So You Want My Job: Stuntman

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 29, 2010 · 12 comments

in Money & Career, So You Want My Job

Greg Tracy on the set of The Bourne Ultimatum.

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

It’s your typical summertime blockbuster film. The thieves sprint from the bank to an awaiting getaway car which takes off with the police in hot pursuit. It’s a high-speed game of cat and mouse as the cars zoom through the city streets, dramatically weaving, turning, and leaving explosions in their wake. The camera shows a close-up of the movie’s star at the wheel, but when they zoom out we all know it’s not really him at the controls: it’s a stuntman.

Studios typically don’t like to risk their investment in their actors’ million-dollar smiles, so when it’s time to leap from burning buildings, have a slug-fest, jump from a window, or soar over a bridge on a motorcycle, they bring in the trained professionals. Stuntmen star in some of the coolest, most exciting, and most dangerous parts of movies. Which has always made this profession certifiably badass.

Greg Tracy has been doing this manly job for almost two decades now. He’s been a stunt driver in over 400 commercials as well as big films like the Bourne Ultimatum, GI Joe, the Fast and the Furious 3, Spiderman 3, and the Dukes of Hazzard. In his “downtime” he races for Ducati and is the five time Pikes Peak Champion. You can see him in action, winning the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in this short film on YouTube, 156 Turns.

We appreciate Greg giving us some insight into this intriguing profession. You can learn more about Greg at his website, My Life at Speed.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Greg Tracy. I was born and raised in and around Southern California. I am 42 years old, and I make my living as a stuntman.

2. Why did you want to become a stuntman? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I was lucky enough to be born the son of Pat and Terry Tracy. My father Terry was a contractor who raced motorcycles as a hobby. He had been a waterski racer as a kid and had even made a couple of attempts at the World Speed Skiing Record. Unfortunately, he crashed during one attempt, actually breaking the record, but he was crashing as he passed the line making it not official. I think he was going around 130mph when he crashed.

For me it was all about motorcycles from the time I was a baby. I started riding a little 50cc Indian when I turned 3 years old. When I was 13 I pushed my Dad to let my younger brother Gary and I start racing motocross. I actually crashed and broke my ankle in my first race, but I was in the lead at the time and I was hooked! I turned professional at the age of 16, racing in a few National Championship races as well as Supercross. When I turned 18 I was racing in the Anaheim Stadium Supercross, and I crashed, breaking my back and neck for the second time in my racing career. At this point I had burned out and decided I wanted to pursue college and start go-kart racing. While getting a degree in history from CSUF I traveled the country and world with my family, racing the National Championships and South American Championships in Go-Karts. From there I moved into car racing. I ran mostly Open Wheel cars, becoming the USAC Rookie of the year. I won a lot of races, including the “Night Before the 500″ in Indianapolis. My goal was to eventually race Indy Cars, but an accident in 1993 where I broke my cheeks, nose, wrist, and bruised my brain slowed me down for a few months. While I was healing up, my roommate Mouse McCoy was working in the film business, and he introduced me to people that were in the industry. The film business and the stunt world were becoming more specialized, and my car racing background got my foot in the door. I was still pursuing racing, but I was getting called on more and more film and commercial jobs. I am not sure exactly when I made the switch as a career, it just sort of happened. I had a little boy named Lane or Fast Lane as I called him in 1997, and the idea of making a living that was consistent sounded pretty good.

For me personally my race car and motorcycle background gave me something that other stunt guys did not have at the time. It really gave me a head start at the time for getting into the car-related action films that were starting to become more popular. Driven, the Stallone film, was kind of my first big break movie wise. The stunt driving in that movie was done by a few of the biggest stunt drivers in the business, guys like Steve Kelso and Andy Gill. The Second Unit Director Spiro Razatos and I became friends, and I have been very lucky to work with him again on some of his other films including Talladega Nights and Death Race.

3. A stuntman needs a set of pretty unusual skills. Are there schools for learning those skills or do you learn via an apprenticeship? If it’s the latter, how do you go about finding someone who will teach you the trade?

As far as schools go, there are a few out there. For car stunts the best one is probably Rick Seamans school. I grew up riding, racing, and crashing stuff, so for me my real learning came under the wings of guys like Spiro, Steve, and Andy. I would have to say that once a person has committed to this as a career, specialized schools are a good place to start but ultimately a person needs to find someone who will take him under their wings and give them a hand at learning the ins and outs of a very different business. So often I find that it is a very family-oriented business. Stuntmen and women are usually the sons and daughters or even the grandsons and granddaughters of stuntmen and women.

4. Do you recommend concentrating on one kind of skill like fighting or driving or becoming adept at as many skills as possible?

I do think that having a very specialized skill is a great way to get the ball rolling; whether it is martial arts, gymnastics, or car racing, a person has to have some ability that is not that common. The next step is tracking down someone that is willing to help teach you the ins and outs of the business. I think that it is probably one of the hardest businesses to break into, but that being said, I have seen many people break in and move right to the top.

5. What separates a stuntman who is able to make a successful career for himself from the many who attempt and fail?

One thing about being in this line of work is you better be tough. Not just from a standpoint of being able to take getting injured but also taking rejection and people telling you it will not work or you’re not going to make it. Life is filled with people who will tell you “that it is impossible,”  but that is what makes me push forward.

Inner strength and commitment to your dreams is what will get you through the hard times.

On a camera bike for GI Joe.

