By CALLUM JAMES
The Academy Awards are just around the corner and I was surprised to learn there is sadly still no award for best stunt actor. Dramatic actors may gamble their reputation with a movie, but stunt actors truly risk life and limb for the film and don’t get much credit for it.
In an effort to rectify this lack of appreciation for these unsung heroes, I have taken the liberty of making a top ten list comparing the stunt acting and realty professions. My apologies to both industries for any unintended harm, but hey, you’re professionals … you’ll just have to dust yourselves off.
1. Stunt people aren’t paid so much for what they do on-camera as much as off-camera. The idea that a stunt actor shows up on the morning of a shoot, does a couple of dry-runs and a few takes and then pockets thousands of dollars may bother the uninitiated. But what appears to the untrained eye as just a morning’s worth of stunt acting actually represents days, even weeks of preparation behind the scenes and frequently draws on a career’s worth of experience.
The typical real estate sale presents a similar illusion to the public. What appears as a generous commission check does not look so appetizing if it is averaged across the total hours spent in prospecting, open houses and the deals that didn’t go through. It looks even less attractive when it represents interrupted weekends, absences from family events and unappreciative clients.
2. Stunt people are paid primarily to reduce risks, not take them. Foolhardy stunt people are daredevils who have short careers (my childhood hero, daredevil Evel Knievel, is the exception — he’ll always be immortal to me). Stunt professionals rely on physical conditioning, extensive practice and technical knowledge representing years of industry expertise to lower a stunt’s risk to an acceptable level.
Realtors are paid to reduce risks involved in a real estate transaction, deftly steering their clients around the pitfalls of negotiations and identifying potential property and contract issues.
3. Even the ‘easiest’ projects can cause serious harm. Last year, Mariska Hargitay, of TV’s "Law and Order: SVU," suffered a collapsed lung that required surgery after performing a stunt that otherwise might seem harmless … falling down. Hargitay has performed many of her own stunts for a decade; but it was a routine stunt that hospitalized her.
Consumers should take note. There is no "easy" real estate transaction — they all have inherent risks. However, while the risks and mistakes of stunt work may be immediately apparent, mistakes in realty can be hidden within the deal and may not surface until years later.
4. Some of your best work as a real estate professional may be for a "turkey." No, I’m not referring to your most troublesome client; I am referring to failed deals. If you review the resumes of stunt actors, some of the stunt work for which they are justifiably proud is for movies that were stinkers at the box office. Everyone wants to be associated with a blockbuster, but stunt professionals know a failure at the box office does not reflect on the quality of their technical work.
Admittedly, unlike Realtors, they get paid regardless of a project’s failure; but there again, there aren’t that many real estate deals where one risks life and limb, even if it sometimes feels that way. For Realtors, and the public at large, it is natural to measure success strictly by the number of successful deals done.
But truth be told, some of your best technical work may actually undermine the completion of the deal — for example, if the sale isn’t in your client’s interests. Isn’t it time that the public learned that "getting a deal done at any cost" isn’t the same as "getting the best deal for their needs"?
5. Amateurs have no idea of the risks they run. The cult classic "The Stuntman" (1980) stars Peter O’Toole as a megalomaniacal movie director. He hires a fugitive who stumbles onto his set as an instant stuntman. It makes for a great plot, but it would have been illegal; for years the stunt-performing industry has required rigorous employment and safety standards. …CONTINUED
The more one learns of the risks, the more intimidating stunt-performing appears. Film star Jackie Chan, who does the vast majority of his own stunts, reportedly said, "The ads all call me fearless, but that’s just publicity. Anyone who thinks I’m not scared out of my mind whenever I do one of my stunts is crazier than I am."
He ought to know. Chan has a permanent hole in his skull from one of his stunts gone wrong. If Jackie Chan, a trained professional, is anxious before a major stunt, then what are we to make of the fools who undertake stunts with minimal or no preparation? The parallel between amateur daredevils and realty’s for-sale-by-owner sellers and reckless agents is strong … they can be oblivious to the risks they are running.
6. Stunt actors focus on stunts and leave the baking to the caterer. Few people would expect a stunt actor to appear on set, put on an apron and do the food catering. With lives hanging in the balance, we expect them to check and recheck their preparations. And yet when it comes to realty, it’s not unusual to find a Realtor baking cookies or muffins for an open house or as a thank you for a homebuyer.
Yes, I understand the need to set an emotional stage, and saying thank you is always appropriate, but personally, I would prefer my Realtor spend that time rereading the offer, local zoning rules or state regulations. If your recipe cards for business events shows signs of being more well-thumbed than your real estate reading, then what does that say about your focus?
