Television stuntwork has come a long way in the past decade and half, both in the quality and quantity of the action sequences seen on the small screen and the appreciation they get from the Television Academy. The first Emmy for stunt coordination was handed out in 2002; in 2013 it was split into two awards categories: one for drama, limited series or movies, and another for comedy or variety program.
While small-screen stunts are now arguably of movie quality, TV shows aren’t as action-packed as their big-screen counterparts. Typically, an hour-long episode has one or two big stunt set pieces and a fight sequence or two. But those episodes are shot on eight to 10-day schedules.
Season two of Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” had the title character, played by Krysten Ritter, doing everything from running out of an exploding building one step ahead of a fireball, with her best friend on her shoulders, to taking a high dive from a Ferris wheel. For the latter, Ritter’s stunt double Dejay Roestenberg did a 35-foot controlled fall to the ground on a single line of rope.
Both stunts were rehearsed and tested for only one day prior to filming and performed without aid of digital trickery, apart from CGI to erase the rope assisting the performer, but before they were executed they were pre-visualized and discussed in detail with other departments.
“Everyone has to be on the same page in order for the illusion to be created and for everyone to remain safe,” says the series’ stunt coordinator Declan Mulvey.
Fox’s first-responder drama “9-1-1” also featured an amusement park stunt, but it involved a roller coaster stuck at the top of a 360-degree loop. Establishing shots were filmed at a Southern California park, but its coaster doesn’t have a loop. That portion of the stunt was filmed on a portion of track erected on a soundstage on the Fox lot. Although most of the riders hanging upside-down were stunt performers, the centerpiece fall was performed by actor Sean Liang, so they could keep the camera on his face.
“We did a drop so he would fall out of frame, and then we did some cable shots against greenscreen for his mid-air action,” says the show’s stunt coordinator, Mark Vanselow.
For the second episode of CBS series “SWAT,” star Shemar Moore gave his double a rest and performed a stunt in which he stood at the open door of a swooping Black Hawk helicopter, firing at bad guys below. But the biggest gag came in the season finale, when stunt coordinator Charlie Brewer shut down six blocks in downtown L.A. for a chase that climaxes with a SWAT vehicle crashing into a semi truck. They rehearsed the crash the day before, doing repeated timing runs to make sure the SWAT driver would hit his mark.
“The driver needed to be right on the money, because you get one shot at this, and the semi is blown up,” says assistant stunt coordinator Cassie Lee Minick.
(Pictured above: “SWAT”)