| Cetin Demirci |
Potsdam, Germany (dpa) – There’s an explosion, flames shoot metres high into the air and dark smoke obscures the mock petrol station. A man in flames runs out of the smoke, crashes into a pillar, lurches around and then collapses.
Then you hear “Cut!”
The crowd cheers. It is the kind of performance that is all in a day’s work for stunt man Marcus Weber. A special suit protects him from flames during the stunts at the Babelsberg film studios at Potsdam, on the outskirts of Berlin.
He cannot afford any mistakes in the precisely planned movements, or he really would be burned.
“Fire doesn’t forgive,” Weber said.
“Reckless daredevils have no place in this job,” said Elke Schubert, spokeswoman of Action Concept Film and Stunt Production, a company near Cologne, Germany which will produce entire stunt scenes for clients in the film industry.
It’s about having team players who are reliable.
“A stunt man should be fearless, but he or she should have respect for the stunt’s demands,” explained Weber, who added that over-confidence can endanger everyone else on a film set.
Weber is a former decathlete who served six years in the German armed forces as a paratrooper until he broke his shoulder.
“My parachute collapsed about 10 metres from the ground,” recalls the 34-year-old.
Weber has been a member of the Babelsberg stunt crew for about nine years.
He has appeared in films such as Around the World in 80 Days, The Bourne Identity and V for Vendetta, but you wouldn’t know, because he was a stand-in for the actors.
He is philosophical about his dangerous job, where things do sometimes go wrong.
“Of course accidents happen,” said Schubert, who parries that jobs like being a roofer are dangerous as well.
Much of a stunt person’s daily routine is planning, as well as the handicraft of making bespoke equipment for a stunt.
“They develop and plan the stunts in detail – prepare doors, build ramps,” Schubert said.
The staff puts together a spectacular car rollover crash about once a month. On top of that are about three or four smaller stunts monthly.
In addition to being practical at crafting props for a stunt, a certain level of acting ability is also needed for the job.
Weber recalls an elderly actor for whom he had to double. “I observed him for a whole day, memorising his gestures and facial expressions,” said Weber, who had to adopt the characteristic walk of the actor’s part during the stunt.
Once the director yells “Action!” not only does the stunt person need nerves of steel, but also plenty of patience.
Weber said it is pretty aggravating when a stunt fails because of small details. If just one of the extras is looking in the wrong direction, the director will demand that the shot be refilmed.
Last year, Weber had a car run into him 35 times during repeated takes.
“Once, twice or three times was okay. But, you know, the more often you do it, the more there’s a risk it might go wrong,” the stunt man said.
There is no classical training to become a stunt person in Europe.
“No legal qualifications or skill tests exist for it. Anybody has a right to try it,” said Rene Lay of the German Stunt Association in Berlin.
Lay said most stunt men get their start in the profession thanks to who they know.
There is a so-called “sighting seminar” at Action Concept. Those who pass there receive training in form of an internship and can hope for a permanent position after that. Beginners are constantly learning during the internships.
The professional stunt men teach the new colleagues the skills needed to be hired for films and TV series.
Weber’s advice to would-be stunt men: specialise in a certain area.
“Those who have some kind of unique skill have the best chances of picking up jobs,” Weber said.
Everyone has a speciality. Weber’s is fire and car stunts. It’s also advantageous to know sports such as judo and gymnastics.
Most stunt men work on a freelance basis.
“The contract situation varies, and not every stunt man gets enough jobs,” Lay said. “It’s not a profession that will ever make you rich.”
Though most stunt men live hand to mouth, Lay says that if he had to start out all over again, he would still choose stunts.
In addition to working in film studios and on location, the Stuntcrew Babelsberg, a group at Potsdam, entertain the public during paid studio tours and also teach workshops about their craft. They explain fighting techniques and show how fights are choreographed for the camera.
Their work requires high concentration. Every movement must be perfected. You need to work well in a team and have trust, for example when you have to drive a car blind-folded following someone else’s instructions.
A stunt man will keep working as long as his or her bodily health permits.
With enough relevant experience, they might then move onto becoming a stunt coordinator. Then they work in closer contact with the film director and are responsible for the execution of the stunt scenes.