alibi online

Free Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 
 V.18 No.10 | March 5 - 11, 2009 
Head Instructor Michael R. Long serves me a right hook.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Head Instructor Michael R. Long serves me a right hook.

Feature

Bruised, Bloody and Bushy Tailed

The diary of a wannabe stuntwoman

I'm no daredevil. I never drive more than four miles above the speed limit. I always wear a helmet when I’m supposed to. I refuse to take kickboxing for fear of shattered shin bones. And heights greatly increase my heart rate.

But I have only one answer to the question: What would you do if money wasn't an issue? Simple. I'd be Drew Barrymore's stunt double.

I've been training in martial arts for nearly six years and have eyed film stunt schools in Los Angeles and Seattle for a while. But the cost was too great (especially when adding flights and hotel stays to tuition), and my plans quickly turned into daydreams.

Facility Director Shelby Swatek warms me up.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Facility Director Shelby Swatek warms me up.

When Burquewood began to boom a few years back, the need for well-trained professionals in all areas of the industry rose. Before long, the L.A. Stunts Training Center opened in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, and I was among the first to sign up for a weeklong boot camp packed with the basics needed to break into the stunt business. And I mean break.

This is the diary of a wannabe stuntwoman.

Day One

What can I say? I like getting hit by cars.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
What can I say? I like getting hit by cars.

Today, as Mondays go, was a good day. I woke up, grabbed a peanut butter protein bar as I ran out the door and spent 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throwing myself off of things. The first day of stunt boot camp at L.A. Stunts was dedicated to learning how to fall—or at least hit the ground—without completely mangling yourself. Head instructor Mike (aka Michael R. Long, as he's listed on IMDB.com atop 80-plus film credits) rightly insists we learn how to tuck and roll before he starts driving a car at us. But eight hours of ground pounding, padding or not, hurts. My neck hates me.

My fellow stunt boot campers include two locals, Robert Gancarz and Jessica Kampling, and two out-of-towners, Sam Mirza from Chicago and Bonnie Campanella from Hawaii. No question, we're all here to work hard and get our asses kicked. We may have some fun along the way. I just hope I have enough Epsom salt and Tiger Balm to last me the week.

Getting hit from the inside ... of the car.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Getting hit from the inside ... of the car.

Stunt Tip of the Day: Don't forget the painkillers

Day Two

My notes will be brief today. Woke up late, again. Barely got to class on time, again. We learned about fighting for the camera—my favorite, given my martial arts training—but I still have a lot to learn. What works well in sparring matches does not work for the camera, and if it doesn't look good on film, you don't have a job. Facility director Shelby Swatek must have told us a dozen times to slow everything down. Come video-watching time at the end of the day, it was obvious who listened. A fast punch looks like a fleshy blur on film, not a head-smashing blow.

We learn how to tuck and roll before he starts driving a car at us. ... I loved getting hit by that damn car.

We also had an introduction to high falls. Mike gave us a gut-sinking lesson about the potential danger of stunts. “Any high fall you walk away from is a good high fall,” he said, but not without choking up. He's lost friends during his 25 years in the business. “Stunts turn dangerous and they turn dangerous fast,” he warned us. If I thought moving to Los Angeles was too big a sacrifice to follow my stunt fighting dream, what about losing my life?

Yes, I am afraid of heights.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Yes, I am afraid of heights.

Stunt Tip of the Day: Take this shit seriously

Day Three

Monday my neck wanted me dead; today it's my knee. We started with ratchets, a stunt rigged with a rope, pulleys and a six-foot compressed air piston to create the illusion of someone being sucked out of an airplane. We boot campers agreed: Ratchets are better than roller coasters, even if you run the risk of slamming your leg into your face as your body hits the pads. It was worth every long, purple bruise on my abdomen.

Gilley Grey, a 20-year stunt veteran and former Los Angeles firefighter, demonstrated setting himself on fire. He's done more than 250 safe burns, including one that engulfed not only himself but the horse he was riding. Incredible. It was stunning how much control Gilley had over the whole situation, but clearly his years of experience and thousands of dollars' worth of protective clothing aided him. From what I can tell, burns are better left to the specialists.

But I jumped anyway.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
But I jumped anyway.

