One after another, the recent Oscar winners would step up and thank those behind the scenes who made it all possible. After all, this year's show theme was dedicated to them. But the one group ignored that evening--and, they claim, for the past 66 years--are those who make the movies possible, the stunt players.
Never has there been an Oscar for stunt men and women. Until last year, they were not even allowed to be members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Even then, it took a petition with the town's heavyweights--top stars, producers and directors--to pressure the academy into letting several stunt coordinators into the fold. It took a six-year campaign just to get that far. And still no Oscar category exists. Stunt people complain that there are plenty of special effects and technical categories, but not one to recognize those who make the action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone and Ford look so death-defyingly great.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 10, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Page 91 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 14 words Type of Material: Correction
A Film Clips item last Sunday misidentified the stunt coordinator for "The Good Son." He is Jack Gill.
Why the snub? Some claim it's because the old-guard academy is slow to accept change. In fact, academy Executive Director Bruce Davies says simply, "The board has never seen fit to extend a category for stunts. It would get corny as hell to have several stunt categories. Do you give an Oscar for people getting blown out of windows?"
Hardly, say stunt coordinators Jack Gill and David Ellis. Ellis is one of the select few who has made it into the academy. The category, they argue, should go to stunt coordinators, who are sort of the producers-directors of the actual stunts seen in feature films. In some cases they perform the stunts themselves, and several are second-unit directors. Their primary duty is to coordinate and mastermind all aspects of a film's stunt-work--which in many ways they say can be an intricately detailed science.
According to Gill, there are probably 2,500 working stunt people, who make up about 8% to 10% of the membership of the Screen Actors Guild. "But when you look at pay, they probably make up 40% because they are working all the time," he notes.
"We started pushing the academy about six years ago for acknowledgment. But everything is by the book and they're pretty staunch individuals when it comes to change," Gill said. "So we circulated a petition and got people like Sidney Lumet, (producers) Marty Bregman and Bob Rehme, Dustin Hoffman and Harrison Ford, director Jim Cameron and Arnold (Schwarzenegger) to support it. There were about 80 to 100 names . . . big names on it. So the academy listened."
Gill added, "The weird part is that they said we didn't fit into either artistic or technical ability to qualify" for an Oscar category, "but artistically we are creating the action on the screen and technically we're devising and designing each part of the stunt."
Why stunt players never raised their voices in the past is unclear. In the early days, Gill says, they used to get paid $5 a day, and many stunt men came from the rodeo circuit. From the '60s to the early '80s, stunt work didn't change much, with injuries prevalent on most sets. But technology and a better understanding of science helped improve that, via the stunt coordinator.
"When you consider that 8 out of the 10 top-grossing films of all time were stunt-oriented pictures, that tells you the significance and impact that stunt people have on this industry," says Ellis, stunt coordinator on "The Good Son" and stunt coordinator and second-unit director on "Patriot Games." But he notes that "Patriot Games" producer Rehme, who was president of the academy at the time the petition was circulated, was instrumental in getting the board to open membership to two stunt coordinators. Two more have been added this year. And Ellis says more will be voted in. Once their strength in number increases, they will set up the criteria for an appropriate Oscar category.
But the academy's Davies insists that there are stunt people who don't want to see an Oscar category. Why and who they are, Davies can't or won't say.
"As it stands, there are no immediate plans (for the academy's Awards Committee on Rules and its Board of Governors) to look at an Oscar category now," Davies added. "And when they do, the process will take years."
Chances are, 1994 will be just one more year that Oscar will slip from the stunt players' grasp.