The Definitive Guide To Becoming A Professional Stunt Driver
“Professional stunt driver” may be the greatest job title in history. I am not a Hollywood A-lister, but I’ve claimed the title of professional stunt driver several times. I’ve worked on many film projects and have been hired as a full time stunt driver on two live-action stunt driving thrill shows.
When I introduce myself to people they usually ask: “how can I do what you’re doing?”
Well if you’re ever wondered how to become a stunt driver, you’re in luck. I’m going to share my personal methods that got me to where I am.
There are so many shallow websites and articles on the internet that give useless information about becoming a stunt driver. They always tell you what to do (and they’re often wrong) but they never tell you how to do it.
I’m going to give you real and actionable steps that you can start using immediately, including:
- What to expect before you get started
- How to acquire the skills needed and how to perfect them
- What tools you need to exist inside the film community
- How to tell the film community you’ve joined the biz and how to build your stunt performer network
So let’s jump right in.
Actionable Step #1. Learn what to expect.
There are some very critical things you need to know before jumping into the film industry. The most important one is this:
Becoming a stunt driver is easy. But getting work can be extremely difficult.
The last thing I want to do is turn you away from something that excites you. But I want you to know the truth so you have the greatest chance of success. If you haven’t tried to survive in a freelance environment you may be in for a shock.
Nothing is guaranteed, nobody owes you, and you can’t expect any handouts. Especially when you’re new.
It sounds scary, I know! But I need you to know this so you can prepare yourself for the struggle that lies ahead. Is it hard? Yes. But if you’re determined enough and remain resilient you can absolutely do this!
Why is it so hard to thrive in the film industry?
Well, in the case of stunt drivers, the market is simply flooded. Several years ago the only way to get experience was on a film set actually driving cars. This method of bringing new stunt drivers into the industry meant that unless someone needed some new stunt drivers, there wasn’t a good way to learn.
But today there are probably a dozen stunt driving schools that teach professional stunt driving in various courses. And as these stunt driving schools pump out scores of graduates every year, the market becomes more flooded with qualified entry-level stunt drivers. This means:
- Everyone’s wages go down (at least in the non-union sector)
- The probability of getting a gig becomes lower because more people can complete the gig
- It becomes harder to stand out in a crowd
But take a breath! There are some great things you can do to rise above the frenzy of new stunt drivers.
But before I move on I want to make it perfectly clear that I don’t hold the stunt driving schools accountable for making life harder for us. They found a great way to generate income and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Actionable Step #2. How to acquire the skills you need and how to perfect them.
When I decided I wanted to explore the world of stunt driving I did what everyone else was doing. I attended a high-performance stunt driving school that taught professional stunt driving techniques.
Since I lived on the east coast I choose Drivers East (www.driverseast.com). My instructors, Mike Burke, Roy Farfel, and Kevin Rogers were (and are) at the top of the New York City film hub food chain.
The benefits of going to a professional stunt driving school are unbeatable.
- Personal one-on-one instruction from industry leaders – guys who are actually out there making a great living doing what you want to do
- Condensed learning with no trial and error
- You get to use the stunt driving schools dedicated vehicles
- NETWORKING. I can’t stress how important networking is in the film industry. Not only did I meet three ace professionals/instructors (two of which have called me and offered me work), but I met another prominent stunt coordinator and a life-long friend, both of which were taking the course like me.
- The instructors are eager to answer your questions about getting into the industry. Not only do you get professional training, but professional consulting – at no extra cost!
- This is well worth the $2175 that it now costs to attend the two-day course
Here’s a tip: whichever stunt driving school you choose to attend, make sure you take LOTS of video. It’s about to come in very handy.
Learning the skills is easy and ridiculously fun. But now you need to become consistent.
Anyone can go to a stunt driving school and go through the motions of learning. But you need something more! And this is where you start to set yourself apart from everyone else.
At the school you learned how to perform certain types of slides and skids. Now you need to learn how to be consistent and nail them perfectly every single time.
Consistency is what separates average stunt drivers from incredible stunt drivers.
