Tell about yourself, Andrew!
Hi. I'm Andrew Neis, one of the stunt performers in the San Francisco Bay Area. I originally came out here for film school, and after graduating I started working doing mocap in video games. Eventually I worked up to some small commercials and then after several years, got work on TV and theatricals.
What inspired you to become a stunt person?
When I was 5, I saw a live stunt show at the Old Tucson theme park in Arizona. I got to meet the stunt performers after the show, and was so in awe of them after seeing all the action.
They told me how they weren't actually hitting each other, but were going "to the side", and showed me the blanks that they shot from their revolvers. They looked like small rubber bullets, black in color, but they had an "X" impacted on the front, which they told me meant it was used. They gave me a handful and I put them in my 90's fanny pack, and told me that if I found any that didn't have an "X" on them, that they weren't safe and that I could help them out by returning those to them.
I thought this was the coolest task to be given to me as a 5 year old, especially by these guys I looked up to, and realize now that they were also positively reinforcing the concept of safety, which makes it even cooler.
What is your greatest skill as a stunt performer, is there a story behind it?
Yikes! I don't know what my greatest would be... I have a really unique skill, it's interesting but it's not jaw-dropping like the tricks of stunt guys like Matt Emig or Chris Balualua. My trick is shooting a recurve bow (& hitting a target) while flipping, spinning, backdrops, etc... on a trampoline.
I had the idea one day out of the blue to try it for fun. I hadn't seen it anywhere else, so I wanted to try it to see if it could be done. I have these foam-tipped arrows for archery tag games, which I started training it with to keep it safe. After figuring it out with those, I tried it with a plastic one and trained that for a bit, then with field tips, then filmed a few of them and put them up on Instagram.
I didn't expect anything to come of it, until a year later the phone rang, a casting director was asking me, "I saw this video of you doing this move, can you actually do it?" I said yes! And it led to getting hired for a week. Not bad for something I didn't have to spend any money on.
What is the best part about being a stunt performer?
Getting to do action that's always different and exciting. It's awesome to run and jump off something, attached to a wire, imagining that you are diving off a moving train, but knowing you're secure and get to do it again and again. It's like being a kid again - the ultimate playing pretend.
Tell your all-time personal favorite stunt story!
I was on a commercial where Props had made an actual chum-firing "dolphin gun". It was really neat and obviously took a lot of time and effort, not to mention smart design work. They only had one and they put it in the hands of one of the stunt guys who was supposed to run and slide into cover, pull the gun up, then battle cry and charge towards camera, shooting chum.
On one of the takes he tripped somehow and took a dive, tumbling in the dirt but he kept the gun above his head the whole time. The stunt coordinator ran over and asked if he was alright. The guy stood up and goes, "is the gun okay?" The stunt coordinator smiles, pats him on the back and goes, "spoken like a true stuntman." I always thought that was hilarious.
What advice would you give other stunt people?
For new stunt people? I would say, you're better off downplaying your skills than over-selling yourself. I know it's hard to know exactly what that means when you're new. There's a tendency to think, "I could do that" when you see something, without really knowing what skills you need to actually be able to do it.
Saying you can do something and then not being able to is one way to end your career. So to know what you can or cannot do, just look at your current skillset. If you can do it - then you HAVE done it before (successfully) and are comfortable doing it over and over. If not, leave it out.