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Salt Lake City Weekly Give Me Your Best Shot

AUGUST 24, 1998:  I lost my footing and stumbled into a couple of guys who were chatting things up on a dock the other afternoon. Before I knew what was happening, they're slamming my face into the side of a building. Once, twice, wham! Now, they hold me off by my wrists and another guy approaches with the evil look of an abuser blazing in his eyes. This is no way to treat a lady, I thought.

His fist sends me reeling off the platform—and safely onto a set of black gym mats. Welcome to the world of make-believe; where the daring do and do again, and again and again until it looks real.

At Bobbie Lee Hayes' stunt clinic in Salt Lake City, our group of seven men and women stretched beyond everyday lives, teased danger and learned to roll with the punches—literally.

We fought each other, played in the dirt, rolled off a roof and hurled ourselves from a platform during the day-long session. We did what the real stunt people do. "I can teach anyone to be a stuntperson after a full session," proclaimed Hayes. He has the background to back up the boast. The Phoenix stunt coordinator got his start on the pro-rodeo circuit. He was also a paratrooper with the 10th Airborne before taking up acting and stuntwork.

"I'm an adrenaline seeker," he said. His credits include The Magnificent Seven, Posse, Iron Eagle III, The Prophecy, Gunsmoke 3 for TV and the Young Riders television series. In 1994, he chose to officially share his knowledge with novices by opening up a stunperson's workshop. "I was tired of working with guys who didn't know what to do. I don't want to be associated with someone who screws up a scene."

Hayes has now arrived in Utah to coordinate stunts for the fall season of the CBS series Promised Land, and to develop local stunt talent. Our ragtag band this day ranged in age from 17 to 49. We signed on for different and uniquely personal reasons. Some dream of movie stardom and hope to make themselves more marketable in the acting profession by performing their own stunts; others love to live on the edge and stunt work gives them a more reasonable excuse to jump from cliffs and speeding cars; still others just want to say they did it.

"I'm almost 50," said Catherine. "How many women my age would roll off a 10-foot roof on purpose?"

Paul, pushing 50, was pursuing a lifelong dream. "I just wanted to find out what it's like. To roll off a roof at my age feels pretty damned good."

That isn't always the case. It can hurt like hell if you aren't precise. After four tries on that roof, I learned to land on my back and not my face.

"Once you do it, you say that wasn't so bad and you go again," said Hayes.

Besides, I rationalized, if everyone else is doing it, it must not be so hard. My nose disagreed for the rest of the day. Despite the beating, I felt relatively safe in this backyard-barn environment. Of course, padding helped.

We decked ourselves like inline skaters and football players. All stuntmen wear pads, Hayes and his assistant/son Donovan explained. There was no need to feel embarrassed. Hayes and Donovan then demonstrated the proper way to throw a punch (reach out and above the temple/forehead of your victim), take a punch (jerk your head in the direction your assailant's fist moves) and hit the ground (roll). We paired up and practiced, videotaping every move.

When it was time to get out of the 100- degree heat, we corralled our chairs around the VCR in the barn to watch the action. When we were rested, we went back to work with more simulated fighting and a better vision of the end result. We added to the scuffle a drop from a 10-foot-high roof. After lunch, we played out scenes just like in old westerns-complete with bar fights and brawls. We tussled in dirt, shouted obscenities, laughed and faked our deaths. I was 12 again playing with the neighbor kids.

"We could be that physical person inside of us that sits in the office all day, " said Carol, a 30-something desk prisoner.

We took regular breaks throughout the day for water, food, video screenings and pep talks. Hayes explained the politics of stuntwork. "It's a tough business to break into," he said, "but these skills will help you even if you don't want to become a professional stuntman."

Someone asked if computers would make the stuntperson obsolete. "Computers can make a star a stuntman but you still need the stunt guys for horse falls, gunfights and bar fights," Hayes answered. "They'll always need us for something."

The eight-hour class gives you bruises, sore muscles and puts a $200 dent in your pocket. You walk (limp?) away with the confidence to know whether you have the ability and basics to attempt a career in show business, if that's your desire. "A good stuntperson is someone with a sense of control and balance. They can think on their feet and they can throw a punch and make it look real," said Hayes. "You also have to enjoy it."

We succeeded on every count that day. Stunt work, however, does not come without a price. The next day, I was one with the mattress. With muscles screaming in pain, I rested my abused 30-year-old body. I lay contemplating the ceiling and the previous day. I had learned we can take hard falls and get back up to do it again. Was this art imitating life, then, or life imitating art?

Hit me upside the head again and maybe the answer will come to me. Then hand me four Ibuprofen.

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