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The Life of a Professional Stuntwoman: Starting Out

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Starting any new profession is daunting, but starting one where there are no specific qualifications, school courses, internships or interviews, is really daunting.  Then throw in that jumping off buildings, getting hit by cars, and set on fire could be (and are) just part of a regular day and well, I think most people wouldn’t even apply.   Myself and my fellow stunt performers and coordinators aren’t exactly most people, we leap (literally) at the opportunity to do all of these things.

So, with no straight forward way into stunts, how does one become a professional stunt performer?  That answer is just as varied.

The most common trait in all stunt performers is that we all have a high level athletic background, and we love to perform.  The stunt community is made up of world class marital artists, gymnasts, race car drivers, high divers, professional athletes from many disciplines, circus performers, the list goes on.  There is also a certain mentality among stunt performers to be both mentally and physically tough in order to last through the demanding days on set and rehearsing.

Every stunt performer will have a different story on how they got into the film industry, and we all have our own specialties and strengths (just like any job, the more skills/strengths you have, the more employable you are).   I personally had always dreamed of being a professional athlete, I competitively downhill ski raced and showed horses from a young age.  As a teenager I also picked up downhill mountain bike racing.   I discovered in my late teens that being a professional athlete in my chosen sports was not financially viable as a career being a Canadian female.  I did not quit my sports, but I did go to post-secondary school for a “real career”.   Soon after graduating however, I found myself on a film set doing background work after a bad mountain biking injury made it so I couldn’t do many physical jobs for a while.  It is in this brief time that I was exposed to stunts.  Before that I had no idea it was a job.  As soon as I was healed enough from my injury to train, I sought out the gyms where stunt people trained, and started asking questions, learning and training.  After a year of training, I decided that this really was what I wanted to pursue as a job, so I got up the guts to film a demo reel and start handing out resumes and headshots in the hopes that someone would give me a job.

It was slow going at first, as no one wants to give too much responsibility to a new person that you aren’t sure how they are going to react in a stressful and challenging situation.   Once I had performed my first few stunts I started getting recommended for more, and my career took off quickly.  14 years later, and I am humbled by all of the amazing experiences I have been afforded and given through this job, and I look forward to many more years of it.  Not to say it’s all been rainbows and butterflies, my job requires a lot of discipline both physically and mentally, and a lot of off-set time put into training and constantly learning new skills.

I train daily, and 5 years ago even built a stunt training facility instead of a living room in my home with my husband (and fellow stunt performer).  I am fortunate in the fact that because I am so active I do not have to strictly watch my diet in order to stay a good size for doubling actresses, however I do eat a lot of fresh organic produce, and make sure that my body is getting all of the proper nutrients it needs to perform daily at a high level.  Being healthy and strong are essential to longevity as a stunt performer.   I personally hate going to the gym, it’s just not my thing.   I instead am always mixing up what I do, and a lot of it depends on the season.  In the winter I ski, snowboard and snow bike in combination with playing in my indoor facility where I do parkour, martial arts, wirework, aerial silks and trampoline.  In the summer I ride mountain bikes, dirt bikes, trials bikes, paddle board, swim and ride horses, as well as play in the house.  I mix it up sometimes and take classes or courses to learn a new skill.  To keep myself flexible and to chill out I enjoy doing yoga, my favorite is doing a session on my rooftop at sunset.

Everyone has their own path into the stunt world, but every stunt performer I know trains very hard to stay on top of their game, and to always be ready for whatever opportunity is presented to us.   For someone looking to get into stunts, I would suggest asking around in your local community and finding good places to train where working stunt performers train.  This will allow you to learn from them and make contacts that will steer you in the right direction locally.   I would say to any aspiring performer to be prepared to work really hard, and just like any job, be prepared for a lot of rejection before you get accepted.

Maja Aro

About Maja Aro

Writer/Director/Stunt Coordinator/Stunt Performer - Maja Aro hails from Britannia Beach, BC and has worked in the film and television industry for the past 14 years. Maja was a competitive athlete and went to school for fashion design. She started a career in fashion, and soon discovered the stunt industry and decided to switch paths. Maja’s stunt career has taken her all over the world, and garnered her many awards and nominations. In 2014 Maja started working behind the camera a bit more (although she still gets out and hits the pavement as a performer) as a stunt coordinator, and the following year as a writer/director/producer. Maja’s debut solo short film “Hoods” won the 2015 MPPIA short film award funding, screened around the world and won numerous awards. In her spare time Maja enjoys going on adventures with her husband Jeff. They have travelled with charities to Uganda and Nepal. Maja has recently been the stunt coordinator for: ABC’s Once Upon A Time, A&E’s Project Blue Book, FacebookWatch’s Sacred Lies, and Amazon’s Man In The High Castle.