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Inside Stunt Performers’ Battle to Get Recognized by the Academy Awards

The men and women who put together and perform the action sequences that so many movies require say that it's time for the Academy to start recognizing the work they do.

Stunt performers and vehicles from 'Mad Max: Fury Road' during a May 2015 event in Sydney, Australia, before the film's premiere. (Photo by John Appleyard/Newspix/Getty Images)

Most of this year's Oscar-nominated films contain incredible action sequences: explosions on Mars, harrowing desert chases, and one very brutal bear attack.

The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Revenant were all nominated for best picture, but they are also competing in categories of production design, makeup and hairstyling, costume design, and visual effects—as you'd expect from visually stunning masterpieces.


But none were nominated for best stunt coordinator. Because the category doesn't exist.

Many Hollywood stunt professionals want to change that, though. This week, they protested outside the Beverly Hills offices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and delivered a petition with over 50,000 signatures of support—along with a bouquet of roses as a gift to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs—asking the Academy to create an Oscar for best stunt coordinator.

The Academy, which did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this story, has yet to respond to the protesters.

"We're not asking to be on the show," says Jeff Wolfe, president of the Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures, adding the broadcast is long enough as it is. "Put it in the technical ones. Just have it be stated that there is an award, so that there's some recognition."

The stunt community has been lobbying for this for decades, but Wolfe says that the work stuntmen and stuntwomen do holds a tricky place in the Hollywood hierarchy. Most big stars have stunt doubles, but not all of them are eager to draw attention to that fact.

"There are a couple of very big celebrity names that say they do their own stunts who have had stunt doubles for many, many years," says Wolfe. "There are a few people, like Jackie Chan, who do most of their own stunts because they're athletic and they're amazing—that's true. (But) still in scenes where you don't see their face, the reality is, it's not worth them getting hurt. There are doubles who do some of that action."


Wolfe himself has been in the business over 20 years. He's worked as a double, sometimes uncredited. He's also worked as an actor, albeit in highly physical, stunt-heavy roles—getting beaten to a pulp in an elevator by Ryan Gosling in Drive and getting stomped out by Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers.

But the current campaign isn't focused on establishing an award for performers—most in the business acknowledge that's a long shot—but rather for the stunt coordinators, who work with directors and producers to create action sequences.

"We are the people who come to a movie months ahead of the actors and many other departments," says Andy Armstrong, stunt coordinator on Thor, The Green Hornet, and countless other films. On The Amazing Spider-Man, he brought in a team of highly skilled stunt performers and riggers "to reinvent the way Spider-Man would fly through the city, swinging on webs."

Wolfe, who now works as a stunt coordinator (on J.J. Abrams's Revolution and the upcoming TV series Rush Hour) and second unit director, notes that coordinators often shoot the action scenes themselves as well. He views the work as equivalent to cinematography, editing, and sound design.

"It's not only on par," he says. "If we make a mistake, we could kill someone."

Stunt coordinators don't just show up when there are sword fights or explosions; they work on romantic comedies to choreograph pratfalls and on police dramas to coordinate cop cars driving up to a crime scene.


"It's not just the Mad Maxes and The Martianes," he says. "It's about the things you're not thinking of that are keeping people safe on the show. Flying, rigging, where somebody might float. All of that has to do with stunts. Ninety-five percent of films are going to have a stunt coordinator."

"Stunt performers will probably never be acknowledged as eligible for an Academy Award," says one stunt performer, who asked not to be identified. "However, stunt coordinators will eventually be acknowledged. There already is respect from the movie-making industry." Just not the Academy.

Wolfe wonders if the snub has something to do with stunt work's origins.

"Back in the old days, it was, 'Who's crazy enough to fall off this horse or jump off that building?' When you think of it in terms of 'who's crazy,' you're not thinking of it as technical work or worthy of award winning."

For performers, seeing the coordinator role as an Oscar category would be an acknowledgement of their talents and hard work.

"I have fallen off a motorcycle in a bikini, galloped across the plains on a horse, face-planted on a snowboard, careened into a ballroom wall on roller skates, and landed in a checkerboard of boxes three stories below," says stunt performer Kelly Richardson. "Having a stunt category in the Oscars would acknowledge, appreciate, and formally honor the work we do with the highest recognition, as it should."

Stunt performers have had their own awards ceremony since 2001, the Taurus World Stunt Awards, created by Red Bull CEO Dietrich Mateschitz to fill the void. Categories include best fight, hardest hit, and best work with a vehicle.

Both the Primetime and Daytime Emmys have stunt categories. The SAG Awards added the category in 2008.

The Oscars are, for Wolfe, "the last bastion."

"It's bringing to life what the director's vision is and getting it on the screen," he says. "That's what you're awarding when you're awarding makeup, costumes, and sound design. Why would you not award the same for the action you're creating?"