This article was first published in 2016 and Jamie Jones is still going strong. His advice in a dangerous industry is as valid today as it was three years ago, so we thought we’d reshare his thoughts.
You’ve seen them on television shows. You’ve seen them in movies. They’re professional stuntmen — in this case, motorcycle stuntmen.
We’ve long been curious about the ins and outs of the stunt business. What does it take to get in? What sort of skills are required? We reached out to Jamie Jones of Jones Stunts, a very experienced stuntman and stunt coordinator from Ontario. You can view his impressive resume here.
You need a resume to get into professional stunt work
“The way to get into it today is the way I went about it 30 years ago,” Jones says. You need to put together a resume, but it should look a little different from the application form you fill out to work at Tim Hortons. Instead, if you think you’ve got mad skills on a motorcycle, get a friend to film all your capabilities (wheelies, endos, burnouts), make a DVD, and send that around to stunt companies. That’s what Jones did when he started, and that’s the method he recommends to anyone looking to break in.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have other skills; a stuntman who can also film fight scenes, for instance, is much more versatile, and it also helps if you’re good on four wheels (for filming car chases).
Stunt work might not line up with the seasons
You can get plenty of work on two wheels if you’re willing to put up with a sporadic schedule that might not film when conditions are ideal for motorcycles. If a director wants to film a riding scene in January, you’ve got to figure out how to make it happen.
“They don’t pay attention to the seasons like we would hope,” Jones says. “If they get an idea and this show has motorcycle stuff in it, then they’re just going to shoot it and you have to deal with it.
“I remember being in the middle of winter and having to throw salt down on a loading dock, because it was wooden and I had to jump off the loading dock and lob the front end on an old trials bike. That required salting down the deck, because it was pure ice.
“You have to be ready to adapt. I remember the director asking me, ‘Is this cool?’ I said ‘No, this is insane, but we’re going to do it.’”
Head smarts are just as important as physical capability
Although you need to be in top shape to pull off stunt work, you also need to be smart about your work. Jones says it’s essential that a rider can follow directions precisely. A screw-up on a stunt’s execution can leave someone hurt, or worse. At best, it wastes time, and on set, time is money.
(Here’s Jones’s stunt demo reel: Story continues below).
Trials riding is great practice
Although you usually see superbikes or cruisers on television, and the occasional dual sport or motocrosser, Jones says trials riding is actually one of the best disciplines to teach you the skills you need. “Coming from trials seems to give you throttle/clutch control and all those things that you need for every kind of riding.” However, he emphasizes a well-rounded riding background is important — riders should be familiar with all styles of motorcycles, and how to ride them.
You’ll need to build your own gear collection
The demands of stunt work means you’ll need more than off-the-shelf motorcycle safety gear. Jones says he and other stunt professionals piece together their gear with equipment from sports you wouldn’t normally associate with motorcycling, like figure skating.
“We do a combination of custom things that we make ourselves, or refine, and then we marry them together to put underneath,” he says. “The key is to have low profile padding, so you don’t notice you’re wearing it.”
Jones also noted that wardrobe departments often make stunt riders’ clothes oversized. This helps them look like the actors, but have decent protection in a slide, bump, or crash.
You have to know how to modify your bike
Traction control, wheelie control, ABS, and other electronic rider aids keep motorcyclists safer on the street, but they don’t make for exciting film work. So, Jones and his team have to work around them.
““We often disable it, and if we’re doing it ourselves, it gets done in kind of a harsh way,” Jones says. He didn’t specify, but we’re guessing there are cut wires involved. He did say this is an area where experience can really help, and that they have to reach out to the manufacturers at times, to find out exactly how to disable a bike’s safety features.
Electronics aren’t the only part of the bike that might need modification. “Directors always want the worst bike for the stunt,” he says, meaning the riders must be able to modify suspension or other components to make the feat possible.
It’s a tough gig to land, but worth it.
Jones says stunt riding is a competitive business, and jobs are hard to come by.
“It is very difficult to break into, because it’s like trying to be the best superbike racer in Canada; there are a few other guys who are going to fight you on that. So it’s really competitive.” But he says it’s worth it, if you pull it off, because the work has so much variety. If you’re really interested in working as a pro, he recommends participating in as many sports as you can — dirt biking, mountain biking, any kind of motorcycle riding, fighting, gymnastics — to ready yourself for the work, and to get you into peak physical shape.
You can plan all you want — sometimes a stunt goes sideways
“I was hitting a car sideways at speed. So, I’m T-boning this car and flying over the front of the hood. Except, I caught my knee on the handlebars … I T-boned the side of this car, hit my knees on the bars and smashed down on the hood so hard and fast, I thought I broke both my knees but somehow I didn’t. I was pale white and sweating like crazy.
“When I watched the playback I said, ‘Yeah, okay, that’s probably the worst one I’ve seen and felt.’ ”
Want to see some of Jones’ stunt work? You can see a list of projects he’s worked on here; you can see another, longer highlight reel from Jones Stunts here. And for the record, of all the bike stunts he’s done, he’s most proud of one he pulled off for the TV show Highlander, where he jumped a bike out of a second-story window.