Before climbing the scaffold, Heidi Pascoe checked the wind — throwing a handful of dirt into the air to see how hard it was blowing. Pascoe, satisfied that conditions were safe, weighed her options.
Should she do a backfall (falling backward), a header (rolling over) or a suicide (landing on her back)?
She settled on the header, then climbed 40 feet, hand over hand, to a small platform overlooking rooftops in the Sylmar neighborhood and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. She stood erect at the edge of the platform and stared at the 10-by-15-foot air bag on the ground below.
"Are you ready?" a colleague shouted.
"OK, I'm good," said the 5-foot-2 Pascoe, dressed in black workout pants, a gray long-sleeved shirt and sneakers.
"Three, two, one — action, Heidi!" Pascoe yelled before diving toward the air bag.
If she missed the giant X in the bag's center, she could bounce onto the ground and be seriously injured. If she rolled too far forward, she could break her back.
Pascoe, a veteran of nearly two decades of stunt work, is a rarity in Hollywood. She's one of the few women willing to jump from heights of 100 feet or more.
She has completed about 100 high falls for movies, television shows and commercials, She's jumped from high-rise office buildings, bridges, cliffs, cranes — even an oil rig — often wearing a skirt and high heels and sometimes acting as if she's been shot, stabbed or pushed.
One especially challenging stunt involved falling from an 11-story building in downtown Los Angeles as she played a character trying to prevent someone from committing suicide. It was one of the few instances in which she jumped with the aid of a cable attached to her body, causing her to decelerate in the air rather than land on an air bag.
"Every time I look down, I say to myself, 'What the hell am I doing this for?'" said Pascoe, high-fiving her buddies after the 40-foot practice jump in Sylmar.
So why does she do it? The money is decent. She earns $1,000 to $4,000 a jump. But the real appeal is the sheer joy she gets.
"There are times I feel like I'm floating. There is absolutely a sense of exhilaration when I jump," she said. "I'm happy when I'm in the air and when I'm flying through it. I have no other explanation for it."
In an era when stunts increasingly are created on a computer screen, Pascoe is a throwback to a time when daredevil stunt performers sometimes lost their lives performing falls without safety harnesses or cables.
"There are very few women who can do what she does," said her mentor Banzai Vitale, a stunt coordinator who worked with Pascoe on HBO's "True Blood" series and has hired her for several other productions. "It's a dying art."
Aside from falling off buildings, Pascoe's been clocked in the head, thrown through office windows and rammed by speeding cars.
"I don't get the easy jobs," she said.
Raised in the small Pennsylvania city of Wilkes-Barre, Pascoe was drawn to two things that would be elemental in her career: heights and water.