Do you have to be SAG to be a Stuntman? – Action with Don Shanks

Written by | B-Roll

Don answers some great reader questions about being apart of SAG to be a stuntman, if you have to know every trick in the book to be one and how amazing falls from buildings are accomplished!

How do you get into SAG to be a stuntman and how much does it cost?  Justin P., Portland, OR

The answer to this question is quite a catch-22. Producers working under a Screen Actor’s Guild contract agree to hire only SAG members in good standing (current on their dues) to work as actors or stunt people, but you have to work in one SAG film to be eligible to join the union.  Say what?  So how can you ever join?  There are circumstances—when there is no one available in SAG to do the stunt—that a non-union person can be hired to do a stunt.  Let’s say that you are an expert sailor living in Michigan and a film being made in Michigan has a scene where the lead actor needs to do some difficult sailing maneuvers, the stunt coordinator can hire you to stunt double the actor. Once you have done your first job on a union film, you are eligible to join the union at any time. There is a fee to join SAG, but the rates vary according to where you are filming. I recommend that you visit for answers to that and most other questions about SAG.


Do you have to know how to do all stunts to be a stunt person?  Rick D., Indianapolis, IN

I’m sure that there’s not a stunt person alive who can do all stunts, although it certainly helps to be well versed in as many things as possible. Actors are known to fudge on their resumes a bit—lies on your resume when you are a stunt person is a death sentence to your career, and maybe to you! Imagine saying that you can ride a bull in a rodeo sequence and you have never come close to a bull. A lie like that could cost the film lots of down time while they find a stunt person who CAN ride a bull, and far worse, it can take the life of the person who lied, and sometimes the lives of others. It helps tremendously to have specialty skills and to hone them constantly.

How do people fall off buildings in movies? Terrance J., Jacksonville, FL

We pick people on the stunt team who we don’t like and push them off. Haha. Actually, it’s a little more complex than that, and the way it is shot depends greatly on the height of the fall. A lower fall off a building will normally be into a porta-pit, which is a pit with mattresses. The next step will be a fall into empty cardboard boxes. The higher falls are done into airbags, which typically can accommodate a fall from 70’-120.’


Who is responsible for the stuntman’s safety? Cara R., Pocatello, ID

The first assistant director (or First AD) is the set manager and is responsible for the overall safety conditions of the set, but it is really the stunt coordinator who is responsible for the safety of individual stunt people.


Do kids do stunts for other kids? Jacob L., Orlando, FL

Sometimes. It depends on the circumstances. If the 12-year-old lead actor is getting ready to jump onto a skateboard and do some stunts, I will often try to find another child who is an expert skateboarder and fits the physical description of the actor and hire them. If the stunt that the child that needs a double for is something like being on fire, or driving, I will often hire little people to double.

- 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 12, 2017

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