We had the great pleasure of meeting Jeff McKracken, who introduced us to the International Stunt School, which he runs.
Could you please tell us about your background?
My name is Jeff McKracken and I am the owner and head coordinator of the International Stunt School. I started many years ago as an actor who specialized in performing and choreographing stage combat, training for ten years with the Society of American Fight Directors. During that time, I found the International Stunt School and, after participating in the course, decided to pursue a career in stunts.
For the past 14 years, I have been working in film, television, internet media, and live shows, as well as teaching at the stunt school. My previous work as a theater technician and rock climber also gave me a strong background in rigging and so now a good deal of my work is designing, building, and operating stunt rigs to fly stunt performers and actors through the air.
The original owner and founder of the International Stunt School, David Boushey, retired and passed the company on to me in 2016.
Tell us about your organization? Who are you training? Who can register?
The International Stunt School was created in 1992 to give people from all over the world a chance to learn the skills and knowledge required to be successful stunt performers in film, television, and live action shows. Over a three-week program, we provide training in fifteen different stunt disciplines to make the performer as valuable as possible in an industry that hires people for their skill sets.
The focus of the training is on producing the highest quality of work as safely as possible, as the work itself is inherently dangerous and a stunt performer should never be hospitalized for their work. We are the only licensed vocational school in the United States, and as such anyone can register to take the training so long as they are 18 years or older, possess a high school diploma or equivalent recognition, and are capable of rigorous physical training.
We train people from all walks of life, but typically those who apply have very physical backgrounds. This includes actors, stunt performers, stunt coordinators, former military personnel, martial artists, gymnasts, dancers, and sports or fitness enthusiasts from just about any discipline. We have had students come from 41 different countries.
How does the recruitment of stuntmen for movies/TV series work? What is the process?
Unlike actors, stunt performers do not have to audition for roles. Instead, we are hired by the stunt coordinator on a given production. Part of the business of being a stunt performer is meeting stunt coordinators and getting your resume to them; an activity called “hustling”. When a stunt coordinator is hired to a project, he/she will hire stunt performers from the pool of contacts they have, based on who they trust, the skills required, and/or the stunt performer’s look if they are doubling for an actor. They will then contact the stunt performer to see if they are available and willing to work on the project.
In the meantime, it is in the stunt performer’s best interests to continually train to maintain and improve on their skills until they get hired to the next project.
Do you work for specific movie studios or specific producers/directors? Can you tell us about the connection?
In the early years of Hollywood you could get hired by a studio to do stunts in their films. Those days are long gone, and a stunt coordinator is only hired for a particular project, and they in turn hire the stunt performers for that project. The best you can hope for is to find stunt coordinators who trust you and like working with you.
Often, one’s personality is just as important as one’s physical skill set.
How many stunts schools are there in the United States? Any other school in Washington state?
There are a few other stunt schools in the United States, though they tend to come and go. They usually offer shorter programs: a day to a week. None other provide the depth of program we provide, and none have been around as long as we have (29 years!). We are the only stunt school in Washington State and the only licensed vocational stunt school in the US.
A partial list of the films our graduates have seen is on our website. Our teachers and program are second to none, and every summer we look forward to expanding our family of stuntmen. The training takes place only once a year, so do not miss the opportunity to learn more and visit our StuntSchool website: StuntSchool.com.
Jeff McKracken, Owner and Coordinator International Stunt School
Interviewed by Emmanuelle