My stuntman father
I’ve always been fascinated by my father’s job. My 50-year-old father has been working as a stuntman for more than 30 years now, and I can say that it’s a job that he really loves. Actors are the ones often praised for jaw-dropping, heart-pounding, and death-defying action scenes on television series and movies, but most of them usually have a stunt worker standing in for them to ensure they don’t get hurt — just like my father.
Whenever a script calls for the performance of a dangerous, specialized scene, from bloody fistfights to a fall from a tall building, a full-body burn, or an impactful car crash, stuntmen and women work as a “double,” taking the place of the actors.
They usually work behind the scenes, fulfilling a movie or a television series’ stunt requirements, ensuring they are both believable and lifelike. Sometimes, they get a chance to act, too, and drop a few lines. I remember watching a scene in a TV show where my father had a “dialogue,” as they call it in the industry.
We gathered in front of the TV and watched his virtual self flashed on the screen say a few lines flawlessly. He was a natural during the scene. I admired how he showed no sign of nervousness; he didn’t even stutter. I told him, “Wow. Artista ka na, Pa!”
My father started doing stunts for a living in the ’80s during his teens, but he had been practicing since he was in Grade 6. He was a “stunt kid,” he said. Coming from a poor family in San Juan, he started working young so he could help earn a living for his family. In 1984, he came to Antipolo to practice at a friend’s gym. He eventually met my mother.
As a stuntman and sometimes a stunt director, my father relies heavily on his physical strength to perform his job. His capital is his years of physical training in martial arts and stage combat. He gets his ideas on directing fights from his favorite action movies. He specifically likes Jackie Chan and FPJ movies, but he would watch any action film available.
I’ve always known that my father’s job is tough, back-breaking, and very dangerous, as defined by the many battle scars that he has all over his body, which he has tried to conceal with big, bold tattoos. The job requires dynamic strength and stamina, as, more often than not, stunt workers end up getting hurt from the dangerous acts they perform. It’s life-threatening; they face serious occupational hazards. Add to that the poor working hours and conditions in the movie and television industry. My father had gone home sick from injuries many times.
I know how much my father loves his job as a stuntman; it’s something that he takes pride in. However, the job, sadly, doesn’t pay much. It is not stable, as projects aren’t available all the time. When I was still studying, I would always hear him say, “’Nak, wala pa kaming project” whenever I would ask for extra money for my school requirements.
In the Philippines, stunt work is often a forgotten industry; one that is overshadowed by the bigger, more extravagant movie and television industry where famous actors and actresses dominate, and which stunt workers form part of, but are often not paid much attention to. No matter how important stunt work is to an action film or TV show, it is still regarded as lowly, as my father described it.
“Mababa ang tingin sa amin sa set,” he opened up when I tried to ask him how he thinks the industry views them. “Parang katulong lang,” he added. My father then went on to share how stunt workers abroad are treated better and are considered as actors themselves. “Dito, hindi kami gaano pinapahalagahan.”
Stuntmen and women work on a “per day” and “per project” basis. They work under groups or associations whose heads are usually the ones coordinating with directors for projects. Since they are not like regular employees, they do not receive benefits.
What’s worse is that, despite the life-threatening work they do, they are not insured. My father shared that before they perform a dangerous stunt, most productions would ask them to sign a waiver stating that the other party wouldn’t be responsible for whatever may happen to them on the set. According to him, stunt workers couldn’t get accepted for insurance because of the type of job they perform.
My father knew he couldn’t solely rely on his job as a stuntman, so he looked for other sources of income to raise me and my siblings, especially when he and my mother separated when I was 12 years old. He entered almost all types of work: He sold “KFC” or “kanto fried chicken,” as it is colloquially called, on the streets for years; repaired shoes; offered tattooing services; and took on lettering jobs. He even worked as a “jeepney barker,” shouting at the top of his lungs under the sweltering heat of the sun to call for passengers just to earn a few coins, which he would save so he could buy food for us at the end of the day.
I was in my college years then. My heart broke for him. If only they had more stunt projects, he wouldn’t have to do this, I thought. I didn’t want to see him suffer, but as a student during that time, I couldn’t do anything but make him an inspiration to study really hard. I studied on scholarship but still needed money for fare and other expenses at school. My father knew how much studying meant to me, so he would always see to it that I’d have an allowance for school — even if it meant waking up early to “bark” for jeepneys. While he couldn’t give me and my siblings fancy things, my father made sure we could attend school and that we didn’t go hungry.
My siblings and I are still on our way to reaching all of our dreams, so we haven’t been really able to give our father the life that we’ve always wanted to give him. But, we are slowly getting there. If it is up to me, I would want my father to quit his job as a stuntman, but I wouldn’t ask him to do that knowing he loves it. It is what defines him; it’s already an extension of himself. I just hope that, soon, stunt workers like him in the country would become more than just the names that appear at the end credits of television series or movies. I wish they would get recognized or at least be given attention, too, and be provided with enough safeguards as they perform their jobs on the set. It’s time that their work be given due importance.
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Joy F. Calvar, 27, works as an information officer at the Department of Social Welfare and Development. She is a graduate student under the MA Communication program of UP Diliman.
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