Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

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Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by ray245 » 2019-07-27 05:09pm

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/j ... s-injuries
This week, the British stunt performer Joe Watts suffered a serious head injury on the set of the film Fast & Furious 9, at Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, after he reportedly fell 30ft (9 metres) from a balcony. He was airlifted to hospital and has been put in an induced coma. Production on the film was shut down, and the Health and Safety Executive is investigating.

Stunt professionals are in high demand in the current climate of action-driven blockbuster films and increasing volumes of small-screen productions requiring cinema-standard action. Weary of unconvincing CGI and green-screen action, audiences are starting to want practical, unsimulated effects: humans doing spectacular stunts “for real”. However, as the volume and complexity of stunts has grown, so has the risk factor.

In Toronto last week, a special effects coordinator on the television superhero series Titans died “after an accident which occurred at a special effects facility during the preparation and testing for an upcoming shoot”, according to a Warner Bros statement. Warren Appleby was reportedly struck by a piece of a car that came off during the stunt test. In July 2017, the stunt performer John Bernecker died from head injuries on the set of The Walking Dead, in Georgia, after falling 20ft on to a concrete floor, missing a crash mat. A few months later, stunt rider Joi “SJ” Harris was killed when she lost control of her motorcycle on the streets of Vancouver while filming Deadpool 2. A former professional road racer, Harris was a novice stunt rider. The stunt required her to not wear a helmet.

“There’s always pressure to do bigger, better stunts,” says Ray Rodriguez, contracts manager for SAG-AFTRA, the US union for screen actors, including stunt performers. “It is an ongoing escalation in terms of what is trying to be achieved, and I think that does have an effect on the level of danger. I also think the population of qualified stunt coordinators and stunt professionals has been stretched a little thin, just because of the level of demand. We do have concerns sometimes that we see stunt coordinators on set that don’t have the type of résumé that we are accustomed to seeing. It is an area of the industry where there has not been a lot of formal regulation.”

Alex Daniels, president of the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures, based in Los Angeles, has similar concerns: while there have been vast improvements in safety compared with previous decades, the volume of stunts has also increased dramatically. “In the last 10 years, the number of stuntmen in Atlanta has grown from two or three dozen to nearly 1,000 because of the massive growth in volume of production in that region. What that has created is a situation of a greater number of stunt performers with less experience,” he says.

The demand for convincing stunts is also having an impact on actors. In May, shooting was suspended on the forthcoming 25th James Bond film after Daniel Craig injured his ankle. He slipped and fell while shooting a running scene in Jamaica, and had to be flown to the US for minor surgery. In August 2017, Tom Cruise broke his ankle during a roof-jumping stunt in London for Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Production was halted for nine weeks, adding an estimated $80m to the film’s budget.

In the US, which has an estimated 3,000 stunt professionals, there is no central stunt body. The Stuntmen’s Association is one of the largest of dozens of regional groups. It has 120 members, some of whom are semi-retired. Membership is by invitation.

The picture is slightly different in the UK, says Jim Dowdall, chair of the British Stunt Register (BSR). Founded in 1973, the BSR prides itself on being the oldest and largest stunt association in the business. Dowdall, a veteran stunt performer, estimates the BSR has some 400 members in the UK, representing more than 90% of British stunt performers and coordinators.

To qualify for the BSR, applicants are required to have spent a minimum number of days on a stage or film set and to be formally qualified in a minimum of six physical disciplines, including martial arts, horse riding, trampolining and stunt driving. “If you started from scratch, it would usually take two-and-half to three years,” says Dowdall. “And if you do succeed in getting on to the stunt register, there is no guarantee you’re going to get a single day’s work for the rest of your career. What you’re getting is like a driving licence.”

The result of these exacting standards, says Dowdall, is that stunt safety in the UK is extremely high. “The kind of injury that Joe [Watts] has sustained this week is incredibly rare given the number of stunt days per year, which must run into the tens of thousands. But it’s the one that goes wrong that everybody remembers,” he says.

The last such incident in the UK was in 2009, when David Holmes, a stunt double for Daniel Radcliffe on the Harry Potter films, injured his spine and was left paralysed after a flying stunt went wrong. Dowdall points out that there has not been a British stunt fatality for nearly 20 years. According to a spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), “the film and broadcast industry in general has a lower incidence of RIDDOR [Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, Dangerous Occurrences Regulations] than many of the more ‘traditional’ industries”. Since 2012, the HSE has investigated just six serious stunt-related accidents in the UK.

The environment is collaborative, rather than competitive, Dowdall says. Bonds within the stunt community are strong, and knowledge is continually being shared, within the community and across the Atlantic, to improve safety. There are signs the US industry is adopting a more British approach. In 2018, SAG-AFTRA introduced new standards and practices for stunt coordinators, including mandatory basic training requirements, and a register of professionals who have carried out a minimum number of days of work.

