Stunt Coordinators Seek Academy Award Recognition

David Strick

A stunt man takes a flying leap during bar brawl scene on the set of Mars in 1996.

AMPAS will consider request from the group -- which has lobbied for a designation for decades -- at a board of governors meeting Tuesday.

In a continuation of a twenty-year quest, stunt coordinators are once again asking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create an Oscar category for their work. Their proposal will come up for consideration at a meeting of the Academy’s Board of Governors on Tuesday.

“I’m baffled as to what it is that we’re lacking (in the Academy’s eyes),” said a visibly frustrated Jack Gill in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Gill has been leading the effort to obtain Academy recognition for the past two decades. Not surprisingly, the campaign is understood to have widespread support among stunt coordinators. In addition, some years ago, Gill obtained petition signatures from a range of Hollywood luminaries.

However, it’s an uphill battle. The Academy is known to be concerned about the length of the Awards show broadcast. The coordinators propose to have their Oscar be granted in a ceremony prior to the show, but are hoping for a clip of that ceremony, and a stunt sequence from the winning movie, to be shown as part of the broadcast.

Even that may run too long for the Academy’s taste, although a stunt clip would no doubt be a crowd-pleaser. Also, Academy governors from other branches might be uncomfortable setting a precedent for granting Oscars at an earlier ceremony, since they may be afraid that their branch could get yanked from the live show in future years.

Interestingly stunt coordinators can become members of the Academy, but in the At-Large branch (which also includes casting directors). Only 19 are, however, and at most two are admitted per year. At-Large members have all the privileges of branch membership, an Academy spokesperson told THR, except for representation on the Board.

One stunt performer (not coordinator) has actually won an award from the Academy, Yakima Canutt, who spent time on-screen jumping from horse to horse and falling off of wagons. However, his 1966 statue was an honorary award – "for achievements as a stunt man and for developing safety devices to protect stunt men everywhere" – rather than an award in a specified category.

Stunt coordinators are the professionals who design the complex stunts seen in movies and TV shows – car chases, fight scenes, fiery explosions, underwater work, high dives and more. The stunts are then executed by stunt performers (stuntmen and -women), or occasionally by principal performers, if they’re particularly macho and the coordinator and production insurance company approve.

Gill argues that coordinators’ work is both artistic, in that it expresses a character’s personality, and technical, in that it involves intricate design and placement of performers, vehicles, objects and, often, cameras.

The coordinators, who are typically former stunt performers, are often second unit directors as well, since stunt work is usually shot by second units. That dual role means that stunt coordinators are frequently members of the DGA and SAG and/or AFTRA. The performers unions cover stunt performers and coordinators, whereas the DGA covers second unit directors.

SAG has not taken an official position on the stunt coordinators’ request. However, the SAG Awards include two awards for Stunt Ensemble, which honor the stunt performers and coordinators in a movie and a television series respectively. In addition, the Primetime Emmys have an award for Stunt Coordination itself. It’s given at the Creative Arts ceremony, which precedes the main primetime ceremony, typically by a week or so.

Speaking on his own behalf, Conrad Palmisano, chair of the guild’s Stunt and Safety Committee, said “Undeniably, we deserve the award . .  I really don’t know why the reluctance.”

In a separate development, SAG will be hosting an evening with stuntman Hal Needham Wednesday. The event, which is for members and guests only, will include a discussion of Needham’s new book, “Stuntman!”


Twitter: @jhandel