When I reached this point I knew I needed three things:
- A car that was specifically dedicated to stunt driving
- A placed where I could practice stunt driving skills
- A demo video that showcased what I was capable of
I went slightly overboard when I purchased my stunt car. I saved all summer long and found a pristine 1988 Ford Mustang Cobra clone with a radically cammed fresh motor. This car had an X factor that stood out everywhere it went.
I eagerly bought the car and it was absolutely perfect. That being said, a good stunt driver can wrangle any car for stunts.
Here’s where it can get tricky: how do you find a place to practice?
To get started on this you’ll want to sit down and make a list of local places that might work for you. You should be thinking of parking lots that are big enough to make mistakes in. Ideally, the parking lots you’re looking for are attached to businesses that are closed on Sundays.
Using Google Maps is a great way to search your area from above to get a rough idea of what’s nearby.
Once you have a list you’ll need to stop into these locations and explain what you’re doing and that you’d like to use their parking lot on Sundays when no one is around.
In my case I made sure to impress that I could cordon off the lot so no one else could accidentally enter while I was practicing. I also offered to place their business logo on my attention-getting vehicle, which would give them extra exposure as I drove around town.
I was surprised at how easy it was to obtain a practice space and build relationships with local businesses. This was a great lesson for me:
“Getting what you need can be as simple as asking.”
How to leverage other companies to get on board.
Once I was successful in finding a practice space I decided to take things a step further. I knew that I would need to buy parts for the car to keep it in perfect condition. Instead of having to buy them myself I was able to approach a local used car dealer with a similar offer.
They agreed to give me discounted auto parts in exchange for having their logo on my car.
But that’s not all! Rather than paying to have the companies logos put on my car, I offered to give the rear window of my car as free ad space to a local vinyl shop in exchange for free vinyls.
They readily agreed, which left me with the following:
- A practice space
- Discounted auto parts
- Free vinyls
- Zero money invested!
After having acquired everything I needed, I quickly made a great demo that I could market my skills with. A great demo should be quick, to the point, and highlight everything you’re good at. This video will be proof that you’re serious and have the chops to get the job done.
The video below is my first demo. You can tell that it’s quite old now, but it was directly responsible for getting me my first gig.You can see that I used a lot of footage from Drivers East, which adds a lot to the overall feel.
A few quick notes about stunt driving practice sessions.
- Get out and practice as often as possible. I’ll say it again: consistency is what separates decent drivers from amazing drivers. If you can’t execute all your moves the same way every single time, you need more practice.
- Film everything. Make sure you bring a couple friends and have decent recording equipment.
- Don’t let anyone else drive. You made a deal with the property owner that you’d be driving. You’re the professional. Whatever you do, don’t let your practice session turn into a hooning fest with a bunch of wannabe stunt drivers who have no idea what they’re doing. That’ll put you on the fast track to losing your practice space and a bad reputation.
- Make sure to call the local police department before you get started. Your sessions are going to be loud and maybe obnoxious to some people. But you have permission to be there, so it’s OK. Calling the police and letting them know what you’re up to is a great courtesy so they don’t come rushing out to investigate complaints. In the video you see a patrol car stopping by our lot, but they just stopping by to hang with us. It was neat.
NOTE: Most stunt work doesn’t involve stunt driving. To give myself the best chance of success in the industry I was always looking for opportunities to cross train with staged combat, high falls, ratchets, and any other skill that a non-driving stunt performer might need. In my case I learned to fight and choreograph great fight scenes. All these things have come in handy.
Actionable Step #3. Get the tools you need to exist inside the film community.
Ok. So far you know what you’re doing, how to do it consistently, and you have an awesome stunt driving demo to prove it. The problem? Nobody knows who you are yet.
It would be a huge mistake to sit back and wait for someone to discover you. If you want to be successful you have to take matters into your own hands and learn the hustle.
