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Oscar for stunts? It's put to a vote

June 20, 2005|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

For 15 years, stuntman Jack Gill has lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create an Oscar category to recognize the achievements of Hollywood stunt professionals -- and for 15 years, Gill said, he has been stonewalled in his quest.

On Tuesday night, Gill's lobbying comes to a vote as the academy's 42-member board of governors formally considers a request submitted by Hollywood's various stunt organizations to create an Oscar category for "best stunt coordinator." The category would honor those men and women who design and choreograph the on-screen stunts that cause movie audiences to "oooh" and "aahhh" yet, for the most part, remain anonymous to the public.

But winning the academy's approval won't be easy.

Academy sources say the board tends to proceed with caution when it comes to creating new categories. The last one came five years ago with best animated film. An honorary Oscar was presented to pioneering stunt expert Yakima Canutt in the 1960s for his contributions to the stunt industry, Gill noted. But that took place only after actor Charlton Heston, who had worked with Canutt in staging the famous "Ben-Hur" chariot race sequence, personally lobbied for the recognition.

The stunt organizations have submitted petitions to the academy signed by influential Hollywood figures including directors Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and actors Michael Douglas and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

They note that even at the opening of this year's Oscar telecast, the producers had no fewer than 30 action cuts from films to build excitement for the show. And, they add, over the last two decades, 12 of the best picture Oscar winners have either been action films or films where stunts play a major role in the story line.

Last week, a group of stuntmen staged a demonstration outside academy offices in Beverly Hills to press their cause and create media attention.

"We tried to show the academy we're not going to go away," Gill said. "They can ignore us all they want, but we're going to keep on demonstrating. And if we have to, we'll show up at the Academy Awards with placards."

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