“They’re extraordinary, these special effects guys and stunt guys. To watch those craftsmen at work…There really should be an Oscar for stunt work. These guys are incredible and they’re so careful and so professional. And they’re artists. They do amazing things.” (Helen Mirren, British actress, quote taken from slashfilm.com).
The intention of this post is not to depress or offend anyone. As most of you will know, yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts announced a new category of award called “Achievement in Popular Film”. My point is that, rather than devising this preposterous category, it would have been better for the Academy to finally recognise the invaluable contribution of stunt performers, who sometimes risk their lives to make a great scene for us all to enjoy. What follows are ten instances where the process of making an action film did not go as planned so as to demonstrate that film-making can be dangerous and, thus, the bravery, artistry and contribution of stunt performers (crew/coordinators) should be recognised. In no particular order:
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010) – David Holmes
David Holmes worked as a stunt double for Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) on the set of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows“. He was also a stunt double for Radcliffe on all previous Harry Potter films. He flew broomsticks being attached to wires, as well as performed various other “magical”, but dangerous actions. Tragically, on the set of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows“, when shooting an explosion scene, Holmes was thrown against a wall and is now paralysed from the chest down. He now races modified cars and has started his own production company.
2. Top Gun (1986) – Arthur (Art) Scholl
Tony Scott‘s “Top Gun” is dedicated to the memory of Art Scholl. Scholl was an aviator-stuntman and pilot-instructor who performed many dangerous stunts involving planes in the past for various events, TV programmes and films. On one day, when helping to produce “Top Gun“, Scholl flew to shoot background images for the movie, but, during a particular dangerous airplane manoeuvre – a flat spin – failed to recover in time and crashed into the sea. He died on impact, but neither he nor his plane have ever been recovered.
3. The Dark Knight (2008) – Conway Wickliffe
Conway Wickliffe, who previously worked for the “Children of Men” and “Casino Royale” productions, was not anyone’s stunt-double on the set of “The Dark Knight“, but he was a stunt technician working to produce the best possible camera effect for the movie. During filming a particular scene, Wickliffe put himself at risk racing alongside a stunt car to get the perfect sequence shot of a car chase. He died at the scene when his car crashed into a tree. “The Dark Knight” is dedicated to his and Heath Ledger‘s memory.
4. Deadpool 2 (2018) – Sequana Joi Harris
Sequana Joi Harris worked as a stunt-double for Zazie Beetz (Domino) in a superhero film “Deadpool 2″. During one of the motorcycle scenes, Harris tried to perform a stunt, which she previously performed well during practice, but was thrown off her bike when she went too far and her bike encountered an obstacle. She tragically died. Harris was a professional racer who encouraged other women to follow their dreams in sports. “Deadpool 2” is dedicated to her memory.
5. Hell’s Angels (1930) – Al Johnson, C.K. Phillips, Rupert Syme Macalister and Phil Jones
Howard Hughes’s “Hell’s Angels” was notorious, had numerous controversies and bears the distinction of being one of the first action films shot with sound. However, amidst the film’s enviable records are certain deaths of pilots in their airplanes used to create some of the awe-inspiring images in the air. Pilots Al Johnson, C. K. Phillips and Rupert Syme Macalister were all killed while performing on the movie set or involved in the movie’s production, and the mechanic Phil Jones also tragically died when he could not escape from a crashing down plane in time.
6. American Made (2017) – Alan Purwin, Carlos Berl and Jimmy Lee Garland
“American Made” may be an impressive action-packed entertainment, but, during its filming, two people died and one left paralysed from the waist down. Alan Purwin, a pilot, and Carlos Berl were tragically killed, and Jimmy Lee Garland sustained life-changing injuries when a small plane they were piloting crashed in Colombia. The lawsuits which followed after the death and the injury state that the production’s goal might have been to economise and save time, and, with that goal in mind, the movie company disregarded basic safety procedures.
7. The Expendables 2 (2012) – Kun Lieu and Nuo Sun
The film “Expendables 2” proved that two people were really “expendable”. During the filming of an explosion sequence in Bulgaria, Kun Lieu and Nuo Sun, stunt performers, found themselves too close to a blast with the result being that Kun Lieu was killed and Nuo Sun was seriously injured. Nuo Sum managed to recover from his injuries in time. “The Expendables 2” is the sequel to the 2010 film, and stars such recognisable action names as Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Statham, Norris, Li and Van Damme.
8. Catch-22 (1970) – John Jordan
John Jordan worked as one of the effects directors on “Catch-22” when he fell from a military aircraft when shooting the film in the Gulf of Mexico and died. Being a daredevil, Jordan had his own technique of managing a plane, sometimes hanging out, and coordinating the shots. Previously, Jordan also lost one of his leg to a helicopter blade while working as an aerial unit cameramen on the set of the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice” (1967).
9. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) – Olivia Jackson and Ricardo Cornelius
Olivia Jackson was a stunt-double for Milla Jovovich on the set of “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” when an accident happened and Jackson suffered serious injuries. In one particular scene, the character of Jovovich was supposed to be on a motorcycle, and Jackson did not wear a helmet. Jackson recovered from her injuries, but her left arm was amputated since she lost all feelings in it. More tragically, Ricardo Cornelius, a crew member, died during the shooting of the same movie when a vehicle crashed him during the rotation of a movable platform.
10. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) – Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen
In my last point, I will talk about actors in general, rather than stunt performers. Spielberg’s co-produced film “Twilight Zone: The Movie” might have had all the signs of being an entertaining and enjoyable science-fiction conundrum of a film, but it also took away three lives in its development, two of which were of children. Vic Morrow and two child actors – Myca Dinh Le, aged 7, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, aged 6, were killed in production when a helicopter span out of control near the actors and its rotor detached. The film changed the way films began to be shot regarding the safety of actors, but John Landis, the director of that particular sequel shot, was also found in contravention of child labour laws, since he hired two children illegally and made them work at night. Incidentally, more mysterious deaths on set involve the production of the John Wayne film “The Conqueror” (1956). The allegations are that a disproportionate number of its crew members died of cancer some years after the film was made after all of them worked on a location in Utah which was once used for nuclear tests.