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Cochrane-based Stunt Nations passing on critical film industry skills

“We did stunt falls, things like getting shot and falling, flips and horses,” Cardinal said with a grin. “It’s a really welcoming community and you get skills taught by people who have been doing this for 30 or 40 years … We have so much fun with it.”

COCHRANE— A Cochrane-based non-profit has launched to help Indigenous people interested in movies and television gain critical skills to break into the film industry.

Marty Wildman co-founded Stunt Nations and helps organize four-day stunt schools taking place at the Cochrane and District Ag Society.

“We’re trying to give them a kick start into the industry,” Wildman said. “During the pandemic when things slowed down it gave us time to actually sit down and make a plan.”

Stunt Nations is an Indigenous-owned non-profit company. The film industry is a dynamic and ever-changing industry, Wildman said. He added there are a growing number of opportunities for Indigenous performers. 

The mission of Stunt Nations is to empower performers looking to pursue a stunt work in the entertainment industry. Wildman and his partners work with students to develop the skills and knowledge they need to work professionally within the film industry.

Together they prepare all and any identified, or self-identified, Indigenous people with the foundations and skills to work all over the globe in many sectors from film, television and theatre, to media and motion capture video games. 

Wildman launched the Stunt Nations with his good friend and fellow stuntman Nathaniel Arcand who recently finished filming the television series FBI’s Most Wanted. Wildman recently finished filming a season of the hit series Outlander in Scotland.

They often spoke of starting a stunt school for young Indigenous people looking to break into the film industry. Their vision was able to come to life during COVID-19.

Wildman and Arcand connected with Tom Eirikson who is the stunt coordinator for Heartland and seasoned pro and First Nation cowboy Wright Bruisedhead who helped bring the vision to life.

Together the group of seasoned actors and stuntmen were able to host their first stunt class in April, and since then have trained around 30 people in stunt work. He said he is grateful to the Cochrane and District Ag Society for letting them use their facilities for classes.

Wildman hails from Stoney Nakoda First Nation and knows how challenging it can be to break into the film industry.

“Our group, we’re not here to divide people. We’re here to bring everybody together and unite our First Nation’s people,” Wildman said. “We’re not a talent agency we’re not trying to take jobs away from anybody else.”

The ultimate goal is to train students so they are ready to answer the call to appear on the silver screen. He added Stunt Nations is recognized by the Actors Union in Alberta further giving students a leg up.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Wildman said.

Wildman said there is an impetus to get feet on the ground for the stunt school given the rapid growth the Alberta film industry is undergoing— Including the Cochrane area.

Stunt Nations has already had success in helping students find film roles, including productions currently underway in the region.

During workshops, students will go over a series of different stunts they may be asked to act out in a film.

On Tuesday (July 13) this included learning how to fake and choreograph a fight scene, acting out getting shot and a different variety of stunt falls including off of a horse. 

The day marked the second group they have hosted at the Ag Society grounds and featured 12 students.

“It’s a good group that we have here. They’re all willing to learn and that’s the biggest thing,” Wildman said.

On the final day of classes, students work together to produce a giant fight scene that is captured by a film crew on site. The recordings are then used to create a stunt reel participants can share when auditioning for productions.

“It’s something I didn’t have when I started. You used to have to go by word of mouth,” Wildman said. “We’re trying to break those barriers— It’s creating opportunities for people.”

Stunt Nations has struck a chord in industry, Wildman said, explaining they have seen students from across the country attend their workshops.

“They’re just going to get better as they get older. It comes from experience,” Wildman said. “How do you know how hot the water is until you touch it.”

Horse work is especially exciting to share with students, Wildman said, because it is how he got his start in the industry.

Wildman's first stunt work was on the movie Black Fox starring "the late great” Christopher Reeve. He was able to appear on screen because he had the ability to ride bareback. From there his career grew and he learned from each set he worked on and different stunt coordinators. 

Beky Cardinal, 20, attended both the first and second workshops hosted by Stunt Nations.

Before Stunt Nations, stunt work was not on her radar. Cardinal’s initial passion lay in musical theatre and she spent eight years honing her craft.

However, the sirens call of the film industry and the role she could play in helping to promote Indigenous voices and appearances on the big screen was always in the back of her mind.

“I want to be an Indigenous woman in film,” Cardinal said.

She was excited to try out stunts with Stunt Nations because it will help her pursue a career in the film industry while bringing First Nation communities together.

“We did stunt falls, things like getting shot and falling, flips and horses,” Cardinal said with a grin. “It’s a really welcoming community and you get skills taught by people who have been doing this for 30 or 40 years … We have so much fun with it.”

Her favourite activity proved to be practicing falls from a horse. To practice falling off the horse students started standing still and later progressed up to a trot.

“Once you have the horse going you can flop off really easy,” Cardinal said with a laugh. 

The course has given her confidence and helped her build trust in her fellow team members. 

She appreciated the insights leaders were able to share about the industry. Their knowledge has helped her understand what film crews are looking for when it comes to stunt work.

“A lot of the times thing you do naturally are going to work out, and on film, they want natural-looking things. If you think about it too much, like if there’s a tripwire and you’re running so you do a nice little summersault, it looks like gymnastics,” Cardinal said. “You just have to go and it's all-natural follow through.”

Cardinal is hoping to parlay her time with Stunt Nations into a career in the film industry and has already secured gigs in Alberta productions.

After the first workshop, Cardinal and her fellow classmates had headshots taken which have been submitted to any applicable productions.

One of these submissions landed Cardinal a gig auditioning for major movie production in the Cochrane area. 

It was an interesting experience and helped her become acquainted with what the audition process looks like. 

Stunts added another tool to her tool belt that she can use while working to build a career in film.

“I didn’t make the stunts [cast for the movie] but it was a great experience— But, I did make background … It was the best experience,” Cardinal said. “I wouldn’t have known about it if Stunt Nations hadn’t pushed everyone to audition.”

Yellowknife Dene First Nation members Pamela Kupeuna and Joshua Charette-Kupeuna, 14, travelled from Ottawa to attend the stunt school.

Joshua had expressed an interest in entering the film industry and learned about Stunt Nations through Wildman while on the set of Outlander.

“We thought we had to get our boys in this,” Kupeuna said with a smile.

Joshua said he has never tried performing stunts before, and enjoyed the opportunities he had at the Ag Society grounds.

For him, the best part of the workshop was getting to learn how to choreograph a fight scene.

One of the more challenging aspects of the stunt workshop was working with horses. He had limited experience before visiting Cochrane but was able to finesse his timing and learn how to do the perfect stunt fall from his steed.

Kupeuna said she has been proud to see Joshua conquer the different stunt work and is thrilled they found an activity he enjoys and can dig his teeth into.

Joshua had some film experience before attending Stunt Nations and knew he wanted to pursue a career after working on the production Outlander.

Joshua hopes it is the first of many productions he will be able to participate in. His goal is to build up his resume with workshops like the one hosted by Stunt Nations.

“It’s been really fun. I enjoy it,” Joshua said. “There’s been so much action.”

For more information on Stunt Nations visit their website

Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Cochrane Eagle in 2020 as editor, bringing with her experience as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes about politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories.
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