They’ve been thrown out of trailers, dropped out of helicopters, tossed over cars, fallen off clock towers, swallowed by alligators and been set on fire.
It’s all in a day’s work for husband and wife stunt coordinators, and Covington residents, David Martin and Jennifer Badger.
They first met in 1993 while working at the Batman Stunt Show at Six Flags, Atlanta. She was 16; he, 21. They were co-workers first, then friends, and began dating in 1999. They married a year to the day after their first date.
“We had worked on several shows together but never really interacted much on camera until the film, ‘Tuck Everlasting’, which was filmed shortly after our wedding,” said Badger. “Dave and I were hired to double the male and female leads and the film was somewhat of a romance so we greatly enjoyed holding hands up while on top of cliffs, and Dave holding me in his arms under a waterfall.
“While we continued to work together on projects it was only a few years ago that we finally got to fight on film,” she said.
That happened during the filming of an episode of “The Originals,” she said.
Since making the move to working on camera, Badger has been the stunt double for Angelina Jolie, Penelope Cruz, Drew Barrymore and Nina Dobrev, among others. Martin has been a stunt double for David Spade, Jason Schwartzman, Jackie Earle Haley and others. Their individual listings on imdb.com reads like compendium of blockbuster films and hit television series.
Three years ago, they decided to put down roots in Covington, near where they worked on series like “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals,” and “Sleepy Hollow.”
Because their work takes them around the world, they home school their son, Nicholas, 13.
“He’s gotten to do quite a bit of world traveling because of our work,” Badger said.
“For instance, when you’re coordinating [stunts],” Badger said, “you’re on that film for months. If it’s a heavy action show, you’ll probably not work anything else.
Getting into the business
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Martin said he didn’t know what he wanted to do after he graduated from high school. “I knew I didn’t want a job that was monotonous. Somebody had mentioned stunt work and it sounded perfect. You play all kinds of characters, work in different periods.”
Badger first started at the Nickelodeon Studios in her home state of Florida, originally interested in acting. Instead, she learned about stunt work and, with her parents’ support, came to Atlanta to work the Six Flags Batman Stunt Show. Graduating at 17, she returned to Atlanta and soon found herself a stunt double for Jolie in “Hackers.”
“I agree with Dave,” she said. “I like the fact you literally never know what you’re doing the next week. I’ve gotten calls and have been on a plane the next day.”
But, they both warned, while they have been working pretty much nonstop for the last couple of years, work in the beginning isn’t that easy to get.
“One of the biggest things people don’t understand about the industry is you’re unemployed more than you actually work,” Martin said. “People new to the business think they’re going to work on every show. In fact, when you’re new, you don’t work much. You have to build up a resume and a reputation.”
“It takes a long time to get established,” Badger agrees. “It’s a business based on trust and integrity.
“When we started, there were long periods between work,” she said.
That has changed over the years. “One year, we had something like 80 W-2s,” she said. “We may work two or three shows in a day and sleep in the car – it’s been kind of crazy.
“We’ve been very blessed,” she said.
Leaning to fall
It takes a significant amount of training to work as a stunt person.
“You have to stay pretty physically fit,” Martin said. “If you don’t stay active, you’re more likely to be physically hurt.”
“We put in our base training years ago,” Badger said, adding they’ve been in the business for 25 years. “Now we do training in specialized areas needed for film.”
Badger, who has “fallen” off the Historic Clock Tower, says, “Every high fall is different – different actions, different places. There’s constantly things to learn as people find more innovative and safer way to do things.”
She also learned how to fight with a sword for her work as Cruz’s stunt double in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”
“When I interviewed for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ I told the department head I had done some historical stuff but didn’t think I could do what they needed. They smiled and said they’d seen my work and thought I could.”
For nearly 12 months she worked on the film, training eight hours daily and learning from Hollywood sword master Thomas Dupont. “I was constantly practicing. There was a fight scene we had to be ready for by the end of the first week. They knew I could fight, they knew I could move. I just needed to integrate that with the sword work.”
Martin enjoys the sword work, though he admits he hasn’t done as much as Badger. And now that the two have transitioned to the stunt coordination side of the business, they’ve been enjoying the creativity of designing stunts.