6. What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is that it is different every day. I get to do what I love, go fast, slide, crash, and generally be a big kid every day. The travel part is awesome too. I spent 8 weeks in Prague, a couple of months in Montreal, New York City, Chicago; you name it and I have probably worked there.

7. What is the worst part of your job?

The travel part of of this industry is also the difficult part. I have a wife and three kids. I do not like being away from them. I have been able to provide a great life for my family but being apart at times can be very tough.

8. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

I will say that one of the biggest misconceptions about my job is that I must be crazy or a big risk taker. I was never the guy at a high school party that climbed the roof and jumped into the pool. If I was going to do that I would have to check the distance, see how deep the pool was, and make a calculated guess as to how far I would be able to jump. My business has a lot more to do with risk management. The whole point is to make it to the next day. Be there to make the big shot. Get it done, and move on. Getting hurt means not making money so the guy who thinks that it’s all about just going for it and being crazy is not someone who will last very long. You are also counting on the guys around you to be very level-headed. Often your life is in the hands of your fellow stuntmen, and you want the best guys in those seats.

9. Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to share?

My advice is get the training, do not give up, enjoy the road you choose, and understand that if you choose not to take risks in life you’re not living!

Best of luck!

Greg Tracy

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jonathan July 29, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I have always dreamed of being a stunt man ever since I was a little kid, sadly I was prohibited from taking marshal arts in school by my pacifist parents and I never like motor cars. Now as an adult in the film industry I am limited to behind the camera. Be sure though, I will raise my kids to be strong.

2 Mike July 30, 2010 at 5:31 am

No offense Jonathan but that’s not a great attitude. I wish you all the best in your career in film, but ‘raising your kids to be strong’ is forcing your dreams upon them just like your parents disallowed you to take part in Martial Arts.

3 Darrell July 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

Awesome interview! This is a job I’ve always wondered about and kept hoping that you guys would cover. Well done.

4 John July 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Your the man Greg!

5 Neal August 1, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I am fearless and have tremendous attention to detail. I am willing to commit myself to learning the craft and have overcome serious health issues (a seizure disorder – now cured), which has given me a new lease on life.

6 Artur Tischler September 29, 2012 at 6:31 am
7 sheldon December 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm

i want to become a stuntman because i believe it would be supper fun and you guys are probably looking for stuntmen.
P.S. im 14 years old and taking marshal arts

8 Gabriel February 16, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Hey there.
First; I’m from swizerland, so sorry for my bad english.
I’m 16 and I dream to be a stuntman. I’ve done stunts with my older brother, when we were little. Now I’m in a breackedance crew. I go snowboarding in the winte. I can do triks from the springboard and a trampoline (for example backflip + 360°), I can do a handstand and a backflip from standing. I’ve just brocked one bone im my livetime (right big toe). I’m athletic and agile. I don’t have so greate videos like Arthur Tischler (Irony), but I have the potential and the will to be a grate stuntman.

9 Jeffrey June 1, 2013 at 10:56 pm

@Gabriel I just wanted to say that you should start making video! could get you noticed!
But I have wanted to become a stuntman since I figured out they don’t have actors for the movies… I was around 6 and have always thought of stunt work as a possible career that I would like to pursue. But are the risks of taking it as an actual career likely or unlikely? I don’t want to get so far and fail but either way I will do stunt work…for small films or just do go out and do shows or things like that! I have been into parkour and freerunning for about 5 years now and can do any basic gymnastics that you throw at me! I can’t do things that professional gymnists can do tho… I am very athletic and can move quick. I also, have a tendency to just like doing things that push the limits safely but take some serious balls to do! Love it I think that is why I like challenging myself with parkour and freerunning. I know it sounds dumb but I really want this career to be possible. If anyone knows some things to work on to becoming possible at the career email me here: Jdoty007@yahoo.com
thanx

10 Chris July 1, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Man i’d love to become a stuntman. I’ve been falling for about 12 years now from skateboarding, used to be sponsored, so im used to pain, and after you fall so much you start to learn the best ways to save yourself. sometimes rolling doesn’t seem like the best option but it is- hard to explain you know. I skate, skydive, snowboard, surf, pretty much any sport i can pick up pretty quick and be decent enough. quick learner, agile, light on my feet, and addicted to adrenaline, im 23 now and would love a shot at being a stuntman, that’d be so sick. great article, wish you had asked a little more in depth questions about how to meet these stunt-men and women and maybe what locations are great for this career, like hollywood for actors- california for surfing ect..

11 Daniel Ramos July 25, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Tomorrow’s my last day at the 3 week intensive stunt class at Hollywood Stunts in NYC. It’s been awesome! I highly suggest it for anyone looking to get into the business or just want to do some awesome stuff. Today I was lit on fire :) Tomorrow we’re doing car hits and high falls. Everything takes practice especially when you’re first learning things. There’s this cool Parkour type gym in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Beast that my friend and I went to the other day. It’s a great place to practice headers, face-offs, parkour, trampoline, etc.

12 Anthony L January 12, 2014 at 10:49 pm

I have wanted to become a stuntman for a long period of time. I just don’t know who to talk to or who would take me under their wing. I’m currently an internet technician, I climb towers and I’ve driven multiple types of vehicles including cars, trucks, four wheelers, motorcycles, and of course the small stuff like go carts. I know some minor martial arts, and can always learn more. I know this is supposed to just be just a comment, but seriously, I’m interested.

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