If you’ve ever wondered what goes into the magic of on-camera stunts, keep reading. Stunt woman Katie Eischen, known for her work in “Supergirl,” “The Bourne Legacy” and “Date Night,” shares what a typical day looks like in the life of a stunt double.
What’s your schedule like when you’re not on set?
“I’m either training or doing what’s called ‘hustling.’ That entails taking my headshot and resume to stunt coordinators. If they’re on a location that I can show up to, I just drop in really quick to say hi and give them my materials. I take note of what they say to me, and then a couple of months later, I reach out to tell them I’ve taken their advice and thank them for it.
Recently, a stunt coordinator said, ‘I see your contact info in my phone, but you’ve never actually worked for me. How do I know you?’ I then showed him my notes from the seven times I’d hustled him over the past five years along with what he’d said to me each time. After he saw that, he was so impressed that he started hiring me regularly.
“With that in mind, hustling is very important because it can take a long time to get into stunts. It’s very much based on referrals and trust. Although there may be people capable of doing the work, that’s just a small piece of what it takes to be successful. People want to see that you are dedicated, passionate and persistent. Once you establish this with time and effort, others in the stunt community are willing to help you.”
Once you’ve booked the job, what does an on-set day look like for you?
“Every job is different. Depending on the stunt coordinator and production, I may have a clear idea ahead of time of what I’ll be doing on set, or I may not. If I’m doubling the lead on a show or working on the run of a film then they may give me the script ahead of time. But sometimes I show up having been told one action, and it turns into something completely different. I always need to be ready for anything.
“A great example of this is when I worked on the first season of ‘Supergirl.’ It had a lot of fights with varying stunts. The stunt team would work out the fight sequence and then shoot a previz, which would allow the director and producers to preview what the scene was going to look like. Once the director approved the previz, I’d get to work with my actress on the necessary fight choreography. While doubling Chyler Leigh, the fight coordinator gave me the freedom to work with her before the actual shoot. Afterwards, he would come over to give us advice on adjustments. Then they’d shoot the sequence, usually starting with the master shot of the other stunt double and myself. Next, they would bring in the actors to fight against us, and sometimes they’d even shoot the actors fighting each other. The more variations there are while filming a scene, the easier it is for an editor to sell the fight in post. That’s just one example of a day on set in regards to fight choreography. I could also be doing wire gags, high falls or stunt driving. It just depends on the day and the show.”
At the end of the day, what’s your favorite thing about your job?
“I truly feel that my job as a stunt woman is to make the actress and the stunt coordinator look good. It’s not about me at all, and I really enjoy that. There was a girl I recently doubled on ‘Black Lightning’ who does CrossFit. She was already in great shape with good movement. After a little training and direction, her fight sequence ended up looking amazing on camera. I was so excited by this! If I can help make the actress look solid and believable then I’ve done my job well.”
So the next time you daydream about quitting your day job to become a stunt double, consider what the job demands on a daily basis. But as Eischen tells us, when the stunts turn out looking seamless, exciting and realistic, it can make the years of hustling, training and the physically-demanding on-set choreography all worth it.