Stunt professionals risk their lives for your entertainment, so what do they get in return?
Being that Louisiana is currently the film-production capital of the world, I thought it would be fun to take a peek at the business side of the industry responsible for putting the “live” in live action.
To do this I spoke with two of my friends – Vanessa Motta and Kevin Reid – both stunt professionals that have migrated from California to Louisiana in the past few years. Each has more than a decade of stunt work under their belt.
In short, stunt work can be anything – from flipping a car, to sword fighting, to holding up an actress in a mosh pit scene – anything that is deemed too dangerous for an actor to perform.
“On ‘Friday the 13th’ I was put inside a sleeping bag that was hanging from a tree and they lit the bag on fire. It then opened and I fell into a fire pit,” says Motta.
Anybody serious about being a stunt professional needs to join SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Only members of these labor unions are allowed to work on union projects – a vast majority of films.
“We receive a set daily or weekly union rate,” Reid explains. “Daily typically means eight hours, after that we get overtime.”
Performers also receive “stunt adjustments” – additional pay that depends on the danger level of the stunt. Adjustments are typically calculated for each time the stunt is performed. Just as with actors, stunt professionals also continue to receive residual pay, sometimes for years, if they are “principal performers” on a film that moves on to DVD or TV.
Stunt professionals that make past a certain amount each year become eligible to receive health, dental and vision insurance that year through SAG-AFTRA. The labor union also has its own credit union and emergency financial assistance fund. Dues for the joint union are based on a sliding scale of how much a performer has earned on SAG or AFTRA projects. SAG-AFTRA also collects an additional 1.575 percent of all annual earnings made on union projects – up to $500,000.
The scariest thing
While Reid and Motta are both used to looking danger in the eye on a regular basis, they agree that their biggest fear has to do with the uncertainty of the work.
“Even while you’re in the midst of a project, you’re always hustling for the next gig,” Motta says. “You never know when the next job will come, so the nature of being in stunts means you have to be a big saver.”
Twice a month stunt professionals receive an email called a “Stunt Contact” that provides a breakdown of upcoming films.
“You use that to start calling and sending out your resume and headshot,” Reid says, noting that one of the best things that can happen for a stunt person is to double an actor that then continues to request them. For Reid that’s happened with actor Lucas Black, start of NCIS New Orleans, whom he’s been doubling for 10 years. Motta has been doubling actress Natalie Martinez for a year and a half.
But how about fear on set? Do stunt professionals get scared?
“Absolutely,” Motta says. “No matter the work and planning that’s gone into a stunt, in the end, anything can happen.”
Vanessa Motta (right) has been the stunt double for actress Natalie Martinez (left) for a year-and-a-half. The two are pictured here during shooting of CBS’ television series “Under the Dome.”
Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life and is thrilled to be covering its emersion in her newly adopted home.