There are a number of things you can do to expedite your exposure:
- Get a website. You want to give people an easy way to learn more about you. Since you’re marketing yourself I suggest buying www.yourname.com and building a simple site to showcase your resume, headshot, demos, and measurements. Website building is ridiculously easy. You can have a site built and live in under an hour with services like Bluehost or Wix.com (check out this guide on How to Build a Website). If you need some inspiration, have a look at my personal site at www.mattcovert.com or my business site How To Become A Racecar Driver.
- Get a professional email address. First impressions are everything. Stop using your high school email and join the professional world. Most website services make it easy to link your domain to an email. My film business email, for example, is [email protected] It doesn’t get any easier than that.
- Get professional business cards. The film industry is all about networking. If you work a gig and don’t walk away with six new business contacts you’re doing it wrong. Your business cards should be unique, simple, and stand out from the rest. Less is more. Here’s what my current card looks like.
Actionable Step #4. Learn how to tell the film community you’ve joined the biz and how to build your stunt performer network.
Once you’ve followed the first three actionable steps you’ll be in a great position to start booking gigs. But here’s the truth:
From here on out you’ll spend 95% of your time hustling for work, and 5% actually working gigs.
That doesn’t sound nearly as fun as you were hoping, right? With so much non-driving stuff to wade through is it really worth the effort?
The answer is yes, and here’s why.
When people reach the point where the real work begins, many of them will become uninterested and slack off. Use this to your advantage! This is where people are dropping out of the game. This is the time to double your efforts.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you hanging! Let me show you exactly how to build your network.
If no one knows you exist, then no one is going to hire you.
The film industry is a network type of industry. There aren’t any job applications or fairs or any other common recruiting practice. This is where the hustle begins. You’re entirely responsible for your own success or failure. The more effort you put in, the better results you’ll see.
Your reputation is all you have. If people know you, like you, trust you, and believe you have the skills to make their film incredible they will hire you.
So what do you do if you have no reputation at all? Simple. You have to create one. And I’m going to show you how.
Every state has a Film Office that acts as a liaison to production companies that are interested in filming in their area. To make the process as easy as possible for these companies, each film office has a Production Guide that lists every service or individual that the production companies might need to hire to complete their film.
Let’s use the Massachusetts Film Office as an example.
On the homepage, at www.mafilm.org, you can see the Production Guide is readily available on the left sidebar.
After entering the Production Guide you’ll see an option to “Search Crew Listing.” Click that.
Now select the two categories entitled “Stunt Coordinator” (people who might hire you) and “Stunt Utility” (other stunt performers). Update the search.
The next page will show you people in the Massachusetts Film Office Production Guide that have gotten professional stunt work. The results looks like the grid below. Let’s click on the first result.
Now we have the contact information for a professional stunt person in your area.
You’ll want to repeat this process for every stunt person listed in the production guide. Get as many names and email addresses as possible. More is obviously better.
When I was starting out, my initial list had at least forty names.
To add as many names to your list as possible, search through the film offices of your surrounding states as well. This will also give you exposure in a larger geographical area.
What do you do with all the names?
Once you have your list together, it’s time to start reaching out! This can be intimidating, especially when you’re new. But I promise that people are generally cool and appreciate your initiative.
But what should you say? Well, I’ve got you covered. Here’s the exactly email I sent to dozens of stunt professionals when I was getting started.
INSERT RECIPIENT NAME,
My name is Matt Covert. I’m a professional stunt driver and stunt performer for TV, film, and live entertainment. My resume, demo reels, and headshot can be seen at www.mattcovert.com. I specialize in stunt/precision driving, but I’m also familiar with fight choreography, falls, air ram, ratchet, and action acting.
Please keep me in mind as you book gigs that may require additional drivers or performers. I’m local to the Boston area, but am willing to travel. I’m currently non-union and am seeking opportunities to join SAG/AFTRA. Please feel free to contact me at any time with any questions you may have. I hope to hear from you soon.
And you know what? IT WORKS.
I received lots of replies from people saying “hey thanks for reaching out to me” or “I’ll be sure to keep you in mind.” Remember, people are generally cool and want to help you.
In fact less than a week later I heard from a local stunt coordinator who was looking for a stunt driver for an easy gig. He booked my services for $200/day simply because my demo video showed that I could do the job.
