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The Life of a Professional Stunt Woman: When or Why do I Need a Stunt Coordinator?

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This month is a little more geared towards all you filmmakers out there, but also can be a good reminder to all you talented actresses to ask for a stunt coordinator to be present if you have an action scene, and to know that you can ask for a stunt double.

So, the question… When should I bring in a stunt coordinator?  Well, the sooner you bring one on board, even as an advisor at first, the sooner you could weed out additional costs, or realize, depending on your budget, what moments are real story beats, and what moments you could alter to be simpler, safer and less actiony.  An experienced stunt coordinator can help you with this, they can also help you think up creative ways to shoot exciting action to fit your budget.   The sooner you have them on board, the sooner they can help you with these things.

So why do I need a stunt coordinator, and why can’t I just bring in my friend’s martial arts instructor to design my fights?  Well there’s a few reasons to bring on an experienced stunt coordinator, the first a foremost being your cast’s safety.  An experienced stunt coordinator will design action that looks great on camera, but that also keeps your cast safe.  They will coach your actors and make them feel comfortable with the action they are to perform.  They will provide body padding for your actors if necessary, and pads for them to fall on if required in the scene.  They will also tell you when it is a good idea to have a stunt double step in to perform the action for your actor as it may be outside of their skill or comfort level. 

The second big reason to have a stunt coordinator on your film (if it has any action whatsoever) is that it ticks that little due diligence box for your insurer.  It shows them that you made an effort to set up your action sequences as safely as possible and that they were supervised by a trained professional.  Going back a little bit, to the question of why do I need an experienced stunt coordinator (on smaller short films, it may be an experienced stunt performer looking to gain some stunt coordinator credits) and not just a martial arts instructor, or some other kind of athletic coach.   Someone who has experience as a stunt performer/stunt coordinator will understand selling things for the camera and “faking it”. They will understand looking after and coaching your actors so as to keep them safe.  Martial artists train to hit people, stunt performers train to miss.   Now I have nothing against martial artists (I am one myself), and many stunt performers are, the difference is that we have also trained how to film fight (to miss, but still make it look like a hit) which is an art in itself.  Having someone with this training and experience will help keep your cast safe, which is the number one priority.

When you are hiring a stunt coordinator, check their references.  If they are an experienced stunt performer, but don’t have much coordinating experience, that isn’t necessarily a red flag.  They may be getting mentored by an experienced coordinator who will vouch for them.   This is a huge bonus, as you are then getting the experience and knowledge of two people helping you out, even though you are just bringing on the one.  Check their safety record, this is a big one for obvious reasons.   Have a chat with them about your script, do they understand your vision?  Do they understand the tone of your film?  These are also fairly important, as this will help you hire someone who will keep the action design in a style that is suitable for your film, while hopefully giving you some new ideas that you haven’t thought of yet.

Stunt coordinators are essentially your physical dialogue coach.  They can help your physical dialogue come to life, and enhance your characters and story if used well, and if you bring on the right person for your project.   They will always do their very best to ensure the safety of your cast.   If your film has an action element, they can be one of your biggest assets.

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.