ActionFest: Stunt Performers Renew Push for Oscar Category

84th Academy Awards
<p>One of the giant Oscars stage props that will be used during the 84th Annual Academy Awards, airing Sunday night on ABC</p>
At a panel discussion, leader Jack Gill says he will meet with new Academy leader Dawn Hudson in an effort to secure industry recognition for stuntmen and women.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- If Jack Gill has his way, this will be the year that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally acknowledges stunt work at the Oscars.

Gill, a master stunt coordinator whose credits range from Dukes of Hazzard to Fast Five, has spent the past 21 years trying to get the Academy to salute the risky work of the men and women who make the Arnold Schwarzeneggers and Jeremy Renners look so dangerous.

And he will have his chance again in three weeks when he meets with Dawn Hudson, the new Academy leader, to formally petition the organization to consider a new category.

PHOTOS: 20 Hollywood Stunts Gone Wrong

Gill spoke Saturday as part of a panel at ActionFest, a film festival dedicated to action movies and the people who work on them. The festival, at which this reporter is serving as a judge, is now in its third year in Asheville, a town that is to North Carolina what Austin is to Texas.

The panel featured Gill and Mickey Gilbert, a stunt icon whose credits include the classics Ben-Hur and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They spoke of their on-set experiences (the stories of stunts gone wrong grabbed the audience’s attention) and how they got their start. But when talked turned to the lack of recognition by Hollywood, the two became passionate.

“This year they’ve got a new executive director. She seems to be a lot more receptive than the others,” said Gill, who added he’s already had multiple meetings with Hudson. “I don’t know how we do it. But we are not going to go away."

The craftsmen who work on stunts (that ranges from 2nd unit directors to stunt coordinators to stunt performers) have tried petitions in the past. (Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese have signed papers asking the Academy to create a category, according to Gill.) They also have met with Academy members, all to no avail.

This year they even considered staging demonstrations on the day of the Oscars although Gill nixed the idea because he didn’t want to take the spotlight from other craftspersons.

Gilbert thinks the industry’s disregard is institutional.

“They didn’t want anyone to know” that actors weren’t doing their own stunts, he said of studios in Hollywood’s golden era. “It’s carried through to today. It’s a monkey on their back.”

Gill, who isn’t asking for the stunts category to be televised, said that the Oscar rules state that crafts must have artistic and scientific merit, and he says stuntwork is both. It’s artistic because stunt coordinators design and write whole sequences involving the characters, and scientific because “we have to figure out how not to kill anyone on set.”

"We just want to be recognized like every one else,” he said. “We’re going to fight, and continue to fight. And we’re going to beat ’em."

Email: Borys.Kit@thr.com
Twitter: @Borys_Kit