Academy Award trophy. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

With the Academy Awards taking place tomorrow, an intense focus will be placed on films released throughout the year.

Many aspects of these films will be celebrated such as costumes, sound design, lighting. However, one aspect of these films that aren’t being represented: stunt work.

Since the days of Steamboat Bill, Jr. and a house falling around Buster Keaton, stunt people have been one of the rare groups who work in film to not be recognized by the Academy.

“Isn’t that interesting,” Alex Daniels, 38-year veteran stunt coordinator and President of the Stuntmen’s Association said. “As prominent as stunt work is, creatively in films, today and always has been, it’s still not acknowledged by the Academy.”

Daniels says he and his stunt community have been fighting for representation at the Oscars since at least 1991. Even with several stunt members in the Academy, they’ve had discussions and meetings but have gained no traction in their fight.

The fight is two-fold for Daniels and the stunt community. The first and most important, Daniels says, is respect for craft, second being compensation.

Daniels says stunt workers are at times broadly viewed as “people that just throw themselves down a flight of stairs for money” but argues his field is a craft as valuable as any other that’s recognized, one that requires immense planning, patience, endurance and skill.

Sometimes, he says, stunt coordinators receive a script that may say “characters fight” and the responsibility to construct a scene is entirely up to the stunt team. Even in a superhero-dominated CGI-heavy cinema-scape, stunt people are doing spandex-laden, motion-captured stunts.

“To say that the work of stunt people and coordinators isn’t artistic isn’t just untrue, it’s far-fetched,” Daniels said. “Just look at the clips used for Best Film, Direction, certainly for acting, it’ll include action, quite likely performed by a stunt person. And those clips are promoting other categories. It’s bizarre [The Academy] don’t want to recognize stunt work as a contribution to a final product.”

Marneen Lynne Fields, a legendary stunt performer nicknamed “Hollywood’s Original Fall Girl” by stunt coordinator J.P. Bill Catching, echoes Daniels thoughts.

As a pioneering stuntwoman, Fields has taken a litany of brutal bumps from the stunts she’s done: nearly 50-foot high falls, high dives, high jumps, and pratfalls, to name a few.

The least the Academy can do, she says, is to respect the talent given and pain taken for the artform she and her fellow stunt people love so much.

I can’t emphasize enough, stunt people are actors in every sense of the word,” Fields said. “You do these high falls, you’re taught to scream to sell it. You’re taught to mimic the actress in all of her moments. It takes great versatility and talent to do stunts. ”

Aside from respect, stunt people would like the pay involved in Academy-nominated films.

One stunt person who worked on Best Picture nominee Black Panther asked not to be named for this piece said he joined the film for a plethora of reasons– what it meant to him and what it would mean to culture-at-large.

With the film being nominated for Best Picture, he acknowledged his residuals are going to look good. “I’m going to be looking forward to my walks to the mailbox for a while,” he said with a laugh.

Daniels agreed, saying any person — actor, makeup artist, whoever — that’s won or been nominated for an Academy Award has a substantial pay bump afterward, noting it isn’t all about the money, however.

It’s about the respect that isn’t being given to the stunt community,” Fields added.
Whether respect or pay bump or both, it’s all tied into recognition.

“The logical thing to do,” Fields said, “Would be for the Academy to recognize Best Stuntman, Best Stuntwoman, Best Stunt Director, and Best Stunt Ensemble to make the Academy Awards fair to a group of people who are not only great actors, performers, champions, and athletes in their own right, but who are also the only talent that risks their lives on a daily basis in the name of filmmaking. It’s long overdue.”

[Gaining recognition by The Academy] is like an insurance claim,” Daniels said. “Deny, deny, deny until it goes away, but we’re not going away. We’re so important to the creative work of this industry, and we deserve to be seen.”

angel@smdp.com

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