Home > Features > Mad to the Max: Why the stunt-community is no longer pulling punches…

Mad to the Max: Why the stunt-community is no longer pulling punches…

Stunt Controversy

This year’s Oscars have come and gone and the summer blockbusters are mere weeks away. In the wake of their massive contribution to cinema, why has the stunt-community yet to receive recognition for its prolific, vital work asks Impact editor John Mosby…

Anyone with a television or internet connection knows that controversy surrounded last month’s Academy Awards. The hashtag #oscarssowhite trended across the twittersphere (and beyond) from the moment the were announced. The lack of black and ethnic faces in the nominations – despite a strong year for such at the box-office – was noticeable. But the race issue has been – and continues to be – well-covered elsewhere.

Another controversy was the matter of the stunt-community seeing another year of their contribution to the film-slate disregarded.  Its members have grown familiar, if consistently weary, of their lack of Oscar recognition – watching year after year as blockbusters get rewarded with statuette after statuette for the named-actors and directors involved but not the people who supplied the action quota itself.  And in an era where Mad Max: Fury Road prominently scooped six major awards (after being nominated for ten), the absurdity of that exclusion has been seen in even starker relief.

Fury Road was a film built for scale, size, colour and impact, the equivalent of being flash-mobbed by a rogue strain of testosterone; a post-apocalyptic Top Gear on steroids that demanded every inch of an IMAX screen or the very best of home entertainment set-ups. Even if the film was essentially one long car-chase it was so pixel-perfect in its presentation (and vivid wasteland vision) that there really hadn’t been anything like it in years. But try to imagine what it would have been like without the . If you took every second of speeding cars, swooping metalheads, hand-to-hand combat, crashing trucks and sand-skimming leaps and edited them all out, the fact is you’d have a three minute documentary on fossil fuels.  If you doubt that, take a look at http://www.facebook.com/moviepilotdotcom/videos/1071067762931658/ 

No stunt Oscar for Mad Max?

Major awards… but nothing for the stunt-work?

Mad Max: Fury Road earned more than $377,000,000 worldwide at the box office and won six Academy awards. Yes, the make-up, the hair, the costumes, the production design, the sound mixing, sound editing and film editing were all amazing but SO were the stunts! What is a Mad Max movie without the jaw-dropping stunts?” veteran stuntwoman notes. “For more than 20 years now the stunt community has been reaching out to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to add a stunt coordinator category. Every year we have been declined. The Academy’s arguments have ranged from: the telecast is already too long, we have no creative input, we are not technical, ‘stunts’ are neither an art or a science and there are not enough stunt coordinator Academy members.”

Sophia Crawford

Stuntwoman Sophia Crawford is helping to apply pressure to the industry for recognition…

“Right now we have about 31 stunt coordinator academy members. We are not asking to be included in the telecast, only the non-telecast pre-award ceremony. To say that we have no ‘creative input’ and so forth is astonishing,” she continues. “It’s not just about falling out of a window or being hit by a car… it’s so much more complicated than that. There is a vast amount of work done in the stunt department from creating and designing the action, prepping, rigging, rehearsing and performing intricate and dangerous action sequences while keeping the cast and crew safe.”

Speaking recently to , who has worked with her husband on countless action projects, she shared the view about the range of poor excuses made for excluding stunts from the awards frame.

“First, the excuse was …’…because it would be too difficult to figure who did what…’ despite the fact it’s for the coordinator whose identity is damn easy to discover. Then it was ‘…stars want to maintain the illusion it’s them doing the stunts…’ ignoring the fact that no star designs, rigs, and tests the gag even IF they perform it. That became ‘…there are already too many awards…’ after which the Academy added more categories. And NOW it’s ‘…there’s not enough members qualified for a stunt peer group…’ even though the only responsibility for that group would be to nominate – the entire membership votes on all awards,” Mary explains. “The award is not for the grunts, it’s for the person whose responsibility it is to oversee design, testing, and execution of a film’s action, while keeping everyone – actors, stunt people, crew – safe. It’s a big job. It’s a heavy responsibility. And its Oscar is overdue.”

Jeff Wolfe, stunt co-ordinator on the upcoming Rush Hour television series and President of the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures  formally echoes those sentiments and is far from satisfied with the current status-quo.

