What inspired you to become a stunt person, Dylan?
I grew up watching action movies with my mom. She took me to theaters to see BATMAN with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson during its original run in 1989. I was born in 1987; if you do the math, that means I was around 18 months old when I saw my first PG-13 action movie in theaters. By the time I was five, I had seen ALIENS, PREDATOR, and TERMINATOR 2—I’m assuming this all started there.
As a kid surrounded by Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Mortal Kombat and all sorts of cool martial-arts movies and games, I was inspired to be physical and play fight all the time, whether with my friends or with action figures. I was always exercising my imagination, putting on "stunt" shows in my backyard with the cul-de-sac kids I had somehow cajoled into starring with me, with our parents as the audience.
It was probably trips to theme parks and seeing GHOSTBUSTERS Live or all the wild-west stunt shows that got me interested in professional stunt work. When I saw the live BATMAN Stunt Show at Six Flags America, I think my heart was set.
Along the way, I tried a little bit of everything that the performing arts had to offer. Stunts isn't something you can do in high school, but I tried theater, did martial arts, trained in public speaking, and watched a lot of Kung Fu movies. Eventually I went to college and pursued a degree in film studies and communication.
At the time, the internet was booming with indie fight videos from some incredible content creators - even pre-YouTube. Inspired by the low-to-no-budget works of John Soares (Sockbaby) and Ryuhei Kitamura / Yuji Shimomura (VERSUS), I started my own filmmaking club, and made around 20 short action movies with a Mini DV camera.
After years of studying film analysis, media analysis, communications, and production, I knew I wanted to do film professionally, but still wasn't sure what route I wanted to take to get into the industry. I loved making action movies with my friends but usually had to be behind the camera during our backyard shoots, so opportunities for me to perform were limited.
I also had started growing less and less interested in "straight" acting; while theater was fun, I wanted to be physical and use my martial arts skills as much as possible. I also wanted a reason to push myself to be like all the action heroes I had grown up with: learning martial arts rather than memorizing dialogue, and focusing on my physical performance more than my verbal.
And then, one day, at a job fair at school, Six Flags America showed up looking for PR and Marketing Interns. I went up to the table and randomly asked them, "How does someone get into the stunt show?" Five months later, I was cast and performing for the Summer 2009 season.
It was one of my first summer jobs, and after getting a taste for getting paid to perform and be creative, I knew there would be no going back. Still had to memorize a lot of lines, though!
What is your greatest skill as a stunt performer, is there a story behind it?
I love to say that I have a REALLY punchable face. Since day one of my theatrical career, I have taken licks and sold out strong. If you need someone to sell a beating, I'm your guy.
Way back when I was in first grade, there was this play we had to put on that was like a 20-minute version of Jack and The Beanstalk. I was cast as a "castle guard", and Jack had to play a harp or something that would cause me to pass out. To say I dropped to the ground with a thud is an understatement - I think my mom thought I cracked my head open. But c'mon, I was fine!
Now you can find hundreds and hundreds of clips of me getting my butt kicked by various actors all over YouTube, Instagram, and of course in my stunt reel. It's a living.
My other greatest "skill" as a stunt performer is studying, learning, creating, and training fight choreography. One of my first mentors in the industry was Chuck Jeffreys, who trained performers for Spider-Man, Blade, and a lot of other cool action flicks.
I worked for him on the set of BLACK MASS in 2014, and even though I was super green, he gave me a shot to serve as a double for one of the leads in a big fight scene. It was only my second time working with a professional stunt coordinator, and my first time as a stunt performer on a feature film.
The actor I was hired to double, the incredible Jesse Plemons, ended up performing the single take himself, which was really a blessing for me and my early-career nerves! But I got to spend three weeks training with the stunt team, learning how Chuck broke down fights, how he used martial arts and boxing concepts to train his performers, and the methods he used to make everything safe and story driven at the same time.
I got to perform the previs and helped to sell the action to the actors and crew during rehearsals while stepping in for Jesse. One time, we showed a fight to Johnny Depp, and after he saw it he looked me straight in the eye and said, "That was bad ass!". Considering he was in full Whitey Bulger makeup... it was pretty intense!
All the same, that job taught me that I was really green and still needed a LOT of work, which inspired me to go out there and train with everyone I could in fight performance and martial arts. I searched the country and decided I would not stop until I spent nearly every dime I made from BLACK MASS and the residuals on said training. And well, I did just that!