However, risk is still very much part of the territory. “It is not natural for a person to throw themselves out of a 30-storey building or roll down a flight of steps on fire,” says Dowdall. “By definition, the word ‘stunt’ does not mean you can do something 100% safely, because then it is no longer a stunt.”
The demand for stunts to be realistic as possible should not come at the expense of health and safety in my opinion. If it's safer to just use CGI I have no complaint as movie magic is basically faked to begin with. Even stunts requires clever editing at times to make the shots work. Demanding for studios to shun CGI can come at the cost of human lives, and I would rather watch a movie with more CGI than trying to brag about how you are more sophisticated by demanding more realistic stunts.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2019-07-27 09:19pm

There's a place for live stunts, if only to keep the stunt doubles from being put out of work, but the really dangerous stuff can and should be CGI. We're feeding people into the meat grinder to appease the CGI sucks crowd, and its not worth it.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by Ace Pace » 2019-07-28 02:24am

The Romulan Republic wrote:
2019-07-27 09:19pm
There's a place for live stunts, if only to keep the stunt doubles from being put out of work
Wat
Does this argument apply to horse drawn transportation? To data entry clerks?
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2019-07-28 02:28am

Ace Pace wrote:
2019-07-28 02:24am
The Romulan Republic wrote:
2019-07-27 09:19pm
There's a place for live stunts, if only to keep the stunt doubles from being put out of work
Wat
Does this argument apply to horse drawn transportation? To data entry clerks?
I get your point (although some places even in the so-called First World do still use horse drawn transportation, sometimes as a tourist attraction, despite objections from animal rights activists). But I somehow doubt that stunt-doubles would appreciate "We're putting you out of work out of concern for your well-being" as an argument.

And frankly... we're getting to the point where we'll potentially be able to automate just about every job away. Making a conscious decision to maintain some professions that aren't really necessary for the sake of keeping people employed may be a social necessity.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by Broomstick » 2019-07-28 05:28pm

Remembering the entertainment industry BEFORE we had CGI I can only applaud its existence. Deaths due to stunts going wrong used to be much more common that it currently is, and I'd prefer no one die for my entertainment. Yes, there's something to be said for practical effects and stunts, but CGI isn't just about "eliminate the actors", it can also edit out safety equipment that allows practical stunt to proceed with reasonable safety for all concerned while still yielding fine results. As just one example. CGI allows scenes that would simply be far too dangerous to film in any other way and the people who are in the "CGI sucks!" crowd can go suck on a lemon.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-07-29 06:17am

Maybe cut down on the insanity of producing tons of shitty action movies each year?

The last one I would say was not only worth seeing, but also worth making, was Mad Max Fury Road.

In general for each well-made action film which has a point to make and is worth preserving for the future as well you’d have 9 films destined to go down the drain. As they are shit anyway, an extra dangerous trick won’t help them to be better.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by ray245 » 2019-07-29 07:50am

K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-07-29 06:17am
Maybe cut down on the insanity of producing tons of shitty action movies each year?

The last one I would say was not only worth seeing, but also worth making, was Mad Max Fury Road.

In general for each well-made action film which has a point to make and is worth preserving for the future as well you’d have 9 films destined to go down the drain. As they are shit anyway, an extra dangerous trick won’t help them to be better.
It's not just action movies? Many sci-fi/superhero flicks also require a great deal of stunts. The only movies people want to watch in the cinemas tends to be big budget spectacle, with many audiences simply shunning smaller budget non-action drama films.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by Broomstick » 2019-07-29 08:10am

K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-07-29 06:17am
In general for each well-made action film which has a point to make and is worth preserving for the future as well you’d have 9 films destined to go down the drain. As they are shit anyway, an extra dangerous trick won’t help them to be better.
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ray245 wrote:
2019-07-29 07:50am
It's not just action movies? Many sci-fi/superhero flicks also require a great deal of stunts. The only movies people want to watch in the cinemas tends to be big budget spectacle, with many audiences simply shunning smaller budget non-action drama films.
The SF/superhero genre overlaps with action films.

And yes, the "problem" is that only the big spectacles are drawing big crowds and Hollywood is going to produce what makes money. The low-budget art films will continue to exist, but what makes blockbusters is going to dominate the market and is certainly going to dominate the big screens. For the people who enjoy this isn't a problem, it's what they want. For people who prefer non-action drama, or non-action comedy, they are finding less and less they enjoy.

