Maya Santandrea – Stuntwoman and CombatCon Instructor

We had an opportunity recently to interview Stunt Professional Maya Santandrea, famous for stunts on The Walking Dead. She’s an incredible female presence in the stunt industry today, and we wanted to share some of the highlights of the interview with you! Maya will be teaching this year at CombatCon in July.

Us: What is your favorite stunt you have performed?

Maya: A few years ago, I got to do a high profile stunt on The Walking Dead. Michone is tied to a pole with an electrical cord, and she uses the electrical cord to slice off the zombie’s head that I was playing. It was really dangerous, and sometimes it felt like it was choking me, but it was really cool to see the whole process with all the special effects because you go in and have to have all that makeup on, and then in effects you get to see all of this work combined into an amazing looking stunt.

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What stunts are you looking forward to in the future?

I’m a fan of Aerial stunts, so a high fall for film. That, and a full body fire stunt, just to say “I did this on camera.”

What was the worst stunt decision you have made – one where you had that ‘This is a bad idea’ feeling?

It was a show shooting their pilot episode, and I was cast to be the stunt double of a 15-year-old boy. I was asked to do a driving stunt. I was very upfront that I had no experience with driving stunts. They said “It’s okay, we will work with it, it will be an easy stunt.” On the day I showed up to do the stunt I realized how “easy” it would be. The truck was old and clunky, and had terrible breaks and steering. I felt so nervous because I didn’t know what I was doing, and it probably didn’t look good. If it’s something you’re not as proficient with, “We will work with it” is not going to work. You’ve got to know your stuff or it jut looks bad for everyone involved, including the stunt coordinator who hired you. If I’m ever going to do a driving stunt again it won’t be until after I go to an intensive stunt driving training. Only then will I try this again.

You said aerial work was your favorite thing to work on, what is your favorite fighting style/ weapon?

I love aerial work it comes so naturally it’s quickly becoming my specialty. Circus work, aerial rope/fabric, trapeze – this work translates really well into high fall work. Also, this work gives you a lot of strength training. I’m always very happy to be called to do wire work. Unless the movie is very period specific weapon work is not that common, except knife maybe. I love options, and with knife you have so many. Like John Lennox says, “Where does my knife want to go?” You can do so many things with it but you can make it fresh every time. Weapon work isn’t always the norm, though.

An example of weapon work in a fight I worked on was in Sleepy Hollow – they were fighting in the woods and their weapons were ones where they had to make makeshift spears, that kind of thing. Though usually when you are going in for stunts you are doing things like ‘bar brawls’ where you are punching and kicking. I just love, LOVE working with Tomahawk and Knife. Working with Steve Huff and Doc (John Lennox) is so much fun because they have such great knowledge and passion. I love the practicality of Tomahawk and Knife, it’s so brutal. If I could just do that all the time I would be the happiest girl.

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Whats it like being a Woman in the stunt industry?

Oh, we could be talking about this for hours! It is extremely competitive. In action roles, you have bouncers, security guards, soldiers and flash backs to wars when women weren’t even allowed to fight. Most likely there will be huge fight scene calls for dozens of stunt people and none of them will be women. Obviously, that’s not always the case some will call for women to double the actresses, and then there will be one role to fill. Film and TV is very male dominated. 99.9% of the time you will be working for male stunt coordinators and with male stuntmen. When you do get a role as a female stunt professional, it’s a very particular look, and you will most likely have little to no padding. Most parts that call for women have very little cloths on. You get parts like stripper, or [for example] I did this stunt with Vampire Diaries where I had to be in skinny jeans. You cant hide any padding so that means doing the stunt with little to no padding. Making sure you have padding is not their first priority – it can’t be when you have to look a certain way for the shoot.

Wardrobe is always an issue. Heels, skirts, anything that puts you off balance and is going to change the way you move. I got to do a stair fall for a TV show and I lucked out because wardrobe gave me jeans, wedge shoes over the elbows sleeves and the character was a few months pregnant so I got a little extra padding. Usually you’re in a tiny outfit and stilettos – you don’t always get that luxury.

Some Tips to Women (Or anyone) Interested in the Business?

You have to market yourself and do a lot of networking and training! Find a balance between stunts and stage combat and learn what looks good on camera. Get into productions, get yourself on set, and meet the people who have the power to hire you. Be an extra! It’s a great way to get on set and will teach you what it’s like quick. When you’re there, introduce yourself to the stunt coordinator.
[Also] ladies, get nice thin low profile padding. Almost like figure skating pads. Get yourself into a live show, you learn a lot quickly. That looks really good for your reel!

What do you think about an Oscar for Stunts? #StandUpForStunts

I would love to see it!!! At least, they should acknowledge the fight director. SAG and the EMMYS do it, it would be nice to see one given out. These fight directors sometimes go on to be directors – there is obviously some art behind these fights. You have Choreography, Storytelling, and Rhythm – I mean look at Mad Max – you have all this stunt work, driving, wires that all took careful planning and timing. In a good fight, you will find that it in itself is a story, it’s pretty obvious to tell when there isn’t a story behind a fight. You become disengaged from the movie/show and it is no longer moving forward.

Are you excited for CombatCon2016???

SO EXCITED!!! I Love CombatCon, it’s like a mini reunion every year. I don’t get to see people like Doc and Jared all the time. It’s nice to have a place and a reason to get together and learn from such talented people. It is so awesome to see how people grow! I look forward to it all the time, it’s such a great atmosphere and environment plus we get to have fun parties and dance. We get down. I can’t say enough that it’s such a special thing how much love the people have and how welcoming and generous they are with their knowledge. Very important. Only at CombatCon will you find such an environment. That’s the key to getting better – having these people who care and support your growth. I can’t wait to go to CombatCon!