That brings me to now, stuck at home and still training martial arts and choreography even in the face of a world-wide quarantine. Regardless of the "new normal", it is still my hope to be a part of the creative process in developing action in whatever form that can take. I can shoot, I can edit, I can design Previs, and I can also train fellow performers.
Over the course of my career, I didn't just learn to do the moves myself, I learned to assist stage combat teachers and coach martial arts classes. I trained not just in the moves, but also in how to communicate to actors methods of enhancing their performances via movement in ways that didn’t compromise their levels of confidence or motivation.
I have a long list people I owe my training and career to: from stunt coordinators like Chuck, to Danny Le Boyer during his run as coordinator on OUTSIDERS in Pittsburgh, to stage combat teachers like Casey Kaleba of the Society of American Fight Directors, to martial arts masters of styles including Kung Fu, Savate Kickboxing, Filipino Martial Arts like Kali (and many, many more), each helped me to become the physical performer I am today.
Now it's my job to share that, and help those who are willing to put in the work in whatever way I can.
What is the best part about being a stunt performer?
It took me a while to realize what the purpose of being a stunt performer really was for me. Over the course of my journey, I've found that it's the ability to be part of the story-telling process in a way that is both physically expressive and safe.
Stunt perfomers get to make sure certain things happen safely and effectively to help tell a story in a meaningful way. I've been fortunate to be involved in scenes that weren't just straight-up kung fu fights and brawls.
For instance, I got to coordinate a Master's Thesis student film for American University called RIVERMENT, which dealt with a lot of real-world inspired racial tension issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
We not only had to choreograph a violent police beating taking place during the early 60s, but we also put together a huge, on-campus riot scene featuring 20 - 30 background and about 8 stunt people from the DC Stunt Coalition. Both of these scenes were major plot points for the film, and the crew I worked with kept everyone safe while respecting the director's artistic directives.
They kept the "choreography" very serious and "raw," and helped produce an award-winning, moving film that made important points about social justice and racial tension. It might have just been a student film, but moments like that matter to me in my career. To have helped tell a story like that, especially with a crew consisting of my friends and colleagues, was a big deal to me.
Being a stunt performer, you get to learn about all of the parts of the machine that makes a movie. You work with all the other departments. Stunting professionally gave me so much insight about production and storytelling, not just in terms of creativity, but also in terms of respect for the craft and being efficient. My career in stunt work has truly helped me to become a much better filmmaker, storyteller, artist and person.
What advice would you give other stunt people?
I don't know what the world is going to be like for anyone aspiring to get into stunts going forward, but my best advice is basically this: don't be afraid. And I'm not talking about jumping off roofs. At some point people will shoot you down or call you out, or make you feel like you don't know anything. Just breathe and keep pushing - if you want it, and you work for it, you'll have it. You just have to maintain your integrity over all else.
It is necessary to build emotional resilience and to learn to follow the chain of command if you're going to survive and thrive as a stunt performer. However, that integrity must be part of how you operate, and will be crucial in developing your reputation.
Focus on your communication skills from the beginning - they will serve you in everything you do. When in doubt, find a way to respectfully (but decisively) step forward to make sure others hear your concerns if something is unacceptable or potentially dangerous. Learn to be clear. The way in which you do that is the hardest part of the job, and learning it can only come with experience.
Your ability to judge character and play accordingly is going to be critical to your success at this job. The best part? It'll probably end up applying to any other job or career you go out for in the future if you choose to leave the business.
Anything else you would like to tell the community about?
I've been exceedingly blessed with my career. I have worked around 30 or so SAG/AFTRA gigs with some incredible coordinators. It's a higher number of gigs than I ever personally expected, and I've gotten to do some AMAZING things. My second job ever was a sword fight on TV! I've made good money, and those residual checks are certainly helping me financially survive the 2020 pandemic.
But let me just go back to the "Best Part of Being a Stunt Performer" question for a moment. For me, the best part is how much I've learned and what I've been able to do with that knowledge, particularly when it comes to building communities and helping others to grow.