“For almost ninety years the Film Academy has discriminated against stunt people and their contribution to the medium we all love and literally bleed for. There are no colour lines or gender lines here. Stuntwomen and stuntmen of all walks are affected by the blatant disregard of their significant contribution to the films we watch. After all, what would most movies be without the action? Would you even care to watch the trailer? How many action scenes did they use in touting whatever other category happened to be nominated on the actual awards broadcast?” he notes. ”Today’s filmgoers and filmmakers are well aware that the actor does, indeed, NOT do all of their own stunts… Isn’t it long overdue for the Academy to acknowledge the same…?

The observation that most stars are now willing to admit that they don’t do all their own action sequences would seem obvious. Special-effects (which already has its own Oscar category), common sense and insurance restrictions are clear and paramount. However, sadly, even as this article was being written there was news that actor Dylan O’Brien had been seriously  injured during shooting a scene for the new Maze Runner movie (he’s recovering) and X-Men: Age of Apocalypse star Olivia Munn (playing Psylocke) ignited the issue again by claiming she’d done her own stunts from start to finish.

“That was me from the beginning to the end,” Munn told Entertainment Tonight. and other outlets. “It was important to me that I was able to do all of the stunts because the more believable it is, the better it is for the audience – and the only way to make it believable is for me to actually do it.”

Olivia Munn in X-Men: Apocalypse

Olivia Munn in X-Men: Apocalypse

The stunt-community visibly bristled. After all, wasn’t Julia Rekaikyna (who had also worked on Deadpool) listed as her stunt-double on the film, alongside pictures of them dressed in the same costume and working together on-set? Had Munn, who had admittedly trained hard and impressively for the role, somehow also acquired years of precise skills or had she – more realistically – made an important effort and then been bolstered by a trained professional and simply didn’t acknowledge that clearly?

Action star (The Expendables 2, The Bourne Ultimatum, the Undisputed movies and the upcoming Doctor Strange) is an actor and martial-artist who actually IS capable of doing most of his own action sequences. But even he fully admits the need to recognise those who step forward to co-ordinate and complete the full action experience… and he welcomes the opportunity to say they should get recognition and genuine credit…

“It’s a disgrace. No one ever risked their life sewing a costume or lighting a set… yet stunt-people do on a regular basis. They risk life and limb for Oscar-nominated films that absolutely could NOT be made without stunt men and women. Mad Max The Revenant… could not have been made without them,” Adkins agrees. “People might argue that not every film has stunts in it, well… not every film has ‘visual effects’ or is an ‘adapted screenplay’. It’s time the Academy honoured these men and women. It genuinely pisses me off and you can quote me on that!”

Scott Adkins

Scott Adkins notes the huge importance of trained stuntpeople…

So what can be done? At a time when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is falling over itself to secure a sense of diversity in its ranks and nominations, will it take additional time to consider that the biggest winner of the statuettes at its 2016 gala is also built on the often fractured backbone of another esteemed body that gets NO nominations? So far, the biggest alternative has been the Taurus World Stunt Awards. Their glossy inaugural event took place in 2001 and over the last fifteen years has seen some heavyweight performers presented with equally heavyweight trophies (each ‘minotaur’ statuette weighing about 2 kilograms). But for all its firepower, it’s fair to say that most mainstream cinema-goers will not be aware those awards even exist and even if they do, it feels like the stunt-community celebrating its own rather than receiving plaudits from the wider industry. The Oscars, with their vast scope, influence and audience, remain the brass ring.

“We had a peaceful rally outside the Academy offices a few days prior to the Oscars and we handed (Academy President) Cheryl Boone Isaacs a bunch of roses and a petition with 65,000 signatures. Each year the signatures are growing but it’s not enough.” Sophia Crawford sighs.  “Several actors, directors and producers have spoken out in support of our cause but so far the answer is still no. I really hope there will be a change in the near future. The stunt department is an integral part of the entertainment family. All we are asking is for a seat at the table with everyone else.”

Can the success of stunt-filled Fury Road really be ignored any longer? Can special-effects be rewarded, but practical effects not?  Either way, the stunt community is mad as Max and not going to take it any more…


A longer version of this article will appear in the next print edition of Martial Arts Illustrated, on sale in early April. 

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