What’s the first thing you think when see a stunt man performing death defying feats on screen? Maybe you’re wondering how they choreographed a fight sequence to look so realistic, or how it’s possible to flip a car so precisely that it lands on a mark. Maybe you’re not thinking about the logistics at all, because the scene feels real enough to draw you in. You’re probably not thinking, I bet that stunt guy’s a great businessman.
Making a living as an entertainer requires a lot of do-it-yourself effort. A keen understanding of how the film business works can give a performer a strategic edge when it comes to navigating the industry. It’s a fact that grad Matt Murray has used to his advantage in his career as a stunt man.
“I didn’t have the best childhood,” says Matt. “I was fighting a lot. Then I found Muay Thai boxing, and I was able to direct some of those feelings of frustration into a disciplined sport.” His love of boxing lead him to dreams of a career in stunt work, so he enrolled in Full Sail’s (then offered) Film associate’s program. When many of his friends went on to get their bachelor’s degree in Film, Matt took an alternative view of his career path and enrolled in the Entertainment Business bachelor’s program.
“I had this plan to start a stunt company, so I thought it was more important to have that business background, even though I also loved film,” he says.
Prior to graduating in 2007, he researched alternative markets where the film industry was thriving. After graduating, he moved to Atlanta, where he’s been steadily building a resume that includes productions such as Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, The Hunger Games, and The Walking Dead. As Matt’s career has gained traction, he’s found more uses for his business degree than one might think, adjusting some of his personal practices to reflect his success. Recently, he incorporated, forming a two-employee company with his wife who’s an actress.
“Almost every stuntman I’ve met who’s been in the business for a long time has been audited,” he says. “People don’t always realize the amount of equipment we need to invest in to train safely. The IRS doesn’t always get how a gym membership is a legitimate business expense.”
Incorporation allows Matt to better collate his expenses, and offers him protection in the case of an audit. His degree allows him to properly budget his savings, so that he and his family are covered in case there’s a dry spell between films, or if he were to be injured on the job.
“People will sometimes ask me how much money I make, and I always say that depends. The price is based on how you want me to die [onscreen]. So if you want to throw me out of a window, it’s going to cost more than shooting me with a gun. If you want to burn me to death, it’s going to cost more than having the hero of the movie break my neck. People always say you can’t put a price on someone’s life, but that’s exactly what we do. It’s important to be able to negotiate these things, both from a business side and a liability side.”
Matt also worked with his tattoo artist to copyright all of his ink in his own name, saving future employers the headache of altering the tattoos in post-production for fear of incurring a lawsuit from the artist. These markers of professionalism give him an edge in a competitive industry.
“It makes it a little bit easier for casting agents to choose me over another guy,” he says.
Though it isn’t always apparent when he’s throwing punches or spending the day being lit on fire, Matt says he’s grateful for his background in business, even if his career trajectory hasn’t always been easy.
“I walked out of Full Sail ready to be the CEO of a company, not realizing that just because I put together one business plan in college doesn’t mean I know how to run a corporation,” he laughs.
“After that reality set in, I was able to scale back and say, okay, let me work toward some goals that I have. And I still have goals, and I still have a plan. There may be hurdles along the way, but I have the tools to deal with them.”
Check out some of Matt’s stunt work in the video below.