And The Oscar Goes To… Stunts

Olivia Jackson after her tragic accident

The Academy Awards have twenty-four categories, many have been present since its inception in 1929. And whilst there has been numerous removals and additions throughout the years, one category which has never featured is Stunt Work.

Since the first-ever stuntman, Frank Hanaway, who featured in Edwin S. Porter’s ‘The Great Train Robbery’; we have seen stuntmen and women push the boundaries of awe-inspiring action. From death-defying leaps, to engulfing their bodies in infernos, as the appetite for more dangerous and thrilling action increases, these incredible performers consistently meet those demands.

Frank Hanaway, the first-ever Hollywood Stuntman.

So it is utterly baffling as to why the most prestigious award ceremony in the film industry doesn’t recognise the department, which many would argue, are a vital mechanism in bringing some of our most beloved films to life. And even in an age where CGI could manufacture plenty of stunts with ease; audiences still hope to see the physical extremes these performers put their bodies through.

And when we delve into the movies which have come to shape today’s pop-culture, you realise just how significant Stunt Work is. Just imagine Indiana Jones without the iconic boulder scene, or any of the Marvel movies without the breath-taking fight sequences. The impact wouldn’t be the same, and all of them are thanks to stunt performers. Men and women doubling for the actors and actresses who surely should share some of the glory awards ceremonies bestow?

But no, that doesn’t seem to be the case. That glorious spotlight is reserved only for those who convey the “creativity of filmmaking”, such as scriptwriters, production etc. These are all important factors of bringing a film to the big-screen, but surely Stunt Work fit into this category also.

The various co-ordinators who plan and expertly execute the numerous stunts to bring the director’s vision to life is a vital part of the film-making process. The hours of preparation and physical training which goes into, what can be, seconds of screen-time is an achievement worthy of the coveted golden statue.

Most film studios have acknowledged the fact that these men and women and those behind them, deserve recognition, but why isn’t there more pressure being placed on these award ceremonies to facilitate a whole new category?

One person who is actively enforcing this pressure, both within the film industry and beyond is the formidably inspiring South African stuntwoman, Olivia Jackson.

Olivia Jackson after her tragic accident

On September 5th, 2015, Olivia survived a horrific accident on the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Whilst performing a stunt where she was directed to drive a motorcycle towards a camera vehicle, the camera was planned to lift above her head as she approached. The stunt did not go as planned. Instead, the camera didn’t lift in time resulting in a head-on collision.

Olivia suffered twenty severe injuries, including a punctured lung, a severed brachial artery, a degloved face, serious head injuries, multiple broken bones, a paralysed left arm which was eventually amputated and a brachial plexus injury – when the nerve roots are ripped out of the spinal cord.

Medically induced into a seventeen-day coma, Olivia underwent back-to-back surgeries. Remarkably, she survived. Yet four years after the shocking accident, she still lives in intense pain, but refuses to be defeated or defined by her injuries.

Prior to that fateful day, Olivia was one of the industry’s leading stunt-figures with a plethora of titles to her name. From Mad Max to Avengers: Age of Ultron, her work was revered throughout the stunt world, and even today she is still active. Teaching martial arts, riding horses and volunteering with disabled men, women and children, Olivia has refused to back-down to her injuries.

It is hard to read about Olivia’s life, and many other stunt performers who have faced similar fates or worse, and not feel as if they are being cheated by the industry they evidently adore. And it also cements the reason as to why the Academy should finally recognise this indominable department.

If Olivia’s story proves anything, it is that our many Stunt Teams consistently go above and beyond, willingly placing themselves in harms way to capture the imaginations of the millions of audiences who flock to the cinemas every year. They do it without demands, without question and always with the audience in mind. To them, it is just another form of entertainment, and the time has come to finally recognise it as so.

Even today, we see some of the best in the business who consistently push the boundaries of what stunt performers can and will do. Take Bobby Holland Hanton, who has doubled for Hollywood heavyweights such as Daniel Craig in James Bond, Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises and Chris Hemsworth in the Thor movies. Whether it be summersaults, flips, or taking hit after hit, Bobby is the man who has helped provide some of the industry’s most pivotal film moments.

Bobby Holland Hanton with Chris Hemsworth on the set of Thor Ragnarok

Another is Paul Lowe, whose most recent appearance terrified audiences in the final series of Game of Thrones. In a scene where a child is impaled to the wall, his entire body was set on fire. That deserves an award within itself.

It has been almost 90 years since the first Academy Awards were handed out. Throughout that time, never has Stunt Work featured as an award category. Although it is long over-due, surely in an age where the movie industry is evolving with the modern world, this creative and historic industry has earnt its right to feature? After all it is older than the Academy Awards themselves and deserves to enjoy the glory and recognition almost every other film department does.

The fact these Stunt Teams don’t is a black cloud over the golden glimmer of the OSCAR prestige. So let’s hope that one day in the near future we hear, “and the Oscar for best Stunt Work goes to…”