Communication student fights, wrecks and tumbles toward stuntman career

Communication student fights, wrecks and tumbles toward stuntman career

Communication student fights, wrecks and tumbles toward stuntman career
September 06
11:00 2017

Connor Cross and two of his friends gathered in his small apartment in the late hours of a Friday night. The furniture in the living room had been pushed against the walls in order to create a fighting space. Dillon Burns and Brandon Paulk stood in the middle of the room, fists raised.

They began to choreograph the fight sequences for the stunt reel they would create over the weekend.

Cross is an aspiring stunt performer and a communication senior at UNT. He attended the International Stunt School in Seattle, Washington over the summer, where he trained to become a stunt performer. The International Stunt School has been training stunt performers for 25 years and is the only licensed stunt school in North America, giving students the opportunity to work with studios such as Marvel Universe Live, The Walt Disney Co., Universal Studios and Mirage Entertainment.

“I just always wanted to do it,” Cross said. “I found myself the No. 1 stunt school, I applied, I got in and I went.”

Before attending stunt school, Cross had no former training. He began teaching himself tumbling at five years old and has been practicing ever since.

“I think performing for a crowd is why I’m interested in stunts,” Cross said. “I played football and danced my whole life, and I always played way better when I had to perform. I guess stunts always got me really hyped, just coming alive for a crowd.”

Cross became friends with fellow stunt performers Burns and Paulk at the International Stunt School where they trained together.

“The experience was amazing,” said Paulk, a 23-year-old originally from Fort Worth. “We did many things that most people can’t imagine doing in their lives, or that they want to do, but never pursue. I can never truly find the words for that trip simply because every time I describe it, it always comes out in a different way. Even though it’s accurate, it still comes out different.”

“I got set on fire,” Cross said laughing. “It was pretty lit.”

After graduating from the International Stunt School, the three friends decided to meet up over a weekend and create a stunt reel in order to advertise their skill sets.

Cross, Paulk and Burns spent an entire Saturday and Sunday filming choreographed fight scenes, jumping out of cars and falling down flights of stairs.

“That’s what they told us to do in stunt school,” Cross said. “They said the first thing you need to do is get head shots, make your resume and then work on your stunt reel. If you don’t have a stunt reel it’s like applying for a job without a resume. How are they going to know what you can do unless you can show them? That’s what I’m working on right now.”

While the stunts may look extremely dangerous from an outside perspective, the stuntmen only perform skills that they have practiced extensively.

Cross excels in tricking, tumbling, fighting and wrecking, which is essentially being beat up. The stunt reel only showcases the actions the performers execute best and excludes the actions that aren’t in their repertoire.

“All stuntmen are not the same, even the people who went to the same school. We all have different skill sets,” Cross said. “I’m really good at wrecking . . . I’m much better getting beat up on film than I am beating people up on film. Yeah, you have to act the action. [Famous stuntman] David Boushey has a quote on a shirt that says, ‘Sell it, goddamn it’ because you have to sell it and you have to act the action or it’s not going to look real.”

The three stuntmen filmed through rain, mosquitoes and police who were called because onlookers believed that the choreographed fights were, in fact, real fights.

They were bruised and exhausted by the end of the weekend, but they had a complete reel.

“We work together exceptionally well because we know how each other works and we are similar in various ways,” said Burns, 19, from Lampasas. “I drove three and a half hours to UNT, and the drive was full of traffic, but in the end it was worth it to get every shot we needed.”

Cross will graduate from UNT at the end of the semester. He has also worked extensively with the camera on projects with Busta Rhymes, O.T. Genasis, Nickelodeon, ESPN, a television show called “The Librarians” and several North Texas Television shows.

“Communication is in all aspects and all walks of life,” Cross said. “Of course it is good to know how to communicate within the industry. Communication is key every day, not just in the film industry.”

He plans to use the skills he’s acquired from his degree and film experience to further his stunt career.

“Understanding cinematography and everything that goes into it, as in like camera lenses and the angle of what the lens puts out, [is important],” Cross said. “Understanding where the camera is allows you to sell each action a bit better.”

Cross’ post-graduation agenda is to either work with Mirage Entertainment in China or move to California and live with his fellow stunt performers.

However, he doesn’t plan on moving alone.

“I did meet my girlfriend in stunt school,” Cross said. “I actually punched her in the face on accident during a Marvel audition, but we finished the fight and everything was good. Everybody knows what goes into it. Everybody gets punched, and everybody gets hurt when you are out there. But I mean, it’s all part of it.”

Communications senior Connor Cross choreographs stunt fighting with another friend he met at stunt school. Cross attended a stuntman school during the summer in Washington. Kelsey Shoemaker

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Slade Meadows

Slade Meadows

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1 Comment

  1. Thom Williams
    Thom Williams September 07, 11:33

    Love seeing another stunt performer coming from my alma mater. Been doing stunts for 20+ years here. Look me up when you get in Connor. PS, my wife was one of your instructors in Seattle. #UNTstunts

    Reply to this comment

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