Matrix Reloaded Stuntman

One unexpected consequence of the Sept. 11 attacks is that demand is way down for people being set on fire.

“There are a lot less burns going on these days,” said San Carlos stuntman Mike Martinez, who is the go-to guy in the Bay Area for any movie or TV human-torch effect. “It used to be that the burn was the big deal for how you killed the bad guy or the monster. Now, people are a little more touchy.”

Not that Martinez, 47, is unemployed. He recently performed in car-chase scenes for the upcoming “Matrix” sequel when footage was shot in the East Bay and has some stunt work planned for several other pictures.

But being set on fire — his particular field of expertise — is pretty much a thing of the past as filmmakers and TV producers scramble to tone down the violence in their works.

Martinez tosses out that old stuntman staple — “I just fell into it” — when asked how he got into the business. In reality, being the fall guy in show biz was a childhood dream, one that he acted on 25 years ago by offering himself to movie crews as one of only a handful of local stunt professionals.

There was just one problem: Martinez doesn’t like heights. He did one fall from 50 feet and that was enough for him. He realized he needed a different area of specialization.

His big breakthrough, if you can call it that, came in 1985 when he landed a stunt gig in the Erik Estrada blockbuster “Light Blast,” in which San Francisco is terrorized by a madman with a powerful new weapon.

“I was doubling for a guy who was trying to kill Erik with a bulldozer,” Martinez recalled. “Erik throws a gasoline container under the tracks, he shoots, sparks fly, and then everything goes up in flames, including me.”