Stunt workers say they deserve Oscars recognition — but the Academy refuses
Jack Gill is a stunt coordinator and action designer who's working to get his peers' work honored by the Academy. But he's been turned down every step of the way.
Jack Gill has been through a lot in his career.
"I've broken my back twice. I've broken my neck once,” Gill told Take Two’s A Martinez. "I've got a steel plate in my neck. Broken 23 bones and punctured lungs. Broken shoulders, knees, ankles.”
As a stunt performer, Gill has worked on dozens of films and TV shows over the years, including major blockbusters like the “Fast and Furious” franchise and comedies like “The Hangover” movies.
Though it takes a physical toll, Gill said it's worth it.
“You just hope that the one time you get hurt, you're not getting to a point where you can't ever do it again because you love this business.”
That passion has given him a lengthy career. But he still hasn’t gotten the one thing he’s spent 26 years advocating for: A category for stunts at the Oscar Awards.
“The Academy [of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences] recognizes artistic performance and technical performance,” Gill said. “An action designer is heavily involved in both of those aspects."
Gill has been involved in stunts for 40 years. He started as a stuntman, performing feats of derring-do through explosions and high-risk falls. Now, he’s a stunt coordinator and action designer, overseeing the overall design of the action for a film.
“Over the past 20 years, the [stunt coordinator] has been the guy who comes in there way before the movie starts,” Gill said.
“He starts on the ground level with the writer and the producer and director and every other department head to try to move the action in the way that they see it in their heads.”
That work involves everything from consulting on storyboards and scripts to helping prepare actors for whatever action their roles require.
“A lot of times what you see Johnny Depp or Tom Cruise or the rest of all these action stars doing was designed by the stunt coordinator,” Gill said.
But even though many directors and actors say that stunt workers have been an invaluable part of the movies, the Academy has yet to recognize their work with an awards category at the Oscars.
“You talk to people that are the hierarchies in the film-making business, and they thought we had an award. It just wasn't televised,” Gill said. “When you tell them that you're not even represented, they’re flabbergasted.”
Gill has tried a lot of things to get the Academy to understand why his peers should be honored with an award.
He’s had directors Martin Scorsese and Stephen Spielberg write directly to officials in the organization. He’s tried to galvanize the public with petitions and information campaigns. He’s even helped get the Screen Actors Guild to start to recognize their work.
But the Academy remains steadfast in its refusal.
“[The word] ‘stunt’ has kind of a negative assumption to it. You believe that [stunt workers] are below your social stature,” Gill said.
“We are being discriminated against. That's the biggest part of it. Why does every department head have a category in the Academy Awards and yet one of the biggest ones that makes the biggest difference and the way a film is seen they're left out?”
Even though Gill has worked toward this for a long time, he wants to keep up the goal of getting stunt work recognized at the Oscars. What might help is the fact that the Academy has a new leader.
“Every four or five years, they get a new president. This last year it was John Bailey… He’s a very easy-going guy who understands action work and so … I’m going to go meet with John and explain what our problems are and see what he says.”
Gill hopes to help Bailey understand how much stunt workers sacrifice for films. From every injury to every car crash to every fight scene, Gill said that what they do is out of love for the film industry.
“You just want to be able to have your peers congratulate you for what everybody else is seeing as fantastic.”