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    How To Budget For Stunts According To A Stunt Coordinator

    Tom Cruise driving a motorcycle off a cliff. Harrison Ford running from a giant rolling boulder. Keanu Reeves fighting his way through an army of killers in a knife store.

    Nearly every single scene of Mad Max: Fury Road

    Great stunts burn themselves into the minds of audiences. They take our breath away as we stare in wonder and ask “How did they DO that?!” The truth is that a lot of work, skill, and money goes into safely making those moments.

    But how can you manage your stunt budget without losing safety?

    Because no money saved is worth a life lost. 

    To answer that question on the eve of the release of the new stunt love letter film The Fall Guy, we sat down with professional stunt coordinator Ryan Sturz. We spoke to him about how stunt budgets work and best practices for producers looking to keep their stunt budget under control.

    Meet Ryan Sturz


    Ryan Struz is a stunt coordinator with over twenty years of experience. He’s worked on a variety of diverse projects, including Captain Marvel, Twin Peaks: The Return, and Babylon. While he specializes in stunt driving and horses, he’s worked almost every role in the steam team roster.

    He also owns and operates the Motion Picture Driving Clinic, the oldest stunt driving school in the country. 

    Budgeting for stunts

    Like any department head, the stunt coordinator’s job starts when they pick up the script and perform a script breakdown. They go through the script, marking any moments that may require the stunt team’s involvement. 

    Some elements won’t be clear until the stunt coordinator sits down with the director to understand their vision. Items that may seem like complex stunts on the page may be simple when they understand what the director actually wants.

    However, the item that Ryan needs most to determine his stunt budget is the schedule. Few factors are more important to a stunt coordinator’s budget than the schedule.

    “I can’t budget until I have a schedule. Because the stunt budget will depend on the mandates that I have…There’s a car chase. It can be scheduled for two days or two weeks. It depends on how long the producers or directors think they need for the scene. That informs how many doubles I’m going to have on contract for how long.”

    That brings us to the key insight from talking to Ryan. Don’t worry about money. 

    Worry about time.

    Time is money

    If there is one idea Ryan wants to get across about budgeting for stunts, it’s this: time is money. 

    That’s because when you’re on set, you’re not just paying for the stunt team and equipment. You’re also paying for everyone else there. Lighting, camera, make-up, location, crafty, all of it.

    If an actor flubs a line, they can easily reset and try again. If a stunt is flubbed, you have to reset a much more complex operation. Those forty cars that zoomed past as your hero raced through the interstate? 

    All of them have to be driven back to position one. While the rest of your crew sits around waiting, still getting paid.

    Stunt budget best practices

    Every film’s stunts will have different needs. However, there are a few key pieces of advice that Ryan feels apply to almost every production.

    ✅ Don’t waste time

    The thing that can really hurt budgeting for stunts is time. You want the stunt team to move like clockwork the moment they step on the set.

    Mistakes cost you time.

    The key is not to reduce your stunt team’s time. It’s to use their time wisely. And the best way to do that is to start early.

    ✅ Bring the stunt coordinator on early

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    Oftentimes, Ryan finds he’s brought in too close to production to be of much help. He’s even been brought in after filming had already started. However, that actually wastes time and money, as the stunt coordinator has to scramble to keep up. You can find yourself needing to stop to pull in unexpected stunt doubles.

    If you think your film will have stunts, send the stunt coordinator the script ahead of time. Even if they aren’t under contract yet, a good stunt coordinator will already be thinking about what they will need to perform the stunts.

    The sooner you have estimates from your stunt coordinator, the sooner you can get estimates from workers comp and insurance. There may be money in the budget for the team, but not for the insurance. Better to know that early so your stunt coordinator can come up with a creative solution.

    ✅ Prepare for a team

    According to Ryan, there’s an old joke passed around the stunt community.

    “How do you get ten stunt guys on set? Hire one.”

    That’s because there’s really no such thing as hiring one stunt performer. Even a simple fall requires a team:

    • The stunt performer doing the fall
    • A coordinator to plan the fall
    • A team to build the catch rig and manage the safety gear
    • Spotters to make sure nothing goes wrong - such as someone moving the crash pad without knowing what it's for

    This isn’t to say you should give any department head a blank check to hire who they want. It's to help you understand that it's never as simple as “Hiring a stunt performer for a simple fall.”

    ✅ Rehearsal is your friend


    Ryan says rehearsal is the most important element of good stunt work, and it’s where you want to spend stunt money. It’s not just to keep your cast and crew safe, although that is what's most important. 

    It’s to make sure that when it comes time to do the stunt when the cameras are rolling, it’s done right.

    Watch this scene from Michael Mann’s legendary film Collateral.

    Accomplishing this scene took a lot of rehearsal time because the story requires the car to land upside down. The stunt coordinator had to test different speeds and different ways of flipping the car before they were sure they could do it reliably.

    Because as expensive as flipping all those rehearsal cars was, it would be even more expensive if they crashed the car on the day of the shoot, and it landed right-side up.

    ✅ Have an extra eye for safety

    Accidents can, and do happen. There was even a recent serious stunt accident on the set of the upcoming Eddie Murphy film, The Pickup, involving an armored truck which resulted in the injury of several crew members. 

    Speaking about the accident, Ryan says that good preparation is integral to preventing on-set accidents like these and is essentially a two step process.

    First, Ryan says you have to take the time to really figure out what the stunt is going to be, and how it’s going to be executed. That can be harder than it sounds, because you don’t always know what questions to ask. 

    Even if you ask the right questions, it’s often hard to get the correct answers because the director, DP and AD are super busy as well, and they may not have the time or the wherewithal to think about that particular shot. 

    But get the answers you must.

    Secondly, once you have your answers, you physically prep the stunt. Ryan tells us that in the case of the accident on the set of The Pickup, he “would have for sure put harnesses in the armored truck to accommodate the crew. For that I have to know what they have to do and where they need to be so again, I have to ask the right questions.” 

    Ryan states that such harnesses can take only ten minutes to put in, but getting the answers takes time. “A very simple stunt like this can easily take a day’s worth of my and my assistants’ attention.” 

    Based on his experience, productions generally tend to skimp on essential prep time for what might be considered “simple” stunts because they might lack the understanding of what it takes to actually make it happen and make sure that it’s safe. 

    ✅ Cheap is expensive

    The overall advice from Ryan is this: “Cheap is expensive”. Or, to put it another way: don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Stunts are one of those places where spending up-front means paying less on the back end.

    If you took the time and effort to hire a good, reliable stunt coordinator, trust them to help you save money.

    After all, you’re trusting them with the lives of your crew.

    Patrick Regan

    Patrick is a freelance copywriter and content writer with over five years experience writing about production and the entertainment industry.

    May 2, 2024

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