Stunt Performer Spotlight: Jason Sanfilippo
Tell about yourself, Jason!
I was a jack of all trades growing up.
Everything from soccer, to gymnastics, to martial arts . I could never get enough. My performing days started off in the theater.
I performed in several plays and musicals as a kid and throughout high school. When I turned 16, I got my first performing job as an acrobat in the Lion King parade at Disneyland which ended up changing my life.
From there, I met several people along the way that helped me progress in my career from live shows to TV and film and through acrobatics to stunts.
I performed in many acrobatic shows in and out of the US. After doing a handful of ND stunts, I was able to land my biggest job doubling Seth Green for the film “Mars Needs Moms”. This is where I first worked for Garrett Warren.
I got to be the 1X on a MoCap film that involved a lot of wirework and I was thrown into the deep end. I had done some mocap before for Derron Ross on a few video games promos, but this was on a whole other level. I learned a lot and met some amazing people that helped me along the way.
Over the years, I had the privilege of learning from and training with David Morizot who was a mentor and sifu of mine in kung fu. He taught me a lot about stunts, the industry, and how to teach. Morizot was able to bring me onto a few projects. He always had everyone’s best interest at heart.
After doing stunts and acrobatics in live shows, TV, and films for some time; I wanted to know what I was putting my life on. This led me to an interest in rigging. I learned all I could from who and wherever I could.
In time, I would go on tour with Marvel Universe Live as a performance rigger. For the next 2 years, I focused on “learning the ropes” and devoting all I could to become a qualified rigger.
Once my time on the road finished, I came home to no work and was scraping by. A friend encouraged me to reach out to Garrett Warren and let him know that I was a rigger now.
Again, Garrett took a chance on me. It was my goal to put on the best impression of my new skills no matter what. All my hard work and efforts paid off. Eventually he brought me on to work on the film “Alita: Battle Angel” and later the Avatar sequels.
Fast forward a couple of years, I have been a stunt performer for several productions, coordinated a few small projects, and rigged many shows. Lately, I have been building and rigging quite a bit. Though I am a performer at heart.
I continue to learn, grow, and train. I am always ready to go for the next stunt.
I have met several talented people. One job has led to another, while others have come from recommendations from those that trust me and my work. This matters greatly to me.
When I get brought onto a job, I am not just working for myself. The coordinator has put their faith in me and the person that recommended me trusted me enough to put their name with mine. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
What inspired you to become a stunt person?
Being the active person I was growing up, I just wanted to perform and keep moving.
Gymnastics, martial arts, and theater turned into theme park shows and acrobatics turned into stunts for TV and film. Really, it was an evolution that I sort of fell into.
What is your greatest skill as a stunt performer, is there a story behind it?
Problem solving. If there is a creative solution for a tricky stunt, I love figuring out how it can be done.
What is the best part about being a stunt performer?
It’s not just the people you get to meet and work with in this industry but the feeling of accomplishment and excitement while still remaining humble for the work we get to do.
For me, the stunt world is the greatness behind the scenes. Everyone I work with seems to have a passion for what we do.
Those that don’t, don’t last long.
What advice would you give other stunt people?
Be nice and sociable with everyone.
Be open and willing to learn from anybody. People are willing to give you their knowledge if you are open to receiving it. You never know who you can learn something from.
Show an interest to learn and grow but don’t get discouraged by obstacles or failures. Masters of their crafts have done them a million times. They weren’t necessarily successful all million times, but they eventually became masters because they kept going and didn’t give up.
Finally, remember where you came from or what you went through when you were younger and less experienced. Be patient, understanding, and kind. We all started somewhere, and you weren’t perfect then either.
Anything else you would like to tell the community about?
Learn as much as you can. The more well-rounded your knowledge is, the better. Since I have become a rigger, I like to say that I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the line.
I know what it’s like to set the line, pull the line, and fly on the line. So I have a good understanding of what the performer is going through and what they might need. Know your rigging even if you’re not a rigger as well as your safety. This includes your limits.
Also, expanding your knowledge includes the business as well. The more you know about how the industry works, the better off you will be.
Tell your all-time personal favorite stunt story!
The scene was a character running with an injured comrade on his shoulders towards a large flying creature.
He had to grab its claw from underneath with only one hand and get zipped off by it. So as the rigging team, we rigged up a multi-line system. For the creature, we set up a trapeze bar to be flown by automation.
The main character was connected to this system and the injured comrade rigged separately. After several trial runs and getting the best we could of it, we started to break things down before the coordinator asked if we could do it practically.
Meaning, fly the trapeze bar while an unrigged performer would run, grab, and hold on. We all had our reservations but figured we’d do the best we could.
We laid out a runway of pads for the performer to fall into and started things slowly. I got to be the guinea pig. The slower speeds were way too slow for any effectiveness, so I quickly had him ramp it up.
After some time, it was pretty much at full speed before we were satisfied enough with it to show the coordinator.
The coordinator brought his team of very qualified stunt guys in to try and see who could do it best. All of them tried many times. On the occasion they were able to grab and hold on to the bar as it flew off, their bodies were simply dragging. He needed them to get horizontal.
He eventually turned to them and asked them if they could think of anyone they knew of that could possibly do this at all. I stepped in and said, I can do it. He seemed a bit skeptical but willing to give me a chance.
First try, I grabbed the bar and was able to fly sideways. He was ecstatic and had me do it for camera. After shooting it, one of the higher ups was watching the playback of the stunt.
The response was one of my favorite moments. He said, “How the hell is he holding on?!” The coordinator, beaming with pride looked at him and said, “That’s my guy!”
Stunt Players: Stunt Players | JASON SANFILIPPO