So don’t leave any of these steps out. If I hadn’t made the video I wouldn’t have had any credibility and I probably wouldn’t have gotten the gig.
Incidentally, I have a great relationship with that same stunt coordinator and have been working with him for several years. RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING.
Now that people know who you are, you can just sit back and wait, right? WRONG.
Sitting around and waiting for someone to contact you is a huge mistake that I see all the time. I know I’ve said it several times now, (because it’s extremely important) but you have to hustle!
If you aren’t being productive, assertive, creative, inventive, or revolutionary. . .you aren’t hustling. There will be many times when you feel like you’re up against a brick wall with no more options.
Well, let me tell you this:
If you want to make it in this industry, you have to work. And if there’s no work, create some.
This doesn’t mean go out and produce your own movie. It simply means that someone out there needs a stunt driver. . .they just might not know it.
This is where independent films can play a huge role in someone’s success. Here’s why:
- Most independent films are extremely low budget. But this isn’t a bad thing! I’ve worked several projects where I was the only person getting paid. If you can convince people they need you, they’ll come up with the money.
- Most independent filmmakers are inexperienced. This is great thing, because you are too! Everyone in film has their own specialty. If everyone works together, everyone can learn a lot in a day. If you aren’t learning something new, you’re doing it wrong.
- Believe it or not I’ve booked work based completely on the cool factor of using a stunt guy. If a new filmmaker can say they’ve used a professional stunt driver in their films. . .if makes them feel cool.
There are a lot of places to find casting calls for independent films. Here’s a few Google searches that can help you find the hot spots. Remember that you’re not looking for calls that have anything to do with stunts. Just film in general.
- [your location] casting calls
- [your location] casting companies
- independent films [your location]
- [your location] production companies
If you can find a local site that lists casting calls, you’ve hit the jackpot. This is a prime website that can connect you with aspiring film makers.
It doesn’t matter what the listing is asking for, or if they specifically say the roles are paid or not. While you aren’t applying for the acting roles they’re hoping to fill, you can always use the contact information to offer your services.
Once again, I’ve got you covered. Here’s another form email I’ve used hundreds of times while seeking work. It’s very similar to the first one, but with some key changes.
INSERT RECIPIENT NAME,
My name is Matt Covert. I’m a professional stunt driver / performer and stunt coordinator for TV, film, and live entertainment. My resume, demo reels, and headshot can be seen at www.mattcovert.com. I specialize in stunt/precision driving and also have experience with fight directing and fight choreography.
I’d like to be involved with your film, INSERT NAME OF FILM. I can work with you and your actors to create realistic results for any action/fight scenes, stunts, firearm work, or doubling required for your film.
I’m local to the Boston area, but am willing to travel. I’m currently non-union and am seeking opportunities to join SAG/AFTRA. Please feel free to contact me at any time with any questions you may have. I hope to hear from you soon.
I’ve gotten great responses to this type of email as well. When people read an email like this they believe you want to you help them, which is true. Your skills can make their production better.
And when you send emails like this one, make sure you use the title of their film as the subject of your email. There’s no way an aspiring film maker is going to ignore an email that’s about his work.
There is one last key point about independent films. While many new film people are eager to work for free, you don’t.
The allure of getting quick experience by working for free is a short term plan that will get you nowhere.
You’ve invested both time and money into your endeavor as a professional stunt driver. You’re worth the money. And never let a filmmaker say he can’t afford you. Anybody can come up with a hundred bucks for something they see as valuable.
If you don’t charge money for your services, you don’t look valuable. If you can’t negotiate a payment before filming, politely walk away and leave the door open to work with that person later. Invest your time into something that will generate income for you.
You now know everything you need to become a professional stunt driver.
I’m thrilled to be able to share my experiences about what works and what doesn’t. Remember, success in the freelance environment is all about the hustle.
If you aren’t hustling, you’re not doing everything you can to be successful.
Matt Covert is a professional stunt driver. He loves sharing free racing tips and advice! His goal is to lead by example and inspire people while being completely transparent.
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