Mike Massa pointed to the cheering crowd in front of him as flames erupted across the sleeve of his gray blazer.
The 55-year-old stunt performer had fire blazing across his back, arms and legs. In one of the prosthetic hands he wore for protection, Massa held a picket sign that read: "SAG-AFTRA ON STRIKE!"
He completed the stunt at a Georgia rally on Monday before hundreds of performers in the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, who are on strike after failed contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Earlier this month, SAG-AFTRA joined the Writers Guild of America in a double strike that has brought major Hollywood projects to a halt as members push for higher pay and limits to the use of artificial intelligence, among other issues.
Massa said he agreed to perform the fiery, 18-second stunt "to make a point."
"And I think it did," he said. "Which is, look at the risk an individual took just to stand onstage and go, 'Hey, look, we're fighting for our rights, and we want you to pay attention to us and believe in us.'"
Massa, who worked as a stunt double for Harrison Ford in the recently released film "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," had not yet participated in a strike demonstration when a fellow performer called on Thursday.
"You want to set yourself on fire?" his friend asked.
His friend explained that the stunt was for a rally in Fayetteville, Ga., which would be attended primarily by other SAG-AFTRA stunt performers. Stunt performers make up a smaller portion of the union's 160,000 members, but Massa said he and his colleagues are striking over the same issues raised by actors and writers, including AI, wages and residuals.
Doing the stunt meant Massa, who is based in Atlanta, would have just a few days to prepare. But he thought about the risks he and other stunt performers take on every job - risks that can be fatal.
Over the weekend, Massa bought oversized clothing from Goodwill that he could layer over other garments coated in flame-resistant chemicals. He searched for people in the area who are experienced in fire safety who could assist him. Ahead of the rally, Massa rehearsed on the flatbed trailer that would serve as his stage, carrying his phone to time the stunt's choreography.
His goal was to walk across the stage, turn to show the flames across his back and hype up the crowd before the fire was extinguished. He planned to do it all in 10 seconds, before the flames would start to burn through his clothes and warm the protective gel slathered on his skin.
Around 1:30 p.m., it was nearly time for Massa to be set alight. He put on six layers of clothing before a member of his team poured fuel across his back, arms and legs. Another put protective gel on Massa's face, neck and hair, filling his ears and nose with it, too.
Finally, they lit a blowtorch and set his clothes ablaze. Massa walked onto the stage to applause.
He remained alert in case any burning sensations signaled that something had gone wrong. With bright orange flames licking the back of his blazer, he thrust one fist into the air while holding the sign in his other hand.
The stunt, Massa said, was a way to show that the stunt performers at the rally, as well as the actors who came to support them, were taking risks - in their jobs and during the strike - like everyone else in the industry.
It was about support and solidarity for the crowd standing in front of him. "To look them in the eye while you're on fire, not run around like you're completely freaked out or it's one of those uncontrollable moments - I think it says a lot," Massa said.
"To look them in the eye while you're on fire, not run around like you're completely freaked out or it's one of those uncontrollable moments - I think it says a lot," Massa said. He made it about 18 seconds before his team ran out to extinguish the fire.
When the stunt was finished, Massa said someone put a mic in his hand. He still couldn't hear well with the fire gel clogging his ears, but he had a message for his fellow stunt performers.
"We're all in this together!" he yelled.