Hollywood often celebrates the hard work of actors, screenwriters, directors and producers when it comes to bringing major movies and TV/streaming shows onto screens both big and small. But one of the most important — and often overlooked — jobs in Hollywood come from stunt performers and stunt coordinators — especially on giant blockbusters filled with lots of camera-friendly action and dangerous performances.
Unfortunately, when it comes to recent movies like Deadpool 2 and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, along with several others, the lives of stuntmen and stuntwomen have been either altered forever or taken too soon as the result of disastrous, sometimes fatal injuries that have been occurring at an all-too-frequently clip. Let's break down the work of stuntmen/stuntwoman and stunt coordinators, and talk about some of the most pressing accidents in recent cinematic history that indicate that more work needs to be done when it comes to the safety of these performers.
Hollywood's Problem With Stunt Safety
One of Hollywood's hardest, most stressful and most under-appreciated positions is the work done by stunt performers and stunt coordinators. This is especially the case in today's CG-friendly movie/TV landscape, as it can be easy for people to undervalue and/or overlook the diligent and dangerous work done by stunt performers. A lot of planning and precision is needed to make sure the stunts are done as safely and expertly as possible. When someone is jumping off a cliff, falling down stairs or what-have-you, it's up to the stunt coordinator and the stunt performer to map out the stunt, approach it as carefully and exactly as possible, and make sure that nobody is seriously, severely or, worst of all, fatally injured during any big crash, leap or tumble.
As a profession that's often taken for granted in Hollywood, particularly with the disrespectful lack of a "Best Stunt Ensemble" category at the Oscars, stunt performers and stunt coordinators have traditionally been underrepresented in Hollywood. With an influx of projects being made thanks to the rise of streaming services and the always-ballooning size of blockbusters, it would seem that seasoned stunt performers are being spread fewer-and-farther between throughout the abundance of movies and TV shows being filmed at a high volume.
With the speedy productions needed to make sure these movies meet their expected release date deadlines, there is a growing concern for the lack of proper precautions and planning that goes into a few of these death-defying stunts. Which leads us to some of the biggest productions of the last few years having dealt with severe and tragic mishaps.
One of the most famous and unfortunately fatal stunt accidents in recent years occurred during production on Deadpool 2. The 2018 sequel to the hugely successful and highly irreverent 2016 blockbuster was met with tragedy on August 14, 2017 when stuntwoman Joi "SJ" Harris, who was serving as the double for actress Zazie Beetz, lost control of her motorcycle and crashed into Shaw Tower in Vancouver. It was SJ Harris' first time working as a stuntwoman, and she joined the production only the week prior to this lethal accident. There were also several concerns made before the accident.
SJ Harris was not wearing a helmet during the stunt since her on-screen character, Domino, was not wearing one, and there was not enough time to fashion a helmet underneath the wig. The stunt was rehearsed for two days, but professionals were critical of the plans since Harris' experience with riding motorcycles didn't guarantee that she was ready to perform this dangerous stunt.
There were also reports that the production was facing long hours and general exhaustion, with some days going well over 15 hours. Production on the sequel was shut down immediately after this accident, but it resumed just two days later. Deadpool 2 is dedicated to the late stuntwoman, but the story continues — notably with Fox recently noting (as it was reported by USA Today) that it disagrees with the reports claiming that safety violations were what led to this tragic and horrific on-set accident.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
During production on the sixth and final installment of the original Resident Evil film series, British stuntwoman Olivia Jackson, who served as lead actress Milla Jovovich's stunt woman, was severely injured during a motorcycle collision. It collided into a camera crane, which didn't properly move out of the way. This resulted in the stuntwoman being in a coma for the following two weeks.
Similar to Deadpool 2's events, the performer was riding without a helmet, which led to critical and severe injuries during this accident. Specifically, Jackson's face was torn and her facial bones were crushed. There was also cerebral trauma, a severed artery in her neck, a paralyzed arm, a crushed face, several broken ribs, torn fingers (with a thumb that was amputated), and five nerves torn out of her spinal cord, among other grave injuries. Eventually, the paralyzed left arm was amputated.
To make matters worse, this is not the only accident that occurred on set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, though the second accident turned into a fatal one. Crew member Ricardo Cornelius was tragically crushed to death by one of the movie's props, the U.S. Army-issue Hummer. The Hummer was on a rotating platform, and when it fell off, it crushed Cornelius against a wall and he later died in the hospital. While the movie was released back in 2016, the story still continues. Earlier this year, Olivia Jackson announced that she's suing the production for what she perceived as disastrous negligence, which resulted in her accident on set. The details regarding this court case are currently still ongoing at this time.
The Walking Dead
During filming in Atlanta on AMC's The Walking Dead Season 8, stuntman John Bernecker plunged head-first from a 22-foot balcony, ultimately leading to the 33-year-old's untimely death. What should've been an easy stunt, according to experts on the scene, took a turn for the worse, and there were several questions raised about the safety and well-being of the set. This included accusations being made that proper padding wasn't in front of the performer and that it took longer than necessarily for an ambulance to reach the critically injured stuntman. These combined factors, along with several others, might've possibly led to this stuntman's death, and the circumstances surrounding this stunt gone dramatically wrong are in question.
Six months after this tragedy occurred, it was revealed that the mother of the late John Bernecker was suing AMC and a few parties involved with the hit zombie series for what she classified as wrongful death. She believed that the show was cutting corners when it came to the proper safety and precautions needed to perform this stunt, and this critical lack of consideration and preparation lead to these tragic circumstances.
Fast & Furious 9
Earlier this year, on production of the forthcoming Fast & Furious 9, Joe Watts, an experienced stunt performer, found himself in intensive care after a stunt gone wrong on the franchise sequel resulted in serious head injuries. The details surrounding this accident are still a bit unclear from a public perspective, but the accident was investigated and it was revealed a little over a month after the event occurred that Watts left the intensive care unit of the U.K. hospital. Hopefully, it would seem that Watts is recovering from this serious accident, though it's still concerning news.
The head injury sustained by Jon Watts was considered major, and it's currently unclear what his status is outside of his leave from intensive care. It is concerning to know, however, that even this stunt-friendly franchise has been added to the recent and growing list of stunts gone horribly wrong lately.
No Time To Die
The production for James Bond's 25th official feature, No Time To Die, has unfortunately been plagued with problems. The new Bond film has seen its fair share of troubles from both its drastically changing screenplay and its rotating director's chair, which means that the build-up to Daniel Craig's latest (and presumably final) adventure as the famous cinematic spy has also resulted a few delays due to injuries on the set.
Notably, it was Daniel Craig himself who was injured while working on Bond's latest cinematic venture. Namely, the British actor received a nasty ankle injury, which resulted in the production being delayed as the A-list actor went through both an operation and rehabilitation in order to heal properly. While it doesn't quite match the same severity as some of the other stunts listed in this article, it does show how even the stars can also be hurt by some of the dangerous stunts they do for their work. It's not an easy business. There were lots of tragic circumstances in the last few years.
Making movies is certainly not as easy as it might seem. Indeed, when it comes to performing high-flying stunts, and daring and dangerous deeds, it's ultimately up to the stunt performer and the stunt coordinator(s) to make sure everything runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible. With this recent string of serious injuries and fatalities, it's apparent that more precautions might be necessarily for the stunt performers who put everything on the line.
Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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