Don tells you what you need to know about the training available to aspiring stunt performers and shares his favorite stunt from when he played Michael Myers in Halloween V!
Do you have to go to school to be a stunt person? What are the good schools? Matthew C., Lincoln, NE
Stunt schools do exist – but most provide a pretty basic look into the profession. You can imagine that it would take years to become, say, a martial arts expert or a fabulous Scuba diver; it will be impossible to master anything over the course of a few weeks. The United Stuntmen’s Association has an International Stunt School that seems to give a good overview of stunt work. I personally would recommend looking into courses that provide specialty training in one area alone – like stunt driving, sword fighting, or high falls.
I cannot personally recommend any particular school, but I will offer the suggestion of looking into WHO is teaching the courses. Although there are certainly many great stunt training programs, there is great wisdom in the old adage of “Those that can, DO, and those that can’t, TEACH.”
When you played Michael Myers in Halloween V, what was your favorite stunt? Chris E., Boise, ID
I loved playing Michael Myers in Halloween V, and I loved all of the stunts involved. It was a bit more of a challenge doing stunts with a mask on – the loss of some peripheral vision can make stunt work tricky. The scene where I crashed the car was interesting. I crashed the car going approximately 50 mph, and we had a little bomb in the car, which was detonated upon impact to create the “boom” of the fiery crash. Because the scene was meant to end immediately upon impact and explosion, I was not rigged with all of the traditional fire safety gear. So I crashed the car, the bomb went off, the flames were leaping – it looked GREAT! I sat for a minute and didn’t hear “Cut!”
Any actor or stunt person knows that YOU don’t end the scene, the director does. As I sat watching the flames start to come under the firewall, I very calmly and slowly unhooked my harness, as I was slumped over the steering wheel, supposedly dead. I realized that if I didn’t start making every move needed to jump out of the car, Michael Myers being dead would morph into Don Shanks being dead. Still, no ‘Cut!” I was relieved when a sharp special effects man finally yelled out to the director: “When are you going to say CUT?” The director was so enthralled in the success of the stunt that he had become mesmerized in the moment and just forgot to end the scene.
I am an expert skier and would love to do stunts – how do I market myself for that? Taylor L., Concord, NH
I tell people all the time that having a specialized skill is what will greatly increase chances of work as a stunt person. It is important that you follow closely what films are in preparation to be filmed. (See answer about how to find stunt jobs in the previous Action article here) Once you have established that there is a film getting ready to be made that will rely heavily on your skill, find out who the stunt coordinator is and contact them about your availability to work on the film. There is a fine line between not being persistent enough and becoming a pain in the butt. One single e-mail may not get a response, so you may try to follow up with a phone call. Do what you have to do to let the coordinator know your skill level and that you want to work on the film, but once you get a “no,” drop it. Any further correspondence may flag you as being difficult, and you don’t ever want that.
– 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