Definitions

stunt men

Stunt

[stuhnt]

A stunt is an unusual and difficult physical feat, or any act requiring a special skill, performed for artistic purposes in TV, theatre, or cinema. Stunts are a big part of many action movies.

Before computer generated imagery special effects, these effects were limited to the use of models, false perspective and other in-camera effects - unless the creator could find someone willing to jump from car to car or hang from the edge of a skyscraper - the stunt performer.

Practical effects

One of the most-frequently used practical stunts is stage combat. Although contact is normally avoided, many elements of stage combat, such as sword fighting, martial arts, and acrobatics required contact between performers in order to facilitate the creation of a particular effect, such as noise or physical interaction.

Stunt performances are highly choreographed and may be rigorously rehearsed for hours, days and sometimes weeks before a performance. Seasoned professionals will commonly treat a performance as if they have never done it before, since the risks in stunt work are high, every move and position must be correct to reduce risk of injury from accidents.

Examples

Mechanical effects

A physical stunt is usually performed with help of mechanics.

For example, if the plot requires the hero to jump to a high place, the film crew could put the actor in a special harness, and use aircraft high tension wire to pull him up. Piano wire is sometimes used to fly objects, but an actor is never suspended from it as it is brittle and can break under shock impacts. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) is a kung-fu movie that was heavily reliant on wire stunts.

Vehicular stunts

Performers of vehicular stunts require extensive training and may employ specially adapted vehicles. Stunts can be as simple as a handbrake turn, also known as the bootleg turn, or as advanced as car chases, jumps and crashes involving dozens of vehicles. Rémy Julienne is a well known pioneering automotive stunt performer and coordinator.

Computer generated effects

In the late 20th century stunt men were placed in dangerous situations less and less as filmmakers turned to relatively inexpensive (and much safer) computer graphics effects using harnesses, fans, blue- or green screens, and a huge array of other devices and digital effects. The Matrix (1999) is a hit action movie that used CGI stunts extensively.

Examples

Stars who do stunts

In the early days of cinema, some actors such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin did most of their own physical stunts. However, as these performances were usually very dangerous and many movie stars were not so athletic, filmmakers and insurance companies turned to hiring stunt doubles to do the stunts.

Most action movie actors today use stunt doubles, though some of them do a few of their own stunts to please movie fans. One famous exception to this norm has been Jackie Chan from Hong Kong. Igor Breakenback, an actor, stuntman and once Jackie Chan's Body Double who is highly skilled in I Go Ryu Jiu Jitsu, also does all his stunts without assistance or wires.Phanom Yeerum, an actor who is highly skilled in Muay Thai, also does all his stunts without assistance.

Popular Indian actor Jayan used to do physical stunts without stunt doubles. He was killed in a helicopter crash while doing a stunt for a Malayalam language movie in 1980. Hrithik Roshan too performed his own stunts for the much acclaimed films Krrish and Dhoom 2 that sprang him to instant stardom after his break with the movie Kaho Na Pyar Hai in which he played a macho man in the second half.

Notable among the professional Hollywood stuntmen are Yakima Canutt and Dar Robinson.

In his movies, Tom Cruise performs many of his own stunts without doubles, including the Mission: Impossible Trilogy and Minority Report .

In Lord of the Rings, Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn performed all of his own stunts, including swordplay, insisting it would look more authentic, and sustained several injuries as a result.

Some notable movie stunts

Actor and Stuntman Igor Breakenback does the worlds first Yoga Ball Fight, involving more then 20 Yoga Balls at the same time. The Stunt Action Feature Comedy Good Luck With That has some never before seen real stunts, real pain, no wires, and no CGI!

Silent comedian Harold Lloyd climbs the entire height of a Los Angeles, California, skyscraper without wires, or nets. Lloyd dangles from a broken clock face on the topmost floor above moving traffic despite having only three fingers on his right hand.

The front of a house falls down with Buster Keaton standing in the exact position of an open window, leaving him unharmed. His stone-faced expression remains.

Joe Canutt Judah Ben-Hur rides his chariot over the wreck of a competitor. He is launched over the front of his chariot and barely manages to hang on to the front as he climbs back up.

Pursued by Germans, Bud Ekins as Capt. Virgil “The Cooler King” Hilts jumps his motorcycle over a barbed-wire fence... but does not quite make it to safety.

Trapped by the Superposse, Butch and Sundance leap off a cliff into raging waters knowing that the "fall will probably kill [them]". Mickey Gilbert doubled for Robert Redford and Howard Curtis doubled for Paul Newman.

