How to survive as a stuntman in 7 easy steps

So you want to put your life on the line in the name of entertainment? Take some tips from the pros.
By Greg Stuart

In On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter, FMX legend-turned-stuntman, Robbie Maddison rides the old Olympic bobsled and ski jumps in Salt Lake City. If that inspires you, have a look through our guide to flinging yourself off a building, firing yourself into a canyon and jumping a motorbike over London's Tower Bridge.

Even if our stuntman guide doesn't get you charging to the job centre looking for opportunities marked 'Crash, Bang, Wallop' the stunts on show will make you want to get up on your desk and attempt a little backflip.

© Red Bull Content Pool

The life of a stuntman is filled with all sorts of weird ways to smash yourself into tiny pieces. But how do they make themselves do it? Are stuntmen all wild-eyed maniacs on a fast-track to death? Or are they just people with different parameters to us regular folk when it comes to fear, pain and, well, death?

Here are the seven key ingredients you're gonna need to survive as a stuntman. Tick off all seven and you might live long enough to meet your grandkids!

Ingredient #1: Showmanship

Look, with all the will in the world you're not going to go down in history if all you're doing is jumping off your parents' garage while your mate films it for Snapchat. You need to start thinking like Evel Knievel! Evel was the legendary stuntman who, in 1974, came up with the idea of launching himself into Idaho’s Snake River Canyon onboard the rocket-powered Skycycle X-2, before pulling a parachute and falling into the river below. Canyon? Heck, yes! Dodgy-looking rocket? Why not? Confederate flag-inspired jumpsuit with your initials on the belt buckle? You should have mentioned it earlier! Now you’re rolling.

Watch Evel Knievel’s Snake River Canyon jump to see a master at work…

Ingredient #2: Common sense (or lack thereof)

When Austrian tailor Franz Reichelt stepped onto the 187-foot first-floor platform of the Eiffel Tower in 1912 to test his homemade parachute coat, he neglected to lay out a few safety mattresses in the drop zone. You know, just in case his design flopped.

The headstrong Reichelt wouldn’t hear of it, telling journalists: “I want to try the experiment myself and without trickery, as I intend to prove the worth of my invention.”

The result: splat.

Amazingly, the whole debacle was caught on a very very very early version of the iPhone, so you can relive the century-old madness below.

Ingredient #3: Good looks

Given that Hollywood stuntmen spend most of their time doubling for the beautiful people, it helps if they’re not gargoyles to start off with. Robbie Maddison, the modern day King of the Stunts, not looking like the back end of a bus certainly helped him land the role of Daniel Craig’s stunt double in Skyfall, for example. Phwoar.

Watch Honda’s behind-the-scenes shoot of Robbie Maddison’s stunt scenes from Skyfall below – or watch his 2010 Tower Bridge jump in London.

© Skyfall ©2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Ingredient #4: Spatial awareness

Taking off is easy – it's landing that's a bitch. Anyone – or any thing for that matter (eg a bean bag, a slow loris, a set of kitchen knives) – can be plonked on the back of a dirt bike and pushed down a ramp hoping they're about to pull off a double backflip. That's only half the game though.

Being able to work out which way the ground is when you’re in mid-air, how far through the jump you are and, crucially, where the landing is is the key to not becoming a spectacular human pancake.

Yep, spatial awareness is essential. When it goes right, the result is mind-boggling. Just check out Travis Pastrana, king of the double backflip, debuting the move at X Games back in 2006 in the video below.

Ingredient #5: Bravery

For about two seconds, we thought about calling this ingredient “Big Balls”, but that would be doing a disservice to all the awesome stuntwomen out there. Yep, it's not just a man's world.

Zoë Bell is one such legend, famous for clinging onto the hood of a Dodge Challenger as it’s hunted down by Kurt Russell in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof.

Another queen of the stunt world was American Annie Edison Taylor. While several people at the turn of the 20th century had tried and failed the bizarrely popular stunt of going over Niagara Falls encased in a barrel, in 1901 Annie became the first person to pull off the feat and live to tell the tale, earning herself the nickname ‘The Heroine of Niagara Falls’ in the process. And she did it on her 63rd birthday!

Sadly the cameras weren’t turning when Annie went over the falls, so here’s Red Hill’s successful Annie Taylor-inspired attempt from 1930.

Ingredient #6: Skill

For this one, let's go right to the top and ask someone who wrote the book on performing stunts: legendary stuntman, stunt co-ordinator and director Vic Armstrong. He's James Bond, Superman and Indiana Jones rolled into one and has been performing amazing stunts since the late 60s. He's also a believer that stunts should be performed for real, rather than by CGI or other trickery, and he's fought Terminators, Aliens and American Werewolves just to bring a sense of real-life drama to the big screen.

In the video below, Vic Armstrong gives a masterclass in stunt work to Vicky Butler Henderson, and you can read our interview with Vic Armstrong here.

© Red Bull Content Pool

Ingredient #7: Imagination

Jackie Chan has proved time and time again that he's a glutton for punishment by doing his own stunts in over one hundred of his movies. Not only has Jackie’s body had seven shades of something or other beaten out of it for the last 40 years; he’s also had to spend his career coming up with new and exciting ways to do so, just so that people don’t accuse him of going soft.

That sense of personal one upmanship is a testament to his imagination, and probably what led to his decision to throw himself off the impossibly high, impossibly slopey Willemswerf building in Rotterdam for the movie Who Am I?

Watch the video below, and wonder how the Chan family jewels escaped a clattering at 0.53…

On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter is available on iTunes and as a 3-in-1 Collector’s Edition.

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