Stunt driver, Mark Harris. Photo by Mark Smith.

Mark Harris, Stunt Performer


If flying through the Colombian jungle on a magic carpet, paddling a waka through the southern skies or flooring it on icy roads in a muscle car sounds like heaven, it might be time for a new career.

West Auckland stunt coordinator and legendary stunt driver Mark Harris has done all that and more, and at 65 years of age – with 39 years of industry experience – he’s still going strong. Considered to be at the pinnacle of stunt driving in New Zealand, Mark’s impressive list of credits include everything from The World’s Fastest Indian and Goodbye Pork Pie to Power Rangers, Xena and Hercules, and even Air New Zealand’s iconic ‘Flying Waka’ safety video.

“I was originally a mechanic with my own panel beating and paint shop,” Mark says. “I was rally car driving, and someone got my name when they were looking for a stunt driver for the 1980s action movie Shaker Run. I knew nothing about the industry back then, but I ended up doubling for the lead actor, spending three months blasting around roads all over New Zealand at up to 190km/hr in a replica Trans am. That car went fast but it was a bucket of bolts to drive. It was old school balls to the wall kind of stuff – every lad’s dream!”

Mark stunt driver on set INP

Mark Harris working on set as a stunt driver.

The experience left Mark yearning for more, so eventually he wound up his business and devoted himself to full-time stunt work. Fast forward a few decades and you’ll find his adrenaline-fueled magic sprinkled throughout more than 450 movies, TV shows and high-end action commercials, both here and overseas.

“I’m very fortunate. I get to go to lots of awesome places and do lots of cool stuff. You don’t have to grow up in this industry – I’m a 65-year-old teenager!”

In the early 2000s Mark set up his own company, Stunt Productions Ltd, and as well as being the action man behind all of the daredevilry, he built up a bank of high-tech equipment – from car rotisseries and driving pods to rigging kits, ratchets and motion controlled high speed winches. One of his favourite toys, the descender, allows performers and cameras to hurtle from cliffs and skyscraper buildings at realistic freefall speeds, and was just what he needed to shoot a cliff diver in Hahei for a Camry commercial that remains one of his all-time highlights.

His other top pick among decades of high-octane production work is a stunt-heavy Samsung ad filmed at Te Henga Bethells Beach many years ago.

“I had to barrel along the beach and do a pipe ramp, and as my car hit the ground another car hit me in the side so my car kept rolling down the beach. I was very pleased with how that one turned out – it was a great looking crash.”

Mark stunt driver crash INP

The epic stunt crash on Te Henga Bethells Beach.

But do the dangers of the job keep him awake at night? “Nah, I’m pretty confident with crashing a car, you’re well strapped in.” In fact, if you want to pursue a career as a stunt person, Mark reckons physical risks are the least of your worries.

“Yes, we have people hanging from cliffs hundreds of metres in the air, but we make the stunts so safe and there are many cables on them so these are not the sorts of things you worry about. Time restraints are a bigger concern, especially if you don’t have time to rehearse or test a new piece of machinery before you’re in front of a whole film crew with very expensive cameras attached. That can be pretty nerve-wracking. But in my job it’s very important to keep a very calm mind.”

Mark stunt driver rig INP

Stunt man Mark Harris with one of his driving rigs. Photo by Mark Smith.

So what else does it take to make it in the industry? “A background in martial arts or parkour is really good, so is dance, and the right attitude. It’s not glamourous work. You might get into makeup at 5am and then spend the whole day sitting around in the cold or the mud somewhere waiting to do your bit at 7pm. The hours can be very long, but the upside is the variety. It’s good money too. I make a lot of my income from my equipment, but when you’re performing stunts you also get stunt loading (aka danger money) to compensate for your discomfort.”

As far as careers go Mark couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“Lifestyle-wise, it’s a young guy’s dream. You go to a job in Fiji, for example, you get your food and accommodation paid, you get allowances and a good wage, and best of all you’re doing something you love.”

And while Mark may no longer be a young man, thanks to a lifetime following his passion he is lucky enough to still feel like one.


Story by Vanessa Trethewey for the Autumn 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Vanessa Trethewey is an Auckland-based freelance writer who regularly contributes to AA Directions Magazine.

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