Papillon makes his final bid for freedom by leaping from a cliff into the sea. Dar Robinson doubled for Steve McQueen, his first major stunt in a Hollywood film.

Ross Kananga as James Bond uses four crocodiles as stepping stones to reach safety on the other side. Kananga, who owned the crocodile farm seen in the film, and after whom the main villain is named, did the stunt five times wearing the same crocodile skin shoes as his character had chosen to wear. During the fourth attempt, the last crocodile bit through the shoe and into his foot. The fifth attempt is one seen on film, with the tied-down crocodiles snapping at his feet as he passes over them.

In the same film, Jerry Comeaux as James Bond jumps his speedboat over a police car, a record that remained for 15 years.

"Bumps" Williard as James Bond driving a AMC Hornet leaps a broken bridge and spins around 360 degrees in mid-air, doing an "aerial twist". Willard was paid £30,000 for the stunt, which was held under EON Productions copyright for several years afterwards.

A major character dies when the rope bridge he is standing on is cut. British stuntman Joe Powell volunteered for the stunt after the rest of the stuntmen came down with a mysterious ailment. He fell onto cardboard boxes balanced on the edge of a ravine. If he had missed the boxes, no safety wire or parachute would have stopped him falling to the bottom of the ravine. Making the situation more dangerous was the rope bridge, which caused Powell to spin as he fell.

Rick Sylvester playing James Bond escapes the bad guys by skiing off a cliff in the Austrian Alps (actually Mount Asgard in the Arctic Circle) then releasing a parachute. Sylvester waited two weeks for the weather atop Mount Asgard to change. Finally he had a 15 minute window to make the jump. Five cameras were meant to record the stunt, but only the master shot worked. Sylvester was allegedly paid US$100,000 for the stunt. As he falls, one of his skis hits the parachute on its way down. It shows just how dangerous the stunt really was.

A.J. Bakunas as Hollywood stuntman Hooper leaps from a helicopter onto an airbag below, a record that remains to this day.

The hero fights the villain atop the world's tallest freestanding structure, Toronto's CN Tower, and the villain loses. Doubling the villain was Dar Robinson who opened his parachute just from the ground after a fall lasting six seconds. Robinson was paid US$100,000.

Corrie Jansen leaps from a cliff, a record freefall for a woman.

Indiana Jones climbs underneath a moving truck and is dragged along behind it before climbing back on board. The stunt was performed by Terry Leonard. Leonard agreed to do the stunt only if his good friend, stuntman Glenn H. Randall Jr., was driving the truck.

The Bandit leaps his Pontiac Trans-Am motorcar from the back of trailer, setting a record that remains to this day.

Sharky (Burt Reynolds) punches the villain through the window of the Hyatt Regency AtlantaTo achieve the affect, stuntman Dar Robinson. ran at the window, then at the last moment, spun around to go backwards through the glass and land on an airbag. It is the highest freefall from a building without a cable or parachute.

Renegade cop Roy Scheider, flying the state-of the-art “Blue Thunder” helicopter, is chased by a police helicopter down storm drains in Los Angeles, weaving between the varying support legs until his pursuer eventually crashes.

Vince Deadrick Jr. and Terry Leonard as Joan Wilder and Jack Colton leap from a car as it falls over an waterfall.

During the skateboard chase, Marty McFly runs over the top of Biff Tannen's convertible and rejoins his skateboard on the other side.

While rampaging through a mall, Genghis Khan rides up to a trampoline, does a somersault off of it, and lands back on his skateboard.

Dar Robinson asked to play the part of the albino killer in this Burt Reynolds directed Elmore Leonard adaptation so the audience would be more shocked by the villain's death. Without cutting away, Robinson was filmed falling backwards off a hotel balcony emptying his revolver at Reynolds' as he fell. A thin cable ran up Robinson's leg to a harness around his waist to arrest his fall just feet off the ground.

This was the third variation on a stunt that had appeared first in Moonraker and then in Octopussy; James Bond battles a bad guy while they are both hanging outside a plane. In this case, Bond and the villainous Necros fight as they cling to a cargo net filled with bags of opium hanging out the rear of a Soviet cargo plane. All three stunt sequences were done with ace parachutists Jake Lombard and B.J. Worth. Lombard, who had previously doubled for Roger Moore, took the part of Necros here, while Worth finally got to play Bond by doubling Timothy Dalton.