“I had the chance to go from that film [Pirates] to others, to coordinating fight scenes,” Badger said. “Dave is great because I get together with him what works and then take it to the actors.
“That’s the benefit of having a spouse in the business,” she said.
It’s also a boon when they get to work with a director who understands action sequences because they’ve done them. Peter Weller, who starred as Officer Alex J. Murphy/RoboCop in 1987’s “RoboCop,” directed a 2015 episode of “Sleepy Hollow” that Martin worked on. “He understood action. There are a lot of diretors out there who don’t quite understand the ation and they want us to rush.
“It’s not as prevalent as it was, but there are still people who see stunt people as expendable,” Badger said. It might be true on film, she said, “but we’re still people. I’ve been treated like that once or twice and it’s given me a strong appreciation for directors who aren’t like that.
“There’s a difference between being risky and being expendable,” she said.
New technologies change stunts
Both Badger and Martin respect the stunt men who came before them, men like the later Yakima Canutt, a former rodeo rider, championship rider and stunt director, and Hal Needham, stuntman and film director best known for his frequent collaborations with Burt Reynolds on films like “Smokey and the Bandit,” “The Cannonball Run,” and “Stoker Ace.”
“Hal Needham and people like him,” Martin said, “when they fell off a horse, the dirt would just be turned up to make it a little softer. They didn’t have fall pads.”
Today’s stunts, while often more extreme than they were in Hollywood’s Golden Era, are more controlled.
“Back then, people said ‘cowboy up,’ this is what you have to do. Figure it out,” Martin said. “Our predecessors paved the way. We’re doing more complex stunts, but we’re doing it in ways that are better controlled.”
“I would venture to say, we have so much innovative technology today, control is more precise, like using computerized winches,” Badger said, referring scenes that might require a stunt driver to be yanked off a high-speed motorcycle or a woman to drop off four stories down the side of a clock tower.
Settling in Covington
It wasn’t until after the third season of “The Vampire Diaries,” that the couple and their 13-year-old son, Nicholas, moved to Georgia. It wasn’t just the convenience of being available to work on films like “Mockingjay,” or series like “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals,” or “Sleepy Hollow,” that brought them out to Newton County in 2013. Nor was it the luxury of being able to come home after a long day of filming.
Between their work on “The Originals,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “The Walking Dead,” and “The Originals,” the couple does do a lot of filming in and around Covington and the metro Atlanta area. They’ve worked on locally shot movies that include “Mockingjay, Part I,” and “The Birth of a Nation,” among others.
“So far,” Badger said, “we’ve seen nothing but graciousness from the people here. In a lot of places, people shout at the crew and honk because traffic’s blocked. We’ve been treated very respectfully by the locals, and I appreciate it.”
“God has given us a lot of opportunities in a business which doesn’t actually guarantee [them],” she said. “It’s nice to be a part of a community and part of a Christian community.
“It’s nice to be able to come home at night after work,” she said.
That wasn’t always the case.
“When I started in Georgia in 1993,” Martin said, “there wasn’t much work down here. The fact that Georgia has progressed so much to rank number three in film production, second only to California and New York, is due to the state’s hard work to attract production to the area.
“California has always been number one,” he said, “but I think part of the reason we’re starting to catch up is because they always thought they would be number one.
“They got complacent,” he said.
Badger suggested it is easy for booming film areas to become complacent. Over the course of their career, film production went north to Canada, then to Michigan, then Louisiana, then North Carolina. Incentives were offered to attract filmmakers and producers, incentives that benefited more than the entertainment industry, increasing employment opportunities in trades like carpentry, electrical work and plumbing; sale of supplies; and accompanying fees and taxes.
Badger said the production in first one, then the other and so on dropped off when states voted to cut or do away with attractive production and employment tax credits. “We had friends who were] working nonstop in North Carolina and when the state last their initiatives, the work’s fallen off.”
She cautions those starting off in the industry here to be aware the foundation Georgia provides “could change on the government’s level and the work could go away.”
And while there are over 400 stunt people working in Atlanta today, Badger said, there’s only a small tier of us who work pretty much full time. “People have this assumption that it’s going to keep flowing and flowing and flowing. It’s wonderful for the community, but I don’t think we should take it for granted.”