That said - safety should be a prominent concern. Making action films should be safer than ever due to more knowledge/experience, modern safety gear, and the use of CGI to enhance practical effects. but it's required that there be oversight with actual teeth. I suspect that there are more accidents on sets that aren't set someplace like actual Hollywood where it's easier to hire non-union, inexperienced, unqualified stunt people. Which is not to say tragedies don't happen in Hollywood, too.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by ray245 » 2019-07-29 08:14am

Broomstick wrote:
2019-07-29 08:10am
That said - safety should be a prominent concern. Making action films should be safer than ever due to more knowledge/experience, modern safety gear, and the use of CGI to enhance practical effects. but it's required that there be oversight with actual teeth. I suspect that there are more accidents on sets that aren't set someplace like actual Hollywood where it's easier to hire non-union, inexperienced, unqualified stunt people. Which is not to say tragedies don't happen in Hollywood, too.
The problem is while there is some health and safety checks in place for stunts, any real stunts will always be more risky than CGI. So directors should not be cheered on by fans for using as much real-stunts as possible. It's an attitude that breeds an environment that encourages more risk-taking and endangering of human lives.

It's quite selfish in my opinion among movie fans for demanding as little CGI elements as possible when it could have reduced the risks of the stunt performers.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by bilateralrope » 2019-07-29 08:37am

ray245 wrote:
2019-07-29 07:50am
The only movies people want to watch in the cinemas tends to be big budget spectacle, with many audiences simply shunning smaller budget non-action drama films.
Probably because those are the only movies where a big cinema screen does anything to enhance the experience compared to watching it at home a few months later via a streaming service. I find that going to a cinema has too many downsides to be worth it for anything that doesn't have impressive visuals. And I'm not sure how long the screen size advantage will remain because what matters for screen size is the angle it takes up in your vision, not the length between its corners.

Though the problem of risky stunts isn't limited to movies. The article mentions several TV series.

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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by LaCroix » 2019-07-29 08:58am

I'd call it the GoT effect. With HBO upping the ante on "TV" stunts, everybody is trying to get their productions more glamorous.

As a result, stunts go further than the 'traditional' TV car crash scenes, or somebody getting tackled to the ground.
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by Lord Revan » 2019-07-29 10:44am

ray245 wrote:
2019-07-29 08:14am
Broomstick wrote:
2019-07-29 08:10am
That said - safety should be a prominent concern. Making action films should be safer than ever due to more knowledge/experience, modern safety gear, and the use of CGI to enhance practical effects. but it's required that there be oversight with actual teeth. I suspect that there are more accidents on sets that aren't set someplace like actual Hollywood where it's easier to hire non-union, inexperienced, unqualified stunt people. Which is not to say tragedies don't happen in Hollywood, too.
The problem is while there is some health and safety checks in place for stunts, any real stunts will always be more risky than CGI. So directors should not be cheered on by fans for using as much real-stunts as possible. It's an attitude that breeds an environment that encourages more risk-taking and endangering of human lives.

It's quite selfish in my opinion among movie fans for demanding as little CGI elements as possible when it could have reduced the risks of the stunt performers.
I suspect that 90% of the "only practical effects" crowd couldn't actually tell the difference between the well done CGI, practical effect or a mix of both and just assume if it looks fake it was CGI and if it's good it's practical.

That said replacing all stunts with CGI isn't a good option either, but rather one should use the right tool for the right job, with minimizing the risk of injury as much as it's practically possible and if the stunt carries a high risk of death if not done just right then CGI it (or at least partically CGI it in a way that eliminates that risk or at least reduces it to so low that it's practically speaking non-important).
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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by TheFeniX » 2019-07-29 12:34pm

Stunt Professionals love their work. When it's done safely, they love it even more. There's an inherent danger to most stunts, even more so on the crazy end of things. But that's why many of these people are professionals. The big problem lately (or always) is studios bring in "their guy" or look to cut costs. I can't recall off-hand the specific event, but there was one where a producer brought in a friend as a "Stunt Coordinator" and the guy's dayjob was working at Home Depot or something.

Stunt people have no pull. They are, by nature, just faceless actors to take hits. So when Joe Dumbfuck says "just jump on that train going 60MPH or we'll find someone who will." People need to eat. And the push for international markets doesn't help. They keep upping the ante where they get the most impact. Heartfelt gestures? Long-rants about the political ramifications of their actions? That shit is hard to make cross national boundaries. But HOLY SHIT DID YOU SEE TOM CRUISE RUN FROM THAT EXPLOSION!!!!?

Speaking of: Pretty sure Tom Cruise keeps his own guy on tap and actually listens to and pulls for whatever safety or "no way we're doing that" issues he brings up. Which makes sense because Cruise likes to do as many of his own stunts as he can. But Cruise is also allowed to have that pull because he puts people in seats.

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Re: Film stunts under scrutiny after deaths and serious injuries

Post by Starglider » 2019-07-29 05:03pm

The article made it clear that higher standards for training, planning and safety equipment reduce the injury rate to an acceptable level (as in 'on a par with construction, truck driver etc), so it is not a choice of 'CGI' vs 'streets littered with dead performers'. If professional bodies in the US can't manage it then this is a valid case for more government regulation. In practice of course CGI is continuing to improve, with focus now shifting to automation to reduce the cost of achieving realism rather than the absolute technical capability to be realistic, and will probably reduce demand for physical stunts to negligible marketing use before this happens.

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