Nick Gillard as Eric Visser jumps his speedboat over a bridge in Amsterdam, breaking the record previously set by Live and Let Die.

Vic Armstrong as Indiana Jones rides his horse onto a ledge and jumps onto a moving Nazi tank.

The killer robot T-1000 flies a helicopter in a freeway chase after a S.W.A.T. van driven by The Terminator and at one point flies under an overpass. As if to prove the stunt was done for real, the pilot attempts a second underpass, but flies away at the last second.

Corrupt Treasury agent Travers hijacks a jet carrying US$100 million, then slides down a cable to the villains' Learjet. British stuntman Simon Crane performed the stunt. When the film's budget could not afford the one million dollars needed to complete the sequence, lead actor Sylvester Stallone agreed to cut his salary by the same amount.

Stuntman Billy Morts doubles for actor Keanu Reeves as L.A.P.D. cop Jack Traven, who rips the door off a Jaguar sports car then leaps to the open door of a speeding bus, his feet scraping against the ground.

Wayne Michaels as James Bond bungee jumps over a dam to break into a Russian chemical weapons factory. Michaels reached during the jump and came perilously close to the sloping surface of the dam, which was studded with irons struts that could have torn him to pieces. The stunt was further complicated as Bond had to take out a gun during the fall, which threw Michaels off trajectory.

Echoing The Man with the Golden Gun, Gary Powell as James Bond leaps his boat in a 360 degree spin, wrecking a gun emplacement on the bad girl's boat.

Sebastian Foucan as an African bombmaker eludes Daniel Craig's James Bond using free running style parkour. Foucan's (and the stunt's) notation in the opening credits were a first.

Stunts that have gone wrong

Stuntwork accounts for over half of all film-related injuries, with an average of 5 deaths for every 2,000 injuries. From 1980 to 1990 there were 37 deaths relating to accidents during stunts, twenty-four of these deaths involved the use of helicopters.

A plane crash killed stunt Nopilot [[Ormer Locklear.

  • Noah's Ark(film)(1929) Several people died, one man lost a leg and a number were injured in a scene where several hundred extras were caught in the 'Great Flood'. The deaths were instrumental in the introduction of film safety regulations in the following year.
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Margaret Hamilton was badly burned during a scene in which her character 'vanished' in a burst of flame and smoke, a delay in activating a trap-door catching her in the pyrotechnic device. Her stuntwoman was also injured in a scene involving a smoking broomstick

Stuntman Bob Morgan was seriously injured filming a gunfight on a moving train. Chains holding logs on a flatbed car broke, crushing Morgan as he crouched beside them.

Stunt pilot Paul Mantz was killed, and another stuntman seriously injured, when the title plane failed to clear a sand dune and crashed.

During a scene for Episode 9 ("The Terrifying Cobra-Man"), lead actor Hiroshi Fujioka, fractured his thighbone in a motorcycle stunt when he rode into a telephone pole at 50mph, forcing him out of action. Producers had to use stock and unused footage which was dubbed by Rokurô Naya for the next four episode, causing a dip in the ratings. Producers eventually had no choice but to substituted him with a second character played by Takeshi Sasaki. Fujioka made a return in Episode 53 ("Monster Jaguarman - Deathmatch by Motorcycle Fight"). As neither actors could be axed, the show eded up having two heroes (as opposed to one).

A.J. Bakunas died doubling for George Kennedy in a fall from the Kincaid Towers in Lexington, Kentucky, for the movie "Steel". Bakunas had successfully performed a fall from the ninth floor of the construction site, but when he learned that Dar Robinson had broken his record high fall for a non-movie related publicity stunt, Bakunas returned to perform the fall from the top of the construction site. Bakunas performed the fall expertly, but the airbag split and Bakunas was killed.

While filming a high speed chase in the bobsleigh-run the four-man bob came out of the run at the wrong place and hit a tree. One of its occupants, a young stuntman named Paolo Rigon, was killed.

The making of the movie Twilight Zone had consequences that overshadowed the film itself. During the filming of a segment directed by John Landis on July 23, 1982, actor Vic Morrow and child actors My-Ca Dinh Le (aged 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (aged 6) died in an accident involving a helicopter being used on the set. Without warning, it spun out of control and crashed, decapitating Morrow and one of the children with its blades. The remaining child was crushed to death as the helicopter crashed.

Stuntwoman Heidi van Beltz is left a paraplegic after being thrown from her car during a crash.

Stunt pilot Art Scholl was killed in an aircraft crash.

