As a religion major on the pre-med track at Princeton, Jasmine “Jazzy” Ellis ’10 never thought she’d be jumping off of buildings and working with people like Gerard Butler, Oprah, and Arnold Schwarzenegger for a living.
But that changed after graduation, when Ellis moved to New Orleans to start a teaching job and began doing some modeling work on the side. After almost three years of teaching, Ellis realized she wanted to pursue something else. When her modeling agent suggested she try acting in commercials, Ellis decided to give it a shot — and fell in love with the film industry immediately.
“It just blew up, it really worked,” she said. “The more people I met in the [film] industry — and there are a lot of people in the industry in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana — the more I just got enraptured with it. There was no way I couldn’t do film.”
As Ellis began to think about the next step in her career, she realized she still had many things to check off of her extensive bucket list — things like learning to fly a plane, ride a motorcycle, light herself on fire, and surf.
“I realized that a lot of these things on my bucket list that seemed crazy, I could do them as a stunt performer,” she said.
So she started to reach out to local industry professionals to get the necessary stunt training, and after three months of work, she had her first job. Over the next two years, Ellis continued her training in stunt performance and acting and began landing more and more roles, including an acting gig in Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and stunt jobs in Selma, NCIS: New Orleans, Under the Dome, and Terminator Genisys.
But even though she knows how to safely jump from 30 feet in the air and can handle being lifted 20 feet into the sky by a wire doesn’t mean Ellis doesn’t get nervous on the job.
“Every single time the director says ‘action,’ I’m freaking out,” she said. “But it’s my job … It gets to the point where I have to tell myself, ‘OK, I am definitely afraid of this thing, but do I always want to be afraid of it or do I just want to face it?’ I know it sounds crazy, but it’s been working.”
Even though Ellis is working full-time as a stunt performer now, she’d like to eventually become a producer/director and is in the process of starting two production companies this summer. One, called Laniakea Productions, will be a science-fiction/horror film production company. Ellis plans to start shooting the first short film next month in Louisiana before taking the company to investors.
The other company, called Missing From Film Inc., is a nonprofit that will focus on social justice films.
“I started Missing From Film Inc. because there are so many stories that are missing from film, and I want to tell those stories,” she said. “I want to survey people — ask them what they want, what they think is missing — and make those stories happen. But the way I think about it, doing stunts is my full-time job and everything else is my side job or passion.”
For Ellis, no two days are quite the same, which is one of the many things she loves about working in film.
“For the movie Vacation [which will be released July 29], my job was to do a Slip ’N Slide and tackle a girl and make her fall over,” she said, laughing. “My body was kind of like a bowling pin, and that was the most fun I’ve had at work.”