From the Archives: An Open Letter to the Academy Regarding Stunt Work

From the Archives: An Open Letter to the Academy Regarding Stunt Work

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Dear Members of The Academy,

Each and every year, your illustrious organization honors the best that the medium of film has to offer. There are awards issued to celebrate achievements in every level of production, and with film being a truly collaborative art form, it’s wonderful to see honor bestowed upon some of the unsung heroes of film. However, every year my fellow film buffs and I lament the exclusion of two of the most important pieces of the filmic process: the stuntman and the stunt coordinator.

We annually place a golden statue in the hands of the performers who bring characters to life, yet for a lot of roles, we are only honoring a portion of the performance. Tom Cruises aside, actors and actresses very rarely put their bodies on the line. It’s a needless risk given that if one wrong move is made, an entire film can be derailed or shut down entirely. This is why stunt workers exist, and as such, their work should be recognized.

Also to be recognized is the stunt coordinator, without whom there would be a lot of injured stunt people and incoherent action sequences. Without the careful planning and design of sequences involving stunt work, the suspension of disbelief required would melt away, opening the door for the dreaded “FAAAAAKE” jeer.

By including an Oscar for both of these pieces of the cinematic puzzle, not only would some hard working men and women be getting due credit for important work, but also the precedent would be set for future awards ceremonies and thus, future film productions. This could buck the trend of rubbery CG human analogs and intangible action sequences. This could give film a welcome nudge back to its roots where performers like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd created spectacle not by pretending something was happening, but by making something happen and pointing a camera at it.

We all went “coooool” when Optimus Prime first did battle with Megatron on the big screen, but we all gasped with incredulity when The Bride dispatched the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill. Leaving the theater after watching Mad Max: Fury Road just this weekend, I did so covered in sweat and filled with excitement. Isn’t that what movies are about? I’ll never forget the day I saw The Raid, nor will I forget the faces of folks who I subsequently shared it with. Heck, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation was being marketed using the already famous “hanging from the side of a plane” stunt before they even had a finished script. Stunt work is not just important in the artistic sense, but it is as much a piece of film culture as anything else.

From 1991 to 2012 the category for Best Stunt Coordination has been proposed and rejected, and it’s time for this farce to end. Let’s honor those who out their bodies on the line for our entertainment (and not just by gaining/losing weight for a role), as well as those brilliantly skilled artists who make these sacrifices cinematic. Let’s challenge filmmakers to push the boundaries of what can be done on screen, and in doing so let’s reclaim the phrase “motion picture”. We call it “The Academy”, but the full title is “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” I can’t think of a more appropriate example of both the art and science of film than strong stunt work.

And seriously, if Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t recognized by The Academy, then what have we become? I don’t even want to think about it.


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