During the filming of a scene which called for Jackie Chan to jump from a wall to a tree branch, unhappy with the first shoot, he performed a second shoot that went wrong as his grip on the branch slipped and Jackie fell 15 feet to the ground below. He landed hard on his head, causing part of his skull to crack and shoot up into his brain. He was flown to the hospital and was in surgery 8 hours later. He now has a plastic plug, and a permanent hole in his head. He is also slightly hard of hearing in one ear from that fall.

Stuntman Dar Robinson dies in a motorcycle accident.

Stuntman Clint Carpenter dies in a helicopter stunt.

In one of the most high profile stunt deaths Brandon Lee the star of the The Crow was killed 8 days before that film's completion. Prop Masters working under time constraints had failed to notice that the previous firing of a cartridge with only a primer and a bullet in had caused a bullet to lodge in the forcing cone of one of their revolvers. When the first unit used this gun to shoot the death scene, the chamber was loaded with blanks which had no bullets. However, there was still the bullet in the barrel, which was propelled out by the blank cartridge's explosion. Despite being rushed to hospital Lee died within a matter of hours.

Stuntwoman Janet Wilder is killed and four other people are injured when a speedboat misjudges a ramp and lands in a crowd.

  • Ah Kam (a.k.a The Stunt Woman) (1996)

Actress Michelle Yeoh, who usually perform her own stunts was seriously injured when she misjudged jump off a bridge onto a truck, fracturing a vertebra and was in traction for a month, this sequence can be seen at the end of the film. This was her last stuntwork before Tomorrow Never Dies

Professional wrestler Owen Hart died in May 1999's WWE/WWF PPV Over the Edge 1999 after he was scheduled to glide down from the rafters for a ring entrance. This stunt was botched and Owen fell over to the ring below.

Stuntman Harry L. O'Connor was killed in an accident when he failed to rappel parasailing line to land on the submarine, he impacted a bridge at high speed and was killed instantly.

Recognition of stunt performers

Movies such as Hooper and The Stunt Man and the 80s television show The Fall Guy sought to raise the profile of the stunt performer and debunk the myth that movie stars perform all their own stunts. Noted stunt coordinators Hal Needham, Craig R. Baxley and Vic Armstrong went on to direct the action films The Cannonball Run, Action Jackson, Joshua Tree (1993 film). Vic Armstrong became the first stuntman to win both an Academy Award (for developing a descender rig as a safe alternative to airbags) and a Bafta award (for lifetime achievement in film). But the status of stuntmen in Hollywood is still low; despite the fact that few films of any genre or type could be made without them, stunt performers are still seen as working mainly in action movies. Repeated campaigns for a "Best Stunts" Academy Award have been rejected.

In 2001, the first "World Stunt Awards" was held in Los Angeles. Presented by actor Alec Baldwin, the event had A-list stars presenting the statues to Hollywood's unsung heroes. Arnold Schwarzenegger was presented with the first "Lifetime Achievement" award. He presented the awards in 2001. The awards show hands out eight awards: Best Fight, Best Fire Stunt, Best High Work, Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Man, Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Woman, Best Speciality Stunt, Best Work with a Vehicle and Best Stunt Coordinator and/or 2nd Unit Director.

Shows such as "Jackass" on MTV2, Dirty Sanchez on British TV, and "Totally Outrageous Behavior" on the American G4 feature people doing outrageous stunts.

Equality in stunts

In past Hollywood movies it was common for men to double for women and White American stunt performers to double for African-American performers. Veteran stunt man David Sharpe, a man of shorter than average height, often doubled for women in movie serials of the 1930s and '40s. It is now against union rules for stunt performers to double an actor of a different gender or race unless the stunt is so dangerous that there are no other volunteers, for example when B.J. Worth doubled for the black Jamaican actor Grace Jones parachuting off the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill. The rise of action heroines like Angelina Jolie and African-American stars like Will Smith has offered wider opportunities for stunt performers from diverse backgrounds.

The future of stuntwork

A backlash against dangerous stunts following the death of Sonya Jones , coinciding with developments in Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) that make such stunts unnecessary threatens to reduce stunt performers to the status of body doubles. And yet a backlash against movies that resemble video games could lead to a resurrection in pure stuntwork. Movies such as The Matrix and Mission: Impossible II have shown how CGI and stunts can be integrated for maximum effect. But - if for no other reason than safety - it is doubtful that the records established by Hooper and Sharky's Machine will be broken anytime soon.

See also

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