How did they do that stunt? – Action with Don Shanks

Written by | B-Roll

Don shares with us how some amazing stunts are done and how to find jobs as a stuntman.

How did they make it look like Superman was flying over a city? Katelyn J., Boise, ID

Remember that the technology used in the older Superman movies was light years away from what is being done now. Although I did not work on the films, my guess is that the actors flew on cables attached to harnesses and “flew” in front of a green screen. In working in front of a green screen, no actors can wear the color green that the screen is made of, because all green from the live shoot will be replaced by the background footage that is laid in during editing. So the “flying” footage of the actors in front of the green screen is laid over aerial footage of the city, creating the effect of flying over a city.


How is technology changing things in stunts? Emily O., Redlands, CA

In the early days of filmmaking, there were some clever stunts being done, but it was pretty much “what you see is what you get”. Nowadays, with the incredible advances in technology, the “trickery” is unbelievable and when used right, looks absolutely amazing. There is a technology where an actor or stunt person can be rigged with sensors all over his body. He is recorded going through all sorts of possible motions – and those motions are recorded from the front, the back, the top, and the bottom. The images picked up by the sensors can then be manipulated by computers and any physical action can be created. The blend of special effects and animation techniques can produce mind blowing results. The film Avatar is a great example of breakthrough technology. The film 300 was done on a soundstage and all of the scenes were in fact the manipulated images of only 44 people.

When you did Grizzly Adams, you worked with a lot of bears – did you ever get hurt? Kyle W., Butte, MT

Yes. All of the bears we worked with were well trained by Doug Seus, and I had a great friendship with all of the bears, but when working with a wild animal, you never forget that they are just that. All of the injuries I received were relatively minor and were never intentional.


Do I need to move to Hollywood to be a stuntman? Jeremy L., Atlanta, GA

Not necessarily. There are films, TV shows, and commercials being made all over the country. In fact, I would highly recommend getting your feet wet and getting into SAG in your local market. In order to become eligible to join SAG, you must work on at least one SAG film. It can be as either an actor or a stunt person. Working on non-union student films and little independent films will pay little, if anything at all, but it will give you experience and will also give you something to put on your resume. Don’t forget that in LA you’ll have LOTS of competition – and competition that has worked on some of the world’s biggest films – and they will not LOOK at you if you don’t belong to SAG.

How do I get stunt jobs? Mike A., Omaha, NE

Every state has a film commission and most of those film commissions have a hot line. Film commissions usually have listings of crew people available to work in that state. Get yourself listed as a stunt person, but again, be realistic about what you are attempting to do. If you have only done stunts on one film, don’t list yourself as a stunt coordinator, because you’re not. The internet is also amazing in providing information on anything, so I’m sure that finding stunt coordinators to contact can’t be all that difficult.
– 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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