For nearly a decade I’ve put my experience and training to the test, running the DC Stunt Coalition in Rockville, Maryland, and spending thousands of hours coaching performers with hundreds of different community members and "students." I was hired for dozens of local indie productions as a fight coordinator or a stunt "advisor", helped produce award-winning short films for the 48 Hour Film Project, and created huge live-action fight shows with our members to perform at comic and video game conventions.
My experiences have culminated in my passion-project, side-business, and coaching and action design brand, SAGA Action Arts. SAGA is a training methodology and curriculum I developed from my experiences in kickboxing, stick fighting, and natural movement blending real-world martial arts practice with the aesthetics of performing arts. It is designed to help the performer develop a better sense of body awareness and self-confidence as they train in combat and movement skills that can work for the stage, screen, or real world application.
This all has come about due to my passion for training and coaching others. Actors and stunt performers working together can do amazing stuff with these roles: You can help create heroes who save the world. You can help create sympathetic villains who just need to be heard. From there, you can create wonderful final battles that demonstrate those age-old stories of hope, survival, and success.
There's a truly human grit to telling stories that feature action or combat, and I've truly grown to fall in love with the art of action-storytelling. I've also been very fortunate to build a small client base of actors in NYC who come to me to learn the skills necessary to tell those stories. It's been truly inspiring to see them grow their potential as action heroes over the course of their training.
I've really fallen in love with doing this, and I hope have been able to contribute to the art, as a handful of people I have helped to personally train went on to work on various shows as stunt performers. My friends, colleagues, and students have worked on "BANSHEE", "OUTSIDERS", "THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR", gained roles in MARVEL Universe Live, and have even been hired for the same Six Flags America stunt show I had worked on in 2009.
It's witnessing other people who I have been fortunate enough to help take their first shots at this career that has made me the proudest of my own time as a stunt performer and action artist.
Tell your all-time personal favorite stunt story!
So this one time, Norman Douglass got me hired onto GOTHAM as a stunt double for Alfred Pennyworth, as played by the great Sean Pertwee. I lost my mind that I got to double a DC character, especially one who had been around as long as Alfred, and played by a guy as awesome as Sean. I had actually watched Sean do a fight in a previous season when I was doing a "Guard 3" kind of job, so I already knew he'd be doing some (if not most) of his own action. That said, I was still beyond ecstatic.
When the time came to choreograph the scene with fight coordinator Turner Smith, I got to put a lot of my "action" skills that I had spent the last decade learning and developing to the test. Turner has helped to create some of the best choreography on television with GOTHAM, and I was as big a fan of his as I was of the show and the performers.
Turner had worked with me before on the previous season and knew I had a background in choreography. But chain of command is a big deal to me, and I consider myself at least somewhat professional, so I made sure to keep my mouth shut and just do the moves I was told to do. Turner had put together some great moves and, as expected, they were definitely fun to play with.
When it came time in the rehearsal for the final move of the fight, we needed the young Bruce Wayne character (to be played by David Mazouz and doubled by an early mentor of mine, Matthew Staley) to throw a flash-light prop to Alfred for him to finish the sequence with a yet-to-be-determined last move. As Matthew threw the prop light at me, my instincts kicked in and I did a full 360 turn, catching the prop and twisting back around to deliver the final blow with a spinning upper cut to the Monster of the Week, played by the larger-than-life Keil Zepernick, whom I had worked with before during my time as "The Groom" on OUTSIDERS.
But, oops - I got nervous. Spinning can be seen as a wacky move by some fight coordinators, so when the rehearsal was done, I turned to Turner and asked him if that was too much - an "unnecessary spin," as it were. I’m paraphrasing here, but his response more or less boiled down to: "Sometimes, spins can be really cool - let's try it!"
Well, we kept the spin in, and I got to perform it on the day. It even ended up in the final cut of the episode! But was it Sean doing it, or me doing it? I'm not gonna say - you can look at the footage yourself and try to figure it out. GOTHAM does some great doubling work, and it's another show where the actors train like crazy to get as good, if not better, than their doubles at selling fights.
It was a career highlight of mine to work in this capacity for the show's last season, and if I could go back in time and tell this story to 8 year old me, he'd probably lose his mind.
YouTube Channel for SAGA Action Arts: http://www.youtube.com/sagaactionarts
Facebook for DC Stunt Coalition: http://facebook.com/dcstuntcoalition
Stunt Players Directory: https://www.stuntplayers.com/player/dylan-hintz