What Some Films Really Cost to Produce: Accidents When Filming

They’re extraordinary, these special effects guys and stunt guys. To watch those craftsmen at work…There really should be an Oscar for stunt work. These guys are incredible and they’re so careful and so professional. And they’re artists. They do amazing things.” (Helen Mirren, British actress, quote taken from slashfilm.com).

The intention of this post is not to depress or offend anyone. As most of you will know, yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts announced a new category of award called “Achievement in Popular Film”. My point is that, rather than devising this preposterous category, it would have been better for the Academy to finally recognise the invaluable contribution of stunt performers, who sometimes risk their lives to make a great scene for us all to enjoy. What follows are ten instances where the process of making an action film did not go as planned so as to demonstrate that film-making can be dangerous and, thus, the bravery, artistry and contribution of stunt performers (crew/coordinators) should be recognised. In no particular order: 

Harry-Potter-and-the-Deathly-Hallows-Part-1-poster1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010) – David Holmes

David Holmes worked as a stunt double for Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) on the set of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows“. He was also a stunt double for Radcliffe on all previous Harry Potter films. He flew broomsticks being attached to wires, as well as performed various other “magical”, but dangerous actions. Tragically, on the set of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows“, when shooting an explosion scene, Holmes was thrown against a wall and is now paralysed from the chest down. He now races modified cars and has started his own production company.  

Top Gun Poster2. Top Gun (1986) – Arthur (Art) Scholl 

Tony Scott‘s Top Gun” is dedicated to the memory of Art Scholl. Scholl was an aviator-stuntman and pilot-instructor who performed many dangerous stunts involving planes in the past for various events, TV programmes and films. On one day, when helping to produce “Top Gun“, Scholl flew to shoot background images for the movie, but, during a particular dangerous airplane manoeuvre – a flat spin – failed to recover in time and crashed into the sea. He died on impact, but neither he nor his plane have ever been recovered. 

The Dark Knight Poster3. The Dark Knight (2008) – Conway Wickliffe

Conway Wickliffe, who previously worked for the “Children of Men” and “Casino Royale” productions, was not anyone’s stunt-double on the set of “The Dark Knight“, but he was a stunt technician working to produce the best possible camera effect for the movie. During filming a particular scene, Wickliffe put himself at risk racing alongside a stunt car to get the perfect sequence shot of a car chase. He died at the scene when his car crashed into a tree. “The Dark Knight” is dedicated to his and Heath Ledger‘s memory.

Deadpool 24. Deadpool 2 (2018) – Sequana Joi Harris 

Sequana Joi Harris worked as a stunt-double for Zazie Beetz (Domino) in a superhero film “Deadpool 2″. During one of the motorcycle scenes, Harris tried to perform a stunt, which she previously performed well during practice, but was thrown off her bike when she went too far and her bike encountered an obstacle. She tragically died. Harris was a professional racer who encouraged other women to follow their dreams in sports. “Deadpool 2” is dedicated to her memory.  

Hell's Angels Poster5. Hell’s Angels (1930) – Al Johnson, C.K. Phillips, Rupert Syme Macalister and Phil Jones

Howard Hughes’s “Hell’s Angels” was notorious, had numerous controversies and bears the distinction of being one of the first action films shot with sound. However, amidst the film’s enviable records are certain deaths of pilots in their airplanes used to create some of the awe-inspiring images in the air. Pilots Al Johnson, C. K. Phillips and Rupert Syme Macalister were all killed while performing on the movie set or involved in the movie’s production, and the mechanic Phil Jones also tragically died when he could not escape from a crashing down plane in time.     

American Made Poster6. American Made (2017) – Alan Purwin, Carlos Berl and Jimmy Lee Garland 

American Made” may be an impressive action-packed entertainment, but, during its filming, two people died and one left paralysed from the waist down. Alan Purwin, a pilot, and Carlos Berl were tragically killed, and Jimmy Lee Garland sustained life-changing injuries when a small plane they were piloting crashed in Colombia. The lawsuits which followed after the death and the injury state that the production’s goal might have been to economise and save time, and, with that goal in mind, the movie company disregarded basic safety procedures.

The Expendables 2 poster7. The Expendables 2 (2012) – Kun Lieu and Nuo Sun 

The film “Expendables 2” proved that two people were really “expendable”. During the filming of an explosion sequence in Bulgaria, Kun Lieu and Nuo Sun, stunt performers, found themselves too close to a blast with the result being that Kun Lieu was killed and Nuo Sun was seriously injured. Nuo Sum managed to recover from his injuries in time. “The Expendables 2” is the sequel to the 2010 film, and stars such recognisable action names as Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Statham, Norris, Li and Van Damme. 

Catch-22 Poster8. Catch-22 (1970) – John Jordan

John Jordan worked as one of the effects directors on “Catch-22” when he fell from a military aircraft when shooting the film in the Gulf of Mexico and died. Being a daredevil, Jordan had his own technique of managing a plane, sometimes hanging out, and coordinating the shots. Previously, Jordan also lost one of his leg to a helicopter blade while working as an aerial unit cameramen on the set of the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice” (1967).

