×

Is it Time for Oscars to Add a Stunt Category?

Every movie nominated this year for a best picture Oscar employed a stunt coordinator. Yet not one of these individuals will have the opportunity to receive Academy Award recognition.

The Oscars acknowledge categories ranging across multiple disciplines that support a film’s story and visual dynamics. But the stunt department’s contributions remain unsung. This might be due to misperceptions about what stunt performers actually do these days. Stunt coordinator Melissa R. Stubbs (“Tully”) has been a voting member of the Academy since 2007. When she began her career, stunt actors were viewed as adrenaline junkies with “Kodak courage” — her term for the desire to do the biggest, most dangerous stunt sequences just for the glory of having it captured on film. 

In a world of pricey digital effects, stunt departments present themselves differently now. Their mission: to advance the narrative by means of repeatable, safe sequences that are also budget-friendly.     

“We create a story with action,” explains Stubbs. “The directors deal with actors on an emotional level, and we have stunt coordinators to turn them into action heroes.”  

Stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo (“Deadpool,” “American Made”) has drawn over the past 25 years on his film school and animation background when designing stunts. He describes a good stunt as one that “moves the story forward, utilizing camera angles and plot while making sure those things are in cohesion with the filmmaking team.”  

With stunt work having evolved over the years, the stunt coordinator title is in the midst of an update; stunt coordinators favor the term “action designer.” The hope is that this will better reflect the position’s responsibilities and creative process. Says Stubbs, “Back in the day, a stunt coordinator was more of a safety officer instead of somebody who is creatively involved in designing the action of the characters.”

Stunt coordinator John Stoneham Jr. (“War for the Planet of the Apes”) points out that coordinators must work with nearly every department to ensure the safety of the performers. “If we’re throwing a person through a wall,” says Stoneham, “we’ll need to make sure that there’s a big enough area [to break through], so we work with construction. And we’ll work with costumes since we might need to build pads into an outfit. We even work with the hair department to add mini helmets under wigs” when necessary.  

When a script only says “fight ensues,” it’s up to the action designer to choreograph what audiences see on-screen. “You pay attention to the main story points,” says Alonzo. “And then you take into account how the elements of the environment allow you to create memorable sequences.” 

As is the case with many in their profession, the three stunt coordinators interviewed for this story are also second unit directors, at times overseeing the filming and editing of their own work.

Best picture nominee “Roma” included a stunt crew of 15.
Courtesy of Netflix

With all that action designers do, it seems surprising that the Oscars are reticent to recognize their contributions. “The Academy likes to celebrate and acknowledge good filmmakers,” says Stubbs, “and I think there’s a disconnect between the perception of a stunt coordinator and a filmmaker.”

Another challenge for the stunt department is that productions are typically loath to admit that their stars aren’t performing all of the action themselves. It’s not uncommon for actors to get pressured by studios and their own representation into taking credit in the media for the work of their stunt doubles; sometimes they even text those same people later to apologize.

“Buffalo Boys” actor Yoshi Sudarso is happy to perform some scripted actions but otherwise leaves the stunt work to the professionals. “A stunt double protects you and puts their life on the line for you,” he says.

The best action designers have honed their skills over the years as stunt actors working under established coordinators. And while there are many types of stunts, they’re not all relegated to big action movies. Best picture contender “Roma,” for example — more of a character study than an action film — deployed a stunt team of 15 under coordinator Gerardo Moreno. “Stunts cross the borders of various genres,” Alonzo observes. 

Given the Oscars’ declining ratings, it’s hard to imagine that a stunt category — with accompanying footage — wouldn’t add some thrills to the show.

Adds Stubbs, “We’re filmmakers, and I think the Academy needs to acknowledge that.” 

More Film

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Max Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Max Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a line-up that, as usual, features an eclectic grab bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

  • 'Roll Red Roll' Review: Piercing Documentary

    Film Review: 'Roll Red Roll'

    “Roll Red Roll” is a piercingly relevant and disturbing documentary about an infamous high school rape case that took place in Steubenville, Ohio (pop. 18,600), on Aug. 11, 2012. Steubenville, the sort of Friday-night-lights small town that boasts signs that read “Kick off for Jesus,” is a place that’s good at keeping secrets. When the [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild, Hollywood Agents Negotiate With Deadline Looming

    The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents have held a sixth negotiating session with a deadline for a new deal 16 days away — and it’s uncertain whether progress is being made. The Association of Talent Agents made counter-proposals at Thursday’s session that contain provisions for more accountability and transparency by agencies for clients [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Fox Layoffs Leave Staffers Stunned and Saddened

    Fox employees knew this day was coming. For over a year, the men and women who work at the Century City lot have talked of little else but severance packages and job searches. They knew that when Disney wrapped up its $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets, thousands [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Disney Clarifies Film Leadership After Harrowing Day of Fox Layoffs

    Following the dismissal of top executives in distribution, marketing and strategy on Thursday, new 20th Century Fox owner Disney has clarified its new top leadership. Five distinct Fox labels and a portion of their leadership have been welcomed into the Disney fold, the company said. This includes Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Family, Fox Searchlight Pictures, [...]

  • Janelle Monae

    Film News Roundup: Janelle Monae to Star in Film From Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

    In today’s film news roundup, Janelle Monae will star in a Lionsgate movie, Bill Nighy joins “Emma,” and documentaries on surfer Bethany Hamilton and Asbury Park are dated. CASTINGS Janelle Monae will star in an untitled Lionsgate movie directed by the duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. The film will be produced by QC Entertainment’s Ray [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content