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New Moves They Must Learn

As daredevil stars and computer technology see more action, stunt experts are having to adjust.

September 10, 2000|MICHAEL MALLORY | Michael Mallory is an occasional contributor to Calendar

For others in the stunt community, the critical issue related to the use of actors in stunts, either performing the action for the cameras or having their images digitized over a stunt player, comes down to residuals. As Screen Actors Guild members, stunt players receive residual payments for films the same as actors do, but only if they have appeared on camera. Residuals are not paid for off-camera work, such as shot development, rehearsal, testing, rigging and safety work for other stunt players, which includes such duties as inflating a crash bag or slathering a fellow stunter with rubber cement for a fire burn.

The payment question becomes even murkier in cases where stunts have been filmed against a green screen for later digital enhancement. That can obscure both the stunt players' identities and their work.

Digitally enhanced action also rankles many stunt players and coordinators on a creative level as well, since almost anything is now possible in film, to the detriment of realism.

"Stunts are getting bigger and wilder and crazier, and there's nothing real about it, nothing that a human could do now, because [movie characters] are all becoming supermen," Janes asserts.

"When you have an actor doing something behind a blue or green screen, and you know it, what's the jeopardy there?" asks Diamond Farnsworth, a second-generation stuntman (his father is former stuntman and actor Richard Farnsworth) who is stunt coordinator for CBS' "JAG." "It's like cartoons; when Wile E. Coyote falls off the cliff, you don't go, 'Oh my God!' because it's a cartoon. And people are going to start saying, 'Wait a minute, what's the jeopardy behind this?' And I think they're still going to want to see stunts."

For that reason, even though the pinch is already being felt in the stunt community, most believe it is not yet time to relegate stunt players to the same museum that houses analog recording equipment. "There are still so many things you have to do and want to do with stuntmen," says Bruckheimer, whose company produced "Remember the Titans" and is currently working on "Pearl Harbor" for next summer. Wagner, Cruise's producing partner, agrees: Stunt people "are a very necessary and integral part of creating a sequence. Doing things green-screen, for example, requires a lot of precision, which those people are trained in."

Ultimately, the bottom line, in the words of Andy Armstrong, is that "it's not necessarily about making work for stunt people, it's about making it believable that an actor who may not have any physical skills can do something that's very tough, very skillful and dangerous and clever. Engineering and development go hand in hand, and there's no reason the stunt industry shouldn't be the same."

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