Stunt Tip of the Day: Eventually, everything burns

Day Four

Holy crap. Four days of this intense training feels more like eight. We did some challenging stuff today, including air rams and car hits. Air rams are like human catapults and just as dangerous as that sounds. I got “bitten” a few times, but I came out injury-free thanks to kung fu-developed quad strength. I can't imagine learning to ride the air ram while on the set of a film, as some stunt performers do. I'd almost surely take my leg off. Kudos to Mike and Shelby for keeping us fledglings safe.

We padded up big time for car hits. Mike drove slowly at first, then amped up the speed to a respectable four miles per hour. To my surprise, I loved getting hit by that damn car. I knew it looked frightening when I fell to the ground on the other side of the metal mammoth and someone would yell “Are you OK?” Then I'd stand up and get in line for another round. What has become of me? Has stunt boot camp turned me into an adrenaline junkie?

He's done more than 250 safe burns, including one that engulfed not only himself but the horse he was riding.

Stunt Tip of the Day: You can never invest in too many pads

Day Five

Today was awesome. I fell flat on my back about 20 times while being clotheslined by Mario Garcia, a local martial arts expert who throws a mean spin crescent. I have a bit of a headache from all the jostling, but fight scenes and flinging myself onto the concrete are perhaps the best stunt skills I can claim. Dana Hee, a local stuntwoman (dare I say stunt star) and Olympic gold medalist in taekwondo, stopped in to observe the class. New Mexico is the real deal. We've got talent here, and Hollywood knows it.

Stunt chick Jessica Kampling laces me into a corset-like harness just before my first rachet ride—better than Six Flags and Disneyland combined.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Stunt chick Jessica Kampling laces me into a corset-like harness just before my first rachet ride—better than Six Flags and Disneyland combined.

Then it was on to getting shot. Squib hits are special effects used to mimic bullet entry wounds. Squibs are made with small explosive charges, a bag of theatrical blood and a lot of well-placed duct tape. We each got rigged with a squib and were instructed to fake our deaths amid a mountain of boxes. I still have my blood-soaked T-shirt as a souvenir.

Stunt Tip of the Day: It's your body. You have the right to ask questions about the detonation wire being taped to your leg.

Day Six

Fifteen bruises, one bum knee, two road-rashed ankles, a knotted back and one pound of Epsom salt is a small price for the knowledge I absorbed this week. We didn't learn many new skills today but instead revisited ratchets (yay) and car hits (double yay!). We also went higher on the fall tower, making the drop from about 12 feet—a fear-quashing moment given my vertigo. After high falls and some expert pad maneuvering, it was a wrap. Mike teared up again, but this time it was with the pride of a instructor releasing his students into the world. He's a hardcore stuntman with the heart of a teddy bear, but he’ll put you in your place when you need it. Shelby, Gilley and the whole L.A. Stunts crew were tremendous assets. From here, it's up to me to get myself into the intense New Mexico film industry and make my fantasy stunt career something more.

My first rachet ride.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
My first rachet ride.

All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my fight scene.

Stunt Tip of the Day: Safety is more important than a paycheck

My first rachet ride.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
My first rachet ride.
Another stunt tip: You’re the one jumping, it’s OK to ask for pad adjustments as much as you want.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Another stunt tip: You’re the one jumping, it’s OK to ask for pad adjustments as much as you want.
Back falls are more intimidating than car hits. Really.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Back falls are more intimidating than car hits. Really.
Hey, why’d you push me off this ledge?
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Hey, why’d you push me off this ledge?
Robert Gancarz prepares to be rachted.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Robert Gancarz prepares to be rachted.
Gancarz 1, Boxes 0
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Gancarz 1, Boxes 0
Assistant Instructor Lucas Leggio demonstrates a face-off fall from the high tower.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Assistant Instructor Lucas Leggio demonstrates a face-off fall from the high tower.
Lucas Leggio
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Lucas Leggio
Shelby Swatek takes Jessica Kampling’s wig off (but not really--it’s an illusion),
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Shelby Swatek takes Jessica Kampling’s wig off (but not really--it’s an illusion),
Jessica Kampling goes for the ride.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Jessica Kampling goes for the ride.
That blur is Willie Weber being pulled by 150 psi of awesome.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
That blur is Willie Weber being pulled by 150 psi of awesome.
 
Join our mailing list for exclusive info, the week's events and free stuff!
 

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • alibi.com
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Rocksquawk Discussions
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Del.icio.us Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.
    Peter J. Woods
    Peter J. Woods 7.23.2014