Also known as the head of stunts, a stunt coordinator plans and oversees dangerous scenes and highly skilled movements on movie and TV sets. They choreograph complex movements and ensure that everyone on set remains safe. In general, they are responsible for making action scenes look realistic.
What Does a Stunt Coordinator Do?
Although stunt coordinators manage a specific part of a production, they have a wide range of responsibilities. From safety to casting, their primary and secondary roles require many skills and years of experience.
As the head of stunts, these professionals focus on these primary roles:
- Choreographing stunts: For the head of stunts, the most important task is directing these complex feats. They ensure that actors can perform the stunts in a realistic and visually appealing way that follows all necessary safety standards.
- Casting stunt professionals: Stunt coordinators also seek out the right individuals to perform the stunts for their productions. In addition to finding a stunt person with the right skills, stunt coordinators have to look for someone with the right appearance. After all, stunt performers stand in for actors, so they often have to look similar.
Stunt coordinators also take responsibility for these secondary roles:
- Consulting with filmmakers: Some stunts are so complex and dangerous that they require input from stunt coordinators with specific experience. For example, many stunt coordinators who specialize in aerial or underwater stunts consult with filmmakers when they plan certain stunts.
- Working with film crews: Stunt coordinators work closely with other professionals on film and TV sets. They discuss stunts with directors and camera operators. They also coordinate with makeup artists, costume designers, special effects technicians, and prop masters.
How to Become a Stunt Coordinator
Working as a stunt coordinator requires a certain skill set and the right personality. Follow these four steps to work toward a position as head of stunts.
Scene from “Mission: Impossible 2”
1. Get Essential Education and Training
If you want to be a stunt coordinator, you don’t usually need to earn a certain degree or complete a professional program. Instead, most stunt coordinators have extensive on-the-job training. In fact, most stunt coordinators start out as professional stunt performers to gain experience in the field. Some individuals then move up to roles like fight coordinators.
Although they don’t need a specific degree, stunt coordinators do need professional knowledge of health and safety codes. They also need advanced knowledge of weapons and fighting techniques. Many aspiring stunts coordinators complete years of martial arts classes to become experts in this field.
2. Pursue the Required Experience and Skills
Along with martial arts and weaponry skills, stunt coordinators need physical fitness and stamina as well as strong communication skills. In this role, you also need leadership and teamwork skills so that you can guide the performers and film crew members around you.
Depending on the types of stunts you coordinate, you might need other specialized skills and experience as well. For example, you may need skills in the following areas:
- Motorcycle riding
- Scuba diving
3. Have the Right Personality
Working as a stunt coordinator can be physically and mentally demanding. To succeed in this field, you need a positive outlook and the ability to accept constructive criticism. You also have to enjoy working with people and be patient enough to get along with others, even in challenging situations on set.
4. Prepare for the Lifestyle
Although working as a stunt coordinator can be rewarding, the lifestyle can be demanding. When you choose this profession, you can expect to spend a lot of your spare time exercising or learning new fighting and stunt skills. You may also have to travel extensively if you work on productions that directors opt to film on location.
Advancement and Crew Hierarchy
As a stunt coordinator, you report to the director. You’re the head of your department, and you manage other stunt performers, actors, stand-ins, and fight coordinators. To land this role, follow the process outlined by the National Stunt Committee, which is part of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).
SAG-AFTRA, which represents most stunt performers and coordinators, recommends standards for advancing in this industry. Stunt performers who meet the standards become eligible for a listing in the union’s Stunt Coordinator Roster. Directors, producers, and other film and TV professionals can access this directory when seeking stunt coordinators for a production.
First, an aspiring stunt coordinator has to work for at least 500 days as a stunt performer. Working days are considered eligible only if the stunt performer worked on a SAG-AFTRA production. In addition, an experienced stunt coordinator must supervise any stunts the performer does.
Although 500 working days might not sound like it would take very long, the average stunt performer completes this minimum requirement in about five years. During this time frame, stunt performers have ample opportunities to learn the craft, gain relevant experience, and improve their skills.
As a stunt performer, you might work for a number of individual productions or for one consistent employer. No matter your employment situation, you have to track your qualifying days independently. SAG-AFTRA offers an online system that allows you to record qualifying days and verify the wages you received for each job.
Volunteer Mentor Program After 250 Eligible Days
After completing 250 qualifying days as a stunt performer, you become eligible to join SAG-AFTRA’s volunteer mentor program. Through this program, you can apply to receive guidance and professional advice from an experienced stunt coordinator. This volunteer program is available at no cost to stunt performers, and you can receive up to 25 days of mentorship.
Apprentice Coordinator After 350 Eligible Days
After completing 350 eligible days as a stunt performer, you can become an apprentice coordinator. In this role, you can work under an experienced stunt coordinator when a production calls for more than one person in this role. By working as an apprentice coordinator, you can continue to gain experience and work toward your 500 qualifying days.
Stunt Coordinator Status After 500 Eligible Days
As soon as you’ve completed 500 qualifying days as a stunt performer and had your work verified by SAG-AFTRA’s Stunt and Safety Department, you’ve met the minimum standards to work as a stunt coordinator. Your name will appear on the union’s roster, which confirms your qualifications and can help you find your next role.
Unions, Groups, and Associations
Most stunt coordinators are members of SAG-AFTRA, which supports actors, journalists, singers, and many other kinds of media professionals. By joining this union, you gain protections that help you preserve your job and manage the cost of injuries and illnesses that you experience on set. Becoming a member of SAG-AFTRA can also allow you to more effectively manage the inherent risks in this profession.
Stunt Coordinator Salary
On average, stunt coordinators make about $42,500 per year. However, the salary range is relatively large. The lowest-paid stunt coordinators make about $20,500 per year, while those at the height of the industry make about $70,000 each year.
The type of production you oversee can make a big impact on the wages you earn. As this Vanity Fair report shows, experienced stunt coordinators could make more than $100,000 per year when working on high-budget productions.
Because stunt coordinators are represented by SAG-AFTRA, they make at least a standard minimum rate when they join union productions. Coordinators who also perform some stunts themselves typically receive an additional fee. As a general rule, the more dangerous or complicated the stunt is, the higher the fee they receive.
If you’re interested in becoming a stunt coordinator, you can learn more about film and how you can improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute.