SPOTLIGHT: La Faye Baker, Stunt Coordinator

spotlight

 

With over 100 shows to her credit, La Faye Baker performs some of the most exhilarating stunts you’ve seen on the screen. Being able to body double for Angela Bassett in The Green Lantern and What’s Love Got to With It? requires hard work, skill and preparation. The impressive entertainer has doubled for other top actresses in the business including Regina King, Alfre Woodard, Robin Givens and Regina Hall, to name a few. Clearly, she’s established herself in a Hollywood field that’s often closed to women. Her confident approach to any endeavor allowed her to build this enviable career, but it’s her benevolent spirit that will have the greatest impact.

La Faye founded Diamond in the Raw, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of foster care and at-risk teenaged girls by introducing them to the possibility of a career in professional entertainment. For over a decade, she’s worked tirelessly to grow the organization. If anyone understands the plight of the young women, it’s La Faye. Even while jumping off buildings and staging fights on screen, she’s kept her day job as a Probation Officer. With her charitable organization Diamond in the Raw, she creates the perfect nexus of her two professional worlds.

 

HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE BUSINESS?

“I just stumbled into the business. My background was in gymnastics. I competed collegiately at Cal State Long Beach. Before that, though, I was a Hula Hoop champion – I held a record in the Guinness Book of World Records for twirling 58 hoops at once. Later, I traveled as a spokesperson for Whamo! and realized that I liked performing. I was bitten by the acting bug. I got some extra work, got a few speaking parts, but it didn’t really work out. I stepped away, but I still had my SAG status.”

 

HOW LAFAYE BECAME A STUNTWOMAN

While working as a probation officer, I met someone who kept suggesting I try stunt. Meanwhile, there was still a gnawing inside me. So I wrote and put in my Bible, ‘Lord I want to do something in entertainment – I don’t know what it is.’ I ran into the same guy and he mentioned that one of his best friends was a top stunt trainer who held open sessions in Dawson Park in Carson, CA. I attended and learned the basics there. We learned industry standards: 180 slides, 90s, how to high fall, trampoline skills and much more.

 

LA FAYE’S FIRST GIG – THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT

In 1989, after about three months of working and getting to know more about the field, Sharon Schaffer, another stuntwoman, called and said ‘I have a job if you have your SAG card.’ Thankfully, I did. They didn’t tell me that the job was going to be on location for a full week. The next thing I knew, they called me to the studio to pick up an airline ticket. I was trying to get my stuff together because this was way overwhelming.

It turned out to be my first experience flying first class. I deplaned and there was a man with a sign with my name. I walked past him because it was all too much. I turned and walked back, tapped the guy on the back and said, ‘I’m La Faye Baker.’ Totally green, they placed me in this fabulous hotel. I went to the production office and they gave me an envelope with my per diem. I thought it
was a mistake.

The Heat of the Night was one of the top shows on television. I did a near miss, which is to shoot a gun and jump out of the way of the car. I was hooked.

KUDOS!

La Faye Baker was the first African-American woman to work as the Stunt
Coordinator for big budget project on the HBO Special, Introducing Dorothy
Dandridge.

THE STUNT INDUSTRY – AN OLD BOY’S CLUB

Some of the biggest challenges in the industry include:

  1. Finding actual work for minorities
  2. Integrating the American scene “any gender of ethnicity”
  3. Adding more stunt coordinators with diverse networks
  4. Breaking into the old boy’s network

If a director wants a realistic scene with people running from a building in South Carolina, you’re going to need a diverse group. Sometimes, coordinators don’t hire enough minorities and women. I worked on Mission Impossible with J.J. Abrams and at the last minute they hired women after looking at a scene only to realize that they didn’t have any women on a bridge scene.

Established, high-profile actors will add their designated double to their own contract. It’s difficult for certain ethnic groups to be a part of a contract.

STUNTWOMEN SAY HOLLYWOOD STUNT INDUSTRY IS A TOTAL BOYS’ CLUB

The Black Stuntmen’s Association, which has fought for inclusion since the
1960s, is the only stuntman’s group whose website lists stuntwomen among its
current members.


LINK

STUNT COORDINATOR – HER EXPANDED ROLE IN THE BUSINESS

Soon, I developed a solid reputation. Being a trailblazer, it’s something I get off on. I really believe that if anyone else can do it, I can do it too. When they say no, I just use that as motivation to get ahead. I worked hard and studied harder, including earning a UCLA Entertainment Film and Digital Media Program Certificate.

As a Stunt Coordinator, I break down the script, hire all of the people who work and monitor the conditions for safety. My goal is to be the first African-American woman to make it to the DGA as a Stunt Coordinator. Very few women are privileged enough to get the stunt coordinator position; I want to continue to break down that barrier. I also want to see more recognition.
There’s no Academy Award for stunts – not yet.  Until then, La Faye hosts her own awards show, the Annual
Action Icon Awards
, which has featured heavy hitters such as Lailah Ali, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gabby Douglas, Pam Grier and Linda Hamilton.

“…by the time Jeannie Epper and 20 other women formed the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures (SWAMP) in 1968, not much had improved for women in the stunt industry. Men still outnumbered women in the stunt world five to one, and stuntmen still doubled for actresses.”

Double Dare, PBS Independent Lens


LINK

INDUSTRY HAZARDS – TWO FRACTURED JAWBONES (DON’T TELL MOM)

“I was working on the Fugees video, doubling for Lauryn Hill in their hit Ready or Not. The location was the Latigo Canyon in Malibu. Just a small jump, a little ramp … I did the jump with a little smoke. We had to do several takes. On the third jump, there was a huge wall of smoke. I missed the ramp, broke both of my jaws and shattered my mandible.

They flew me to UCLA where I underwent ten hours of reconstructive surgery. I had beautiful teeth before that! It took me about four years to get everything back in order. My mouth was wired shut for 2 months and I was out of commission for at least nine full months. I suffered nerve damage but followed a regimen of acupuncture, acupressure and therapy, everything I needed to do to return to work.

My mother was pissed off, she wanted me to quit. I’ve learned not to tell her everything that I do. Has it changed how I approach jobs? Yes, definitely. Before, I always wanted to do a car hit or falls. I’m too old for that now. But I still love fight scenes, fire and wire work.”

ON INJURIES:

“You don’t talk about it; you just get up and keep going. It’s part of the
territory. You get up and keep it moving.”

WILL SHE EVER QUIT?

Don’t bet on it. Even when she’s no longer performing the adrenaline-producing stunts, her influence will be felt in the industry. By teaching and preparing young girls to consider their own careers as stuntwomen, she will get to experience the thrill with them as they succeed.  “I love what I do. It’s exciting. I realize more and more how much I love the industry.”

Find out more about La Faye’s foundation, Diamond in the Raw

 

“Hollywood’s infamous double standards are well in place within the stunt industry, with stuntwomen rarely being promoted to higher positions such as stunt coordinator.”

Double Dare, PBS Independent Lens