7. Only the star’s name appears on the marquis and posters. Few people outside the industry are likely to know the work of stunt industry legends Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan or Evelyn Finley, but if you’ve watched westerns made between the 1930s and 1980s you’ve likely seen their work. Finley’s work as a horseback-rider extraordinaire spanned an amazing 40 years, capped by her stunt choreography for "Silverado," starring Kevin Costner and Scott Glenn. Today’s stunt actors even specialize in camouflaging their own identities by mimicking the look and mannerisms of the star they are doubling to ensure continuity for the audience.
Compare this anonymity to the fame that accompanies some Realtors who are lauded as "superstars." Granted, acknowledgement by industry peers is usually hard-earned, and recognition from consumers may reflect years of effort and considerable investment. Perhaps Realtors ought to be forgiven for picturing their name up in lights. However, for an outsider, sometimes it’s hard to tell where self-promotion ends and the focus on the client begins. The star is, of course, always the client.
8. Modern professionals stand on the shoulders of giants. Yakima "Yak" Canutt was a legendary stuntman from the early 1930s whose work included Stagecoach, Ben Hur and Spartacus. It was Yak’s distinctive, undulating cowboy walk and halting speech that his good friend John Wayne borrowed and made famous. Yak performed when the industry was in its dangerous infancy. According to Soden’s book, "Falling: How Our Greatest Fear Became Our Greatest Thrill," "in the five years between 1925 and 1930, 55 people were killed making movies, and more than 10,000 injured.
"By the late 1930s, the maverick stuntman willing to do anything for a buck was disappearing. Now under scrutiny, experienced stuntmen began to separate themselves from amateurs by building special equipment, rehearsing stunts, and developing new techniques."
During his career, Yak broke almost every bone in his body, but he was determined to learn from his mistakes. During his many recovery periods, he pioneered equipment and techniques that would significantly reduce risk for those who followed.
The realty profession’s giants aren’t the people with the biggest names; they are the people who first sought to find a better path for their clients, themselves and their peers. It was their efforts that led to practice of disclosure, the formation of codes of conduct and the rise of standardized contracts.
9. Even the "school of hard knocks" has rules and classes. Every chaotic scene of a bar brawl or prison riot hides a tightly choreographed and rehearsed team effort. One wrong move by a stunt performer in a scene can mean another take or worse … physical harm to a colleague. There is a nonprofit group called The Society of American Fight Directors — its members include professionals from the theater, television and film industries.
The organization is dedicated to promoting safety and fostering excellence in staged combat and theatrical violence. It takes its craft so seriously that not only does it require initial training, it also offer continuing education courses and teacher certification.
I am sure that on some days it feels like a course on staged combat could come in handy for Realtors, but the point is that even the most experienced professionals are continually striving to advance their knowledge and craft. Mandatory continuing education is one way; other advanced opportunities include earning designations or taking courses in realty-related professions such as law and accounting. …CONTINUED
10. Pick one area of specialization where you can excel. Initial training as a stunt performer might assure movie directors of a minimum threshold of competency, but they want experts. Need someone to jump from a helicopter onto a speeding train? There are a group of performers for that. Need someone to simulate being trapped underwater? There are experts for that too.
Professional stunt performers typically choose at least one of the five main categories of stunt performing to further develop: fighting, falling, riding and driving, agility and strength, or water skills.
In real estate, getting a license and hitting the ground running is a good start, but it takes specialization for your efforts to really begin to pay off. Specialization, whether it is being the residential expert for a particular neighborhood, the condo guru, the retail store wiz or the buyer’s representative, provides legitimate grounds for differentiating yourself from the pack.
11. The Internet has been both a wonderful platform and a challenge. Web sites and user groups have been wonderful for showcasing the talents of professional stunt actors and sharing industry knowledge.
But it has also given every wannabe backyard stuntman a place to upload clips of their own brand of idiocy. Just because it’s easy to find outrageous stunts on the Internet doesn’t make them advisable or in many cases even legal to perform.
The rise of the Internet in the real estate industry has also provided fantastic opportunities for agents and brokers to build their virtual brand and share information. Conversely, there has been considerable debate over the desirability of increasing public access to listing information. Regardless of the merits of the debate from either side, the discussion does not address a much deeper issue.
The do-it-yourself (or rather find-it-yourself) culture of the Internet fosters a misconception with some consumers that if they can find their dream home first, that they’ve done the majority of the work. The public needs to understand that locating a property is simply the beginning of the project and that — like professional stunt work — risk reduction and the choreography of the deal are best entrusted to a professional … a Realtor.
So when the Academy Awards take place this coming weekend, I intend to raise a toast to those bruised but proud professionals who make the dreams of others come true: stunt actors and Realtors.
Callum James is president of CE Network Inc., an online education firm that trains North American real estate and financial service licensees. He is a licensed insurance broker and a member of the Real Estate Educators Association.
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