James AE Fuentez – Stuntman in Hollywood – Full Body Burns

James on fire

James AE Fuentez on fire

In the second part of James AE Fuentez’s stories on fire stunts, he talks about the science of burns, how to be safe and having the cajones to do the job.

So as I said I would, let’s get back to full body burns. A full body burn is an interesting stunt in itself, as fire is a breathing, living thing; it is looking for oxygen to live, it is looking for fuel to live, and must have heat to live. Just a little known note, there must be a small amount of water for something to burn. OK, now that I ran you through a quick science class, back to burns. There are two main kinds of burns, a full body burn is just as it sounds – you are totally on fire.

Now, what people ask me is, “Do you see a lot of fire when you are doing it?” The answer is no. You are moving around so much as a person in real life runs around trying to get away from the flames. I am sure it is hard to think clearly when you are on fire in real life. They say “Stop, drop and roll!”

Again, you are on fire, so you freak out and run. Why? Because your brain says RUN.

man on fire
So to do a burn, you move around. This looks good for the movie but also keeps you cooler as the heat does not build up around you when you move. So to answer the question, I have found that I only see a lot of fire when I turn.

In my last piece on fire, I touched on the things around you being a factor in a burn. Say you are next to a metal building or a cement building, they will reflect the heat back at you. The set around you is important, they do not like it when you bump into the set and burn things that they do not want burned as they film out of sequence and a couch they need in a scene prior to the burn is now burned and they have not filmed that scene yet.

Or you set a camera on fire. They really don’t like that.

To burn just an arm or leg is a whole thing in itself there is not as much fire and you will probably
have less protective gear on as well. So every burn is not the same and needs to be treated as such, and planned around everything.

I mentioned the stunt person is a factor. I will tell you about a movie I was asked to do a full body
burn on. I showed up at the set the day of the burn and met the director, producer and DOP and talked to the Stunt Coordinator.

I looked over the set, which was a metal building full of set dressings, cameras, lights, sound etc. It was going to be cramped, but OK, it could be done. After a long meeting with department heads going over what they wanted to see and what I needed to let them know about keeping equipment, cast and crew safe, we were ready to get geared up and do it.


Now comes the twist in this story. The stunt coordinator comes to me and says he wants to do the burn! I have known him for a while – he is a friend of mine, and I knew he had never done a burn before.

I’m like, “Uhhhh, are you sure?” He says, “Yes, you will still get paid the same but I want to do it.” I say, “I don’t know, it’s going to be tight in there and a really hot burn.” He says “I can do it…”

Now, on the set, the Stunt Coordinator is my boss (most of the time, but not this time because I was the only one on set whom has ever been on fire before) – I wanted to say no but he was and is a friend of mine, so I said “Are you sure?” He said “Yes I want to do it.”


Denzel Washington getting up close and personal with flames in “Man On Fire”

“Okay, let’s get you geared up…” I geared him up with the help of the other stuntmen on the set (my sons) and he was ready to go. Now, what made this burn even harder for someone who has not done it before, was the mask to make him look like the actor; you cannot see very well and you are enclosed.

When we started gearing him up, there were only a few of us around, but by the time he was ready to go there were a lot of people and they were all talking and getting loud. The coordinator said, “Walk
me away from here”, so I walked him about 10 feet as he could not tell where he was because of the mask. I said, “Whats up?” He said, “I don’t think I can do this”. I said “What?” “I’m having an anxiety attack!” he said.

I said to the everyone around to either be quiet or leave! I told the coordinator to relax and “breathe, breathe, you will be fine, just relax”. I knew they were about ready for us on the set and it would take a long time to get him out, and myself into all the gear to do the burn.

So I got him to calm down, and said,”Can you do this?” He said yes so I told him to relax, “You will be fine!” and I walked him to the set.

Now I had planned to make this a big burn, but decided to not put any fuel on his chest to keep the flames away from his face. We burned him, he did fine, but it just goes to show you. This is not for everyone and you never know what’s going to play a factor in a burn or a stunt. You just do your best to foresee everything that may be a factor in every stunt that you do.

Never a dull moment when the camera’s ready for you.

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