How to be a ‘scapegoat’: stunt performers in their hectic life

NEW YORK –

There are two things to keep in mind when being burned alive for a movie scene.

The first, says specialist Ben Jenkin, is not to breathe the flame. That would be bad. Jenkin remembered that again and again before making the first burn of him (and then seven more) in David Leitch’s “The Fall Guy,” an action spectacle that lovingly celebrates the hectic lives of stuntmen.

The other thing: keep moving.

“Moving forward and keeping the fire behind you allows you to breathe and control the fire,” Jenkin says. “Movement is your friend.”

It would make a decent catchphrase for the stuntmen who, since the early days of Hollywood, have fueled movie chaos. At least since the front of Buster Keaton’s house fell off in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (Stillness can also be your friend when it comes to stunts), stuntmen have played a key role in maintaining the illusion of countless car chases, bar fights, rooftop jumps, and, yes, guys on fire.

By its nature, it is an almost anonymous job, with specialists doubling up on more delicate stars. But Leitch, a veteran stuntman before he became a director, and “The Fall Guy,” which opens in theaters Friday, hope to redefine the role of stunt work in Hollywood. “The Fall Guy,” which features almost every type of stunt imaginable, arrives as a growing chorus calls for a new Oscar category for stunts.

“It was never really about: The individual stuntman needs to be recognized,” says Leitch, who spent years as a stuntman for Brad Pitt before moving into directing with “John Wick.” “It was more about the department’s contribution. We created these sequences, whether it was for Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler or James Cameron.”

The most flashy stunts appear in big-budget action movies like “The Fall Guy,” but almost every studio movie involves some stunt work. Take Chris O’Hara, director of Stunts Unlimited and stunt designer on “The Fall Guy.” Not only is he a veteran of groundbreaking, stunt-heavy films like “The Matrix” and the Jason Bourne series, but he was also the guy who caught Saoirse Ronan when she jumped out of a (apparently) moving car in “Lady Bird.” by Greta Gerwig. “

With “The Fall Guy,” O’Hara is the first person credited as a “stunt designer,” a designation that has been approved by SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild. For O’Hara, that credit better represents what is generally called specialist coordination. Conceptualizing and crafting elaborate sequences requires more than making sure everyone is safe.

“Hopefully being seen by the film community as specialist designers will shed more light on what we actually do,” says O’Hara. “Back then, the stunt guys were the cowboys. Now we’re creative. We create amazing things, just like a production designer or a costume designer does.”

The falls that led to ‘Fall Guy’

When they were starting out in Los Angeles, Leitch and O’Hara lived together. His garage was full of mats and airbags. They dug a hole in the backyard and put a trampoline in it. “The owner never caught us,” Leitch says, smiling. They, along with four other stuntmen, including Chad Stahelski, set high ambitions to make their mark in Hollywood. While they were starting out on television shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” they trained. Some were gymnasts, some drivers, some martial arts experts.

“It was a non-stop circus of skills that you need but are fun to learn,” Leitch says. “Hard on your body, but fun.”

They became masters of their craft, or at least most of it. Leitch never drove up. In “The Mexican”, he crashed an El Camino into his only backup, another El Camino.

But ultimately, filmmaking seemed to be just another skill to hone. Leitch had become adept at previsualizing sequences as a moving storyboard to show directors how an action scene would move and fit together. Furthermore, he was used to keeping a cool head in extreme circumstances. How scary could it be to compare directing to standing on a ledge while a production rushed to achieve a high drop before daylight went out?

“When life and death are at stake, what’s the worst that can happen in a scene?” Leitch says. “Do I have to cut it another way?”

Since then, Leitch has become a sought-after action director, directing films such as “Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool 2” and “Bullet Train,” in which Pitt starred. That was a full-circle moment for the former star-stunt tandem, but “The Fall Guy” might be even more so. Based on Lee Majors’ 1980s television series, it is a behind-the-scenes comedic ode to the nature of stunt work and life on set.

Ryan Gosling plays Colt Seavers, a veteran stuntman and double for star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) whose romance with a crew member, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), breaks down after an accident on set and resumes. intermittently years later. . By then, Jody is directing her first feature film and Colt is hired as a stuntman, including for the fire scene.

For Leitch and Kelly McCormick, his wife and producing partner, both the stunts and the love story of “The Fall Guy” have an autobiographical feel. After a years-long working relationship, McCormick and Leitch married in 2014 and together run their production company 87North.

“Maybe I’m a little like Jody,” McCormick says. “I’m definitely the one who would set you on fire eight times.”

“Would you do it?” Leitch responds.

“Only if it were safe,” McCormick says, laughing.

Ryan Gosling’s stunts

At the SXSW premiere of “The Fall Guy,” Gosling proudly announced what few actors do: He didn’t do his own stunts. The film required five stuntmen to play Gosling, including Jenkin and Logan Holladay. In the film, Holladay sets a new record for vehicle cannon shots, rolling a Jeep Grand Cherokee eight and a half times down an Australian beach. In one of the film’s many ironic moments, you can see Holladay tying Gosling to the car right before the scene.

Before working in film, Jenkin excelled in parkour. “I really like acrobatics,” she jokes. His knack for contorting in the air and landing at the designated spot has made him one of the most sought after stuntmen. Still, “The Fall Guy” was the busiest movie he’s ever been on. “I can’t remember how many times I went through a pane of glass,” Jenkin says.

Some moves were new to Jenkin, like being hit by a car. “Hips over the hood,” Leitch advised.

“When you’re a kid and you see Jackie Chan running down the street and he’s chasing a bus and then he latches onto the bus with an umbrella, you think, ‘That’s cool,'” Jenkin says. “Now we get to live that. Ryan and I were navigating a gate across the Harbor Bridge holding on to the back of a garbage truck with a shovel. When can you do things like that?”

An Oscar for stunts?

Although the campaign has been underway for years, it will take time for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to adopt a new category (although it did so recently by adding an award for casting directors). They have a certain strength in numbers; Stunt specialists make up the largest group of members in the academy’s Production and Technology branch.

“It’s not that they want more recognition than any other type of department. These days, they’re in almost every movie,” McCormick says. “They’re front and center working with all the other departments, including, by the way, publishing. A lot of times they help the editor find their way through a sequence. I haven’t had a hairdresser come to publish ever. “

For some specialists, it is the family business. Troy Brown’s first stunt was the 2005 Vin Diesel comedy “The Pacifier,” in which his father, Bob Brown, was the stunt coordinator. Troy jumped from a helicopter into the ocean. He was 5 years old.

“Stunts were all I knew,” Troy Brown says. “It started with my dad in the front yard jumping off things into a portable well. I thought he was super funny, so he did it every day.”

In “The Fall Guy”, Brown takes the biggest jump of his career, falling 150 feet from a helicopter and landing in an airbag used by his father. During it, his father was standing next to the bag, talking to his son during the jump.

“I get out of this helicopter upside down and line it up as best I can,” Brown says. “When I get out and I’m about to get out of this thing, I have my dad on the radio giving me the green light for the bag: ‘You can leave whenever you want. We’re good, we’re good, we’re good.'”

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