Resident Evil the Final Chapter9. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) – Olivia Jackson and Ricardo Cornelius 

Olivia Jackson was a stunt-double for Milla Jovovich on the set of “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” when an accident happened and Jackson suffered serious injuries. In one particular scene, the character of Jovovich was supposed to be on a motorcycle, and Jackson did not wear a helmet. Jackson recovered from her injuries, but her left arm was amputated since she lost all feelings in it. More tragically, Ricardo Cornelius, a crew member, died during the shooting of the same movie when a vehicle crashed him during the rotation of a movable platform.

Twilight Zone the Movie10. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) – Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen

In my last point, I will talk about actors in general, rather than stunt performers. Spielberg’s co-produced film “Twilight Zone: The Movie” might have had all the signs of being an entertaining and enjoyable science-fiction conundrum of a film, but it also took away three lives in its development, two of which were of children. Vic Morrow and two child actors – Myca Dinh Le, aged 7, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, aged 6, were killed in production when a helicopter span out of control near the actors and its rotor detached. The film changed the way films began to be shot regarding the safety of actors, but John Landis, the director of that particular sequel shot, was also found in contravention of child labour laws, since he hired two children illegally and made them work at night. Incidentally, more mysterious deaths on set involve the production of the John Wayne film “The Conqueror” (1956). The allegations are that a disproportionate number of its crew members died of cancer some years after the film was made after all of them worked on a location in Utah which was once used for nuclear tests. 

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17 thoughts on “What Some Films Really Cost to Produce: Accidents When Filming

  1. “Achievement in Popular Film”, my arse. … what are all the others then? Unpopular?

    There are awards for just about every other aspect of making a film, I’m with you in that stunt-people ought to get one of their own too.

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    1. Exactly, the new category makes so little sense and is an insult to other films as well as to the “popular” film which will get nominated since it would be denigrated to a “special film” requiring a “special prize” – as though it is all some kind of a compassionate segregation – it will feel like that even if it will be nominated as Best Picture also.
      And thanks for agreeing with me on stunt performers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I notice sometimes dedications at the end of films and wondered if that’s what occurred. I’m sure that’s not true of all dedications but when I see technical stuff, it makes you wonder.

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    1. Yes, I imagine few dedications will be for those who died on the set since it is a bit rare, but it is still sad to notice them and think of people passed away. For example, Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” dedicated to the memory of 28-year old Jennifer Syme (Keanu Reeves’ ex girlfriend) who died in a car crash is particular heart-breaking I think because there are actually some evident parallels between his movie and her and her death.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, and the actor in Il’postino, Massimo Troisi, who was desperately ill and died before the film was completed. He is also credited as director. They said he fought valiantly kept going and that those beads of perspiration on his face were genuine as his health was failing. As you may recall, the ending showed him protesting in the city, a scene that was apparently shot earlier. If you watch it again, you will see it in a new light.

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      2. I just discovered that his illness was a failing heart and he postponed surgery to complete the film. At the Academy Awards I remember them telling the story I gave you above, but WIKI says that he died just after it was completed, so I don’t know.

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        1. Thank you very much for drawing attention to this case. I read up on it myself just now. I think you are right – the actor was virtually “dying” on set and doctors kept telling he could “drop dead” at any moment. From what I also gathered just now is that he did die after the shooting completed (he died just the day after the film’s shooting finished), but I also sense that it was more down to luck than his condition worsening after the film’s completion. This is so sad and you are again so right that it makes one see the picture completely differently. That’s an interesting case, but also so heart-breaking.

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  3. wow, all ten of these stories are new to me. I agree stunt performers are the unsung heroes of the movie business. The Hell’s Angels production sounds insane! At least film sets are safer now yet still potentially dangerous. Did you watch The Crow? Brandon Lee wasn’t a stunt actor, but tragically was shot while performing and the film was completed with the help of stunt doubles.

    I’d scrap Achievement in Popular Film and instead genre divide the oscar nominees: top 5 best drama, action, sci-fi, thriller, horror, comedy. The latter two are so underappreciated. If they can reward docs, shorts and animation then why not recognize everything of merit.

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    1. I am glad you found the info new, and yes I did hear of Brandon Lee, but thanks for reminding me because his very tragic case somehow slipped my mind completely while I wrote the post.

      I kind of support your Oscar nominations by genre, and other awards do it, but I also think it will create problems of its own, for example, stemming from the fact that nowadays they like to shoot movies whose genre is indeterminate or which fall under two or even three or more different genres. Here, the Academy can take cue from its own precedent since I think before 1999 there were actually two different Oscars given for Best Original Music for Comedy/Musical and Drama. Perhaps, the Academy could differentiate Comedy and Horror from Drama/Thriller because Comedy and Horror are pretty distinguishable genres most of the time. Sorry, I am just thinking aloud 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, genre mashups could create problems but I’d love to see an inclusiveness of many more genres and I think it could boost the tv ratings, even though oscar traditionalists would probably frown that so-called lowbrow cinema is now competing. At least us bloggers can make those kind of annual lists if the oscars won’t 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post 🙂 Nevertheless, I am amazed that you did not include The Twilight Zone tragedy from 1982. During the filming of the John Landis directed segment, a stunt involving a helicopter spun out of control and claimed the lives of that segment’s lead actor Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children. It was a high profile story at the time and here is a link to it below and keep up the great work as always 🙂

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twilight_Zone_accident

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    1. Thanks, yes, I did include it, but actually my post is mainly about accidents involving stunt performers so even if I did not include it, it would not have been the end of the world because the people that died there were (main) actors. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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