Media students learn from professional stuntman

By Douglas McCulloch | Jan 26, 2018
Photo by: Douglas McCulloch K.C. Roballo talks to students after his presentation.

K.C. Roballo has worn a lot of hats over the years, but in his current career as a professional stuntman, he’s been shot, beaten up, fallen off of roofs and down flights of stairs, and has been in car crashes.

With a resume spanning more than 50 films, television shows, and shorts, the New Bedford resident stopped by Dartmouth High School on January 26 to talk to media students about what it’s like working behind the scenes in the film industry.

He began in the industry ten years ago, and most recently wrapped up production of Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War. He’s a Marine Corps veteran, and he previously worked as a steelworker, call firefighter, EMT, martial arts trainer, and owned his own irrigation company.

“Out of all that stuff, working in the film industry is the most rewarding and hardest thing I’ve done in my life,” Roballo said.

His work as a stuntman includes carefully choreographed fight scenes, scenes involving cars, and frequently taking spills and falls for the job. He’s done tricks and fallen off of a roof on a Segway, and once tumbled down two flights of stairs after being shot.

Something as simple as a single fight scene can be time-consuming. Roballo showed a clip from a stunt he appeared in the film R.I.P.D. A three-second scene in which he was blown backwards from the force of an explosion took nearly three hours and multiple takes to complete.

And there is a lot of work. Roballo stressed working in the film industry is not a typical 9-to-5 job. Most days he works from when the sun comes up to well into the night. Exposure to extreme weather and 100-hour work weeks are common.

“You have God, mom and dad, and coffee, and not necessarily in that order,” Roballo said. “Sleep is not a reality. I can’t stress that enough.”

In addition to stunts, Roballo also works as a grip behind the scenes. Grips build structures, platforms, and track systems to support camera and lighting systems on location and in studios.

“We make anything out of everything, and everything out of anything,” Roballo said.

That could be something as simple as using green and blue screens to turn desolate streets into bustling New York City streets in post-production, to intricately fitting complex sets like fake caves built inside warehouse-sized film studios with the necessary camera and lighting systems to facilitate production.

On sets, a sound as soft as a loose floorboard could ruin a whole scene, so everyone has to stop in place when filming of a scene begins.

“On a film set, not working is the hardest thing you’ll ever do,” Roballo said. “You know you need to get a lot of work done, but you can’t.”

His biggest piece of advice for the room full of media students, some of whom anticipate working in the industry: it’s all about networking and leveraging skills. Despite his lengthy resume, he rarely applies for work. Instead, people he’s met and worked with in the past recommend him, which leads to sudden calls to hop on planes and head to film sets on short notice.

He also draws on his hobbies outside of film to bolster his opportunities. His stunt work, for example, came about when others learned about his military and martial arts background.

Roballo also shared with students his rules for succeeding in the film industry. At the front of his list: be on time. In the deadline-driven environment, showing up on set even 15 minutes late can let a lot of people down.

Taking a line from the Patriots, it’s important to “do your job" too. Everyone has a role on a film set, and just one person not performing up to par can cause serious issues.

“[The credits] are just a glimpse of the 400-500 people per day it takes to work on a movie,” Roballo said.

Robert Perrotti, Dartmouth High’s media teacher, personally attested to the importance of that rule. He works with New Bedford’s public access channel to film sports games. Even at a community television level, and with a small team of 5-6 people, one person not doing their job can seriously affect a project, he said.

Perrotti organized the day's special speaker. He hopes to bring in more film industry professionals for his students to hear from over the next few months.

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