Guest Author Ed Travis served as Editor In Chief of the ActionFest 2012 blog. Part of the mission of ActionFest is to pay tribute to the unsung heroes of action cinema, the stunt men and women. Jack Gill is one of the most important names in action cinema stunt work.
Without the daring work of the stunt coordinators who make action scenes pop, the entire Hollywood machine would break down. This is a fact which I had no trouble believing personally, but came face to face with in my work at ActionFest this past year. ActionFest founders Bill Banowsky, Tom Quinn (Radius TWC) and Aaron Norris use the festival both as an showcase for films and as a platform to connect fans to the real makers of action, the stunt community.
It was through ActionFest that I came in contact with Jack Gill, a legendary stuntman and the primary activist who is fighting for the creation of an Academy Award for Stunt Coordinators. You read that right: there is currently no recognition of stunt work from the Oscars.
But Gill won’t rest until that changes. You may be asking yourself why there isn’t already an award, or what exactly Gill has to do to ensure that one is created. Let’s unpack all of that and maybe you can offer him some support in his quest as well.
Who Is Jack Gill?
If you are a film geek of a certain age, you might not know how much joy Gill has brought to your life. Gill really got his start in stunt work as a driver, and in a 1, 2, 3 combo, he worked on race and chase scenes in The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, and The Fall Guy. If you were around in the 1980s, just think of all the jumps, crashes, and chases that thrilled you on those TV shows.Gill was behind the wheel or behind the camera for just about all of those!
Gill broke into feature film work after those legendary TV shows and has become stunt man and stunt coordinator for a whole host of films that you probably love. The yellow Ferrari chase in The Rock? Gill drove it. The racing sequences in Talladega Nights? That was Gill behind the wheel. The motorcycle escape in First Blood? You guessed it.
Jump ahead to more recent times and you may be impressed to hear that Gill was the Stunt Coordinator for Fast Five. That safe chase scene? Yeah, Gill coordinated that insanity too.
Being an accomplished stuntman is just one facet of Gill’s career. He has turned all of that experience to his advantage and joined the Screen Actors Guild as well as becoming a member of the Academy. As a member of the Academy, Gill has used his position to fight for recognition for stunt professionals and specifically Stunt Coordinators.
This year will mark the 85th Annual Academy Awards, and the 22nd year in a row that Gill has fought to have an Oscar handed to a stunt coordinator.
And this year, for the 22nd time in a row, Gill’s noble efforts have been thwarted.
Why Isn’t there an Academy Award for Stunt Coordinators Already?
Gill first began pushing for the creation of an Academy Award for stunt coordinators after watching the Awards show in 1991 and realizing that he wanted to see his fellow stunt professionals to be up on stage sharing in the celebration. Over the next several years, as he petitioned to create the Oscar, he figured out some of the excuses and/or reasons for why this award does not already exist. Many of these details come directly from an interview I recently had with Gill.
For one thing, the Academy requires that there be a category in order for an award to be given. Since there is no stunt category, and since stunt work can’t quite be shoehorned into special effects/visual effects, or acting, it requires its own unique category. This category creation must be voted on, and for 22 years straight, the proposal has been voted down.
Though it can’t be empirically confirmed, another suspected reason that the Oscar for stunt coordinators has been consistently voted down is that actors and directors do not want attention to be called to stunt professionals. Actors want the public to believe that they themselves are doing the stunts. And directors want the public to believe that “directed by” means they created the entire vision of the project. When in reality, stunt coordinators and 2nd unit directors are often the people who create the details and even get the shots for many massive action set pieces in modern blockbusters. This is admittedly speculation as many of the biggest and best directors and stars in Hollywood are full supporters of the stunt community, but nonetheless, the voting members of the Academy continue to strike down the proposal.
Lastly, the Academy’s process for decision-making seems to be the biggest hurdle stunt coordinators face. Every year, the Academy gathers just a single time to vote on various issues concerning the awards and the awards ceremony. Whichever voting members of the Academy are present at that one meeting each year make all the major decisions. Unfortunately, it’s written in the bylaws that Gill cannot present his case at that meeting. Thus, any persuading he does has to be throughout the year leading up to it, keeping in mind there is no way to know exactly which voting members will be in attendance that day. It’s essentially an exhausting gamble.
The meeting for the 2013 Oscars has quietly come and gone in recent weeks. And when I checked in with Gill about this year’s vote, I learned something surprising:
They didn’t bother to vote on it.
“Can you believe they didn’t even take a vote on the category?” Gill said. “I sent a registered letter two months prior to the meeting and asked to have the board vote on the category. I got a phone call from [CEO] Dawn Hudson stating she had received my request and would do her best to convey our point concerning the addition of a stunt coordinator category. I wrote additional letters to each and every board member the day before the vote and spoke personally to a few of them who stated that they were in favor of adding a stunt coordinator category. I found out three days after the meeting that [President] Tom Sherak never even brought the matter up for a vote. Is he afraid of a vote that may pass? It only takes 51% of the vote to pass. In the bylaws, can Tom and Dawn arbitrarily decide what to vote on when it is a registered request? If that is true, Tom would have control over any issue that comes up.
A board member… was told our request wasn’t received in time to make the itinerary. Two months prior to the meeting has always been sufficient for the past 21 years.
Please call them and ask if the Academy has some reason why they believe [stunt coordinators] are not worthy to stand up there with our peers and accept an Oscar! Hair gets added easily this year after the Academy was adamant about not adding any more categories.
I’m upset and disappointed that the President can arbitrarily decide on what gets voted on in a Board meeting when an official request has been made.”
How Can You Heed Gill’s Call to Help?
Well, as I’ve noted, the only way for Stunt Coordinators to be eligible for an Oscar is for the voting members of the board to vote the award into existence. It only requires 51% to pass.
But since we can’t be in the meeting to vote, and neither can Gill, how can we do anything about this issue?
As he recommends in the above quote, contact the Academy directly. Write them, call them, mention Jack Gill and your support for an Academy Award for Stunt Coordinators. I’m planning to do that myself. And let’s be honest, if the geeks could all agree on the importance of this issue, and collectively raise our voices, the Academy would have to pay attention. The voting members of the board just don’t see this as an important issue, but if we cry out about this loud enough, maybe next year’s vote won’t turn out the way the last 22 votes have.