're lucky enough to work with a truly good group of stunt people.”—Steve Gums
When not working stunts, Gums served as a grip, electrician, and Steadicam assistant. To make ends meet, he also worked as a bouncer, as a rigger for rock and roll concerts and theatrical shows, and he ran security for a club owned by Mick Fleetwood.
Gums’ next feature was Pelican Brief, working special effects and stunt safety team. “I didn't get any credit for it. If you look at the credits, it looks like the coordinator did all the work himself. He's the only special effects guy listed; he couldn't be bothered to list any of us.” Watching the coordinator prepare for an explosion, Gums learned how to prep for a burn.
Over the next few years, Gums landed stunt work on Deep Impact and Chery Falls, and television series 7 Days, America's Most Wanted, and Safe Harbor. Late in 2001, he and brother Jeff formed Kontrolled Khaos in partnership with other area stuntmen to raise the awareness of East Coast based stunt people.
* “If you decide to try and get into the business, make sure you have a strong basic skill set. Make sure your skin is thick, because you will have to put up with a fair amount of garbage at times.”—Steve Gums