Movies & TV / Columns

Jack Gill Explains Why Stunt Coordinators Should Be Recognized at the Oscars

March 1, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Academy Awards

You might not know it but Jack Gill has had a hand in some of your favorite movie and television moments. He directed 2nd unit and was the stunt coordinator on blockbuster movies such as Fast Five, The Hangover Part III, Date Night, Wild Hogs, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Showtime, Money Train, and many more.

As a stuntman, Jack has jumped cars and motorcycles through walls of wood, glass and flame on Knight Rider and The Dukes of Hazzard; he has taken falls from buildings as high as twelve stories, and jumped from exploding boats and mountain tops; he has flown through the air hanging from helicopter struts and streaked through the sky in the F-16 Fighter aircraft.

Jack is a past President of Stunts Unlimited, a member of the Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and has been nominated and won many stunt awards over the past years. His preparation, precision and safety practices are well-known and followed throughout the business.

Even with his still busy schedule, he was kind enough to talk to 411mania.

Steve Gustafson: Mr. Gill, thank you for taking time to answer some questions for 411mania.com. Your campaign to add a category to the Oscars recognizing Stunt Coordinators struck a nerve with a number of our readers who wanted to learn more. First though, you’ve been involved in some incredible films and projects. Do you remember your first film set and how does working in those early days compare to modern sets you’re on today?

Jack Gill: My first real stunt was jumping a motorcycle over a bunch of cars for a movie called Do It In The Dirt and it was starring Frank Sinatra Jr and Darby Hinton. Back then, we just read the script and then figured out the most sensible way to do it. There wasn’t a lot of previous information we could access because a lot of these stunts were new to the craft. Sure, people had jumped over cars before on motorcycles, but back then it wasn’t easy to track down information. Remember, back then, there was no internet or even videos of previous stunts. Back then you had to rely on your past experience and use common sense to figure it all out. In today’s world, all of that information is at your fingertips. You can access anything and it comes right up in seconds. The Action business is also a much safer environment because of the worldwide sharing of information and the fact that we have many more safety factors in place on the sets today.

Steve Gustafson: I believe the majority of people go to the movies and are wowed by the stunts, but give little consideration on the time and work that goes on to make sure those go off safely, while looking effortless. Can you give a little background on the inner workings of setting up stunts?

Jack Gill: We start in pre-production (months before the movie starts filming) reading the script and adding or changing action where needed.

The next process is the rehearsal process. This happens for each and every action sequence in the movie so that when we get to the set, it is seamless, safe and exciting. During that rehearsal process we are speaking to all of the other department heads on the movie about what our needs are and how we can work together to achieve an exciting sequence. For instance, you will work closely with the Costume dept and instruct them what needs to be altered for the action sequences to accommodate knee and elbow pads plus harnesses that will be used. If there is fire present in the sequence, the clothes have to be treated with fire retardant and the Action Designer will have to inspect each piece of wardrobe to make sure it will give the performers enough room in their outfits to complete the action sequence that was designed. We also work closely with hair and makeup concerning wigs and makeup for the stunt doubles we are using , the production designer is contacted to discuss the sets and what we need on the sets to make our sequence work flawlessly. Sometimes that means padding the floor for extensive fights or creating opening in the ceiling for wires that need to be on the stunt doubles or actors to fly them across the set. Special Effects is also working with us hand in hand to determine where explosions go and how big they can be around the crew and stunt doubles We also discuss breakaway items that need to be made for each sequence and how many takes we need of each item. We also work very closely with the actors to design the action around the traits of the character and train the actor so that he/she can work seamlessly with the stunt doubles so that the cuts are seamless between actors and stunt doubles. I could go on for hours on the different dept heads and out interaction but you get the point. Every dept head works closely with the Action Designer from pre-production. Once we start filming, the Action Designer must have each and every sequence rehearsed and tested with the actors and the action doubles so that when we get to the set, we all are comfortable and can perform to our fullest without hesitation. The Action Designer also has to place the crew out of harms way and make sure that the cameras and operators are safe for each and every sequence. It’s a daunting responsibility and one that most people are not aware of because the Action Designer has lives in his/her hands day in and day out on the set. Can you say that about any other department on a film?…and the Academy believes we are insignificant.

Steve Gustafson: I read that one of the excuses the Academy had for not considering a Stunt Coordinator was they had too many categories already. When the Academy announced a “Most Popular” film category earlier this year, and soon cancelled it, what was your reaction?

Jack Gill: I called the Academy immediately after that announcement and asked them if this meant that an Action Designer would be honored in the most popular category, since almost all of those films are action orientated. I was told absolutely NOT…I was stunned as I thought the Academy had finally seen the light, but they were never even thinking of an Action category.

Steve Gustafson: Why do you think the Academy has shunned recognizing stunt coordinators with an Oscar?

Jack Gill: I think it’s as simple as it can be. They believe that action has no business in the Oscars. Even when I mentioned Ben Hur and how the action sequences framed the character and made him stronger in the film, I was told that the action really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of the movie. But yet what do they show when you watch any clip from Ben Hur? It’s always the chariot sequence. Action is below their social status and they have stuck their noses up in the air and do not want to “muddy” the waters of their perfectly “clean” pool with an action category. In 27 years, the Academy hasn’t made one step toward even discussing an Action Oscar. That proves my point above. They Academy knows what we do and our contributions to movie making, but in their minds, action isn’t necessary. They would rather award films that have no action, about characters that overcome adversity and I get that those films are important, but there is a much larger audience of movie watchers out there who enjoy action in movies. Those action movies actually fund the studios so that they can make the smaller more character driven movies that they know won’t be big box office. The Academy needs to understand that without the Action movies, the studios would go broke.

Steve Gustafson: The single biggest comment I’ve heard from people about the subject is what can the average person do? Is there anything a filmgoer can do to help add this to the Oscars?

Jack Gill: Sign the Care 2 petition at thepetitionsite.com and contact the Academy to tell them that they need to open their eyes to what the people of the world want! An ACTION OSCAR category…and keep calling them over and over until they make the change.

You can also flood the publicity department at their email oscars.org/press. Just send an email a day until they change their minds.

Steve Gustafson: Mr. Gill, thank you for your time and I hope a deserving category is added in the near future.