Dangerous Stunts on Set! – Action with Don Shanks

Written by | B-Roll

What to do when asked to do dangerous stunts, and more of your questions answered by Don Shanks.

I was recently on a set where the director asked me to do a fairly dangerous stunt. It was something they didn’t plan on doing so they didn’t have a stunt person to do it. I wasn’t comfortable with what they asked me to do and refused. They said it was okay, but I know they were upset with me. Have I just ruined my career? – Martin F., New Orleans, LA

You absolutely did the right thing! There is never a reason to compromise your own safety or anyone else’s around you. I can think of many circumstances where the director got adrenaline pumping on the set and decided at the last minute to do a stunt that I deemed as being dangerous to do, especially since we would have had to use the actual actors. It was my job, as the stunt coordinator, to put my foot down and say “NO.” And yes, doing that did get me fired from a project once. After calming down, they re-evaluated my concerns and went with my recommendations of sending a car off a dock without the actor in it. If they had done it the way they planned originally, with the actor in the car, the actor would have been killed.

I bring up this story for a reason. This happened to be a situation where I, the stunt coordinator, was on the set, so I could efficiently gauge the danger level. If you, the actor, are approached to do a stunt, it will be harder for you to establish the danger level. In this case, always lean towards protecting yourself. Don’t do what was not in your original contract, what you feel is dangerous, or is being done without a stunt coordinator.

I’ve raced dirt bikes all my life and I’m quite good at it. I often see motorcycle chases and BMX races in movies; how can I lend my talents and skills to a film that needs it? How do I put myself out there to train actors that need to ride or be an extra racing in a film?  – Beck R., San Antonio, TX

The best thing to do is to find out what extra talent is being used in a film, put stuff on the internet, find someone who works in film, and then ask them. Reach out. Everybody has had to have help. I get calls all the time. Let them know what your speciality is. A lot of times I’ve needed people that can do BMX, be able to freestyle ski, etc. Make yourself known.


I know that you’ve worked with bears on Grizzly Adams; what other animals have you worked with on film? Big fan, by the way! – Shawn E., Anchorage, AK

I’ve worked a lot with horses; I’ve been a wrangler; and I’ve worked with snakes, cougars, tigers, lions, buffalo, and just about everything that’s out there! Raccoons and Wolverines, too.

I’m a huge fan of action movies, and while watching them I often wonder about the practical effects and stunts that are done on the set. On average, how long does the setup and completion take for the practical effects and stunts? Does it take a whole day on the set to complete what will be a three-second effect in the long run? – Carly I., Denver, CO

The time depends on what they want to see and what they want to do. I did one fight scene that took three days to film. We did it in a method called strobing, so they shoot it with the wide angle first then move the angle in, so you do each thing ten times. I’ve done other ones where I’ve shot it in a half hour.


Is there a stunt that you would have done at the beginning of your career but wouldn’t do now? Or visa versa?  – Isaac H., Great Falls, MT

Nope, I still do the same things.

– Don Shanks

Don Shanks has fans from incredibly diverse sources, but primarily from the horror genre, with roles as Michael Myers in Halloween V and the I Know What You Did Last Summer sequels, and from his role as Nakoma, Grizzly Adams’ sidekick. Don has appeared in several dozen films, and is a renown film stunt coordinator and stuntman. His credits in stunts in stunts include High School Musical 2 and 3(where he began a training routine for Zac Efron), The Crow and Indian Runner to name just a few.

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Last modified: August 13, 2017

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