Students learnt about how to break into TV – and the work of a Hollywood stuntman. Roz Laws reports.
Crashing trucks, being set on fire, falling downstairs and getting punched in the face by Tom Hardy – it’s all in a day’s work for Justin Pearson. It was no wonder the young audience at the RTS Midlands masterclass was rapt as the stuntman recalled his career, including that time hard man Hardy connected with his nose. It happened on the set of Legend, where Hardy played both the Kray twins and got into a fight in a pub with Pearson playing a gangster.
“Tom was supposed to throw a stunt punch but mistimed it and hit me straight in the face,” he told host Jasmine Takhar. “Fortunately, the knuckleduster he was holding was rubber and painted gold, but I had a bloody nose and tears streaming down my face. Tom was really apologetic.
“We have a great safety record for stunts in the UK but things can go wrong. I received second-degree burns while shooting the cover of my autobiography, Rolling with the Punches. The wind blew the flames round and I didn’t have enough fire retardant gel on my face.”
Pearson, from Shropshire, has appeared in everything from Skyfall and Star Wars to Wonder Woman and Harry Potter. His TV dramas include The Crown, Game of Thrones, Spooks and Peaky Blinders – and crashing 10 vehicles on Sky’s Curfew, including rolling a truck into a lake.
Pearson specialises in horse work, having worked in his family’s stables and been in a medieval jousting team as a teenager. He has fallen off horses almost 1,000 times but says his favourite stunt was riding furiously through Greenwich while shooting at Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
“Falling off horses and bikes and crashing vehicles takes its toll on your body, which is why I don’t do hard-knock stunts any more. For the past five years, I’ve also worked as a stunt co-ordinator, doing risk assessments, costing and planning,” he said. “Stunt work is a great job, which has taken me around the world, although it is 5% adrenaline and 95% waiting around for something to happen.”
The RTS Midlands event preceded its Student Television Awards ceremony and included two expert panels with advice for graduates. “How to get your work commissioned” featured Sarah Trigg, executive producer of BBC One’s We Are England, and BBC England commissioner Aisling O’Connor, who showed a clip of new BBC Three commission Brickies, about young northern bricklayers.
O’Connor said: “It’s great when someone pitches us something really surprising, as we see the same ideas over and over again.
“When a taster tape for Brickies dropped into my inbox, it was a world I hadn’t seen before. I haven’t seen female bricklayers and I didn’t know they got paid by the brick and are so well paid.”
The “How to get on in TV” masterclass featured broadcasters Nikita Kanda, Jasmine Takhar, Mim Shaikh and Hayley Sparkes. They talked about the importance of creating your own content, networking – and not giving up and working for free.
Sparkes, who presents beauty slots on This Morning, said: “Katie Piper’s manager asked me to join her on stage at the Ideal Home Show, but there was no budget.
“I did it because it was a new skill and I wanted to meet inspirational Katie. Someone in the audience was responsible for hiring hosts for the Ideal Home Show, liked what I did and gave me years of work. So a positive mindset is everything.
“I don’t like working for free if you’re being taken advantage of, but always look at the bigger picture – you never know what it could lead to.” n
The masterclasses were held on 31 March at IET Austin Court in Birmingham and produced by Jenny Wilkes.