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The Life of a Professional Stunt Woman: Moving Beyond Performing

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VANCOUVER – As with any industry there are always places and positions to move into, move up to, grow into and so on.  I am a firm believer that there is never truly a ceiling anywhere, especially in the arts, only ceilings you make for yourself.  The stunt industry is no different, just sometimes confusing, or to me at least comical.  Our industry really is a community, so much in fact that some days you might be the boss on one show, and then be in the mix as a performer/co-worker on another show the next day.  Just because you have worked your way up to being the boss, doesn’t mean you always are.  That’s part of the fun of it, as for me, and I feel I can speak for pretty much all other stunt performers, we love to perform.  So yes, we may take on the responsibilities and duties of being the boss (stunt coordinator) but we will always come out anytime we are available to perform!

So what is a stunt coordinator, and how does one become one?  Well, as I have mentioned in the past, there are no specific guidelines for the stunt industry, and therefore everyone has come into it through slightly different paths.  The one this all stunt coordinators have in common is that they have an extensive body of work as a stunt performer, thus gaining critical knowledge of the industry and how it works.  From being on set a lot for many years, you gain a good understanding of how stunts work, how stunts are set up, how to plan, rehearse and execute an exciting stunt safely.  These are the building blocks that can be used in the transition into a stunt coordinator. 

The Life of a Professional Stunt Woman: Moving Beyond Performing

on set stunt coordinating season 6 of Once Upon A Time

A stunt coordinator is the head of the stunt department, and is responsible for breaking down the script, highlighting all of the action or perceived action, or any areas of the script where the characters may be in a risky situation.  They will then budget said action for the script with the shooting schedule and have meetings to plan and pitch their idea for the action.  The stunt coordinator designs the action sequences (often shooting a physical pre-vis to clearly demonstrate their ideas for the director, producers and other department heads).  The stunt coordinator hires all stunt performers, riggers and other personnel required to perform the stunts required for the project, as well as rent or purchase any specific gear or safety equipment used to perform the stunts.   They must manage the schedule and budget and are responsible for the safety of the cast and stunt performers.  They set up training rehearsals for cast members as needed for the specific project.

As you can see, there is so much more to the job than just creating the stunts!  So how did I become a stunt coordinator?  Well, first off, I was a stunt performer for 9 years before I ever started coordinating, building skills, experiencing many different kinds of stunts, working for many different people.  I started off small, covering the set on shows I was the lead stunt double on, designing fights for shows I was working on, coordinating student short films, an independent feature, to eventually being asked by my boss to coordinate three episodes of the tv show that I was the lead double on at the time.  I did the same the following season  and was then asked by the producers to coordinate a new tv series they were creating.  That transitioned into many more opportunities for me.

While I still absolutely love performing (and get out and do it whenever I can) I have also found my confidence and groove as a stunt coordinator, and I love that!  I myself try to lead by example as a coordinator and put safety and knowledge very high (I have made sure to take all of my fundamental safety courses even though they are not required).   I take the responsibility of looking after my cast and fellow performers very seriously.  Last year I was even asked to give a talk on my safety procedures to studio execs as they wanted to use the show I was working on as a safety model for other shows.   I am also very happy to report, that this year alone I have had three job offers that were specifically requesting a female stunt coordinator, there are very few of us, and it has never really been celebrated as a plus before.  I am glad that I have found this path, and had the support and guidance of those around be to be able to have such great opportunities.

The Life of a Professional Stunt Woman: Moving Beyond Performing

on set stunt coordinating season 7 of Once Upon A Time, keeping cast safe

While I will still continue to perform, I feel very lucky to get to be a part of the creative team as well.  It also doesn’t hurt that I get to say 3, 2, 1 ACTION really loud over channel one on the radio